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Compassionate Release A Matter Of 'Life Or Death'

Barry Edwards heard the coronavirus news reports, and his concern increased with the rate of positive cases and loss of life. While social distancing and sheltering at home became our 'new normal', "Staying Apart, Together" did not exist for Barry Edwards. And even worse for Barry, sheltering in place was potentially life threatening.

Barry, age 54, was serving a three-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center Butner, after a conviction for filing false tax returns and conspiring to structure cash transactions. For months prior to having a seizure on July 19, 2019, Barry had reported neck pain and numbness in his hands. A few days after the seizure, he and his wife Joanne, who have three daughters and 11 grandchildren, would have their 30th wedding anniversary. Celebration would have to wait.

Following the seizure, Barry was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor and underwent surgery. However, doctors were only able to remove 85% of the tumor. Doctors gave Barry a prognosis of three to six months' life expectancy, and even with the best of treatment, less than a year.

With 18 months still to serve on his sentence for non-violent offenses, in March 2020, Barry found the news about the rapid spread of coronavirus, "alarming." From their Virginia home, Barry's wife Joanne was also worried. "I did not have a good feeling about it, and I was nervous for him. I thought the best thing was to lock him in his cell, away from people," she admitted.

Barry was not just concerned about his own health. His fear extended to "fellow inmates that were on the cancer floor with me... especially those that were in the midst of treatments, having such a low immune system and having to go in and out of cells to get their treatments. Many of these men are elderly as well." Barry continued, "Even more alarming was news that men were brought in and placed on our floor for quarantine from the very beginning."

Staff attorney Julianna Andonian of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) brought Barry's case to the attention of the Federal Public Defender's Office in the Western District of Virginia. On Barry Edward's behalf, First Assistant Federal Public Defender Monica Cliatt filed a Motion for Compassionate Release Pursuant to the First Step Act.

Wonderful Day

Barry Edwards reunited with his wife Joanne after release from FMC Butner on April 16, 2020.

Barry wholeheartedly believes that for him, getting released from the BOP, was “a matter of LIFE OR DEATH! We were at the mercy of the prison employees. We had NO way to social distance, NO cleaners, NO hand sanitizer, NO brooms even. We had no say so in our care or protection.”

The United States Attorney’s Office opposed Barry’s release despite acknowledging that he had a terminal condition. They were also in opposition to his release even though there was growing concern about underlying medical conditions that increase coronavirus susceptibility, and heightened uneasiness regarding the number of coronavirus deaths in the prisons. The opposition persisted regardless of the directive from United States Attorney General William Barr that the BOP prioritize the release of non-violent inmates who were older or whose medical condition put them at higher risk for coronavirus.

On April 2, 2020, Judge Moon granted the Motion for Compassionate Release. When he heard the good news, Barry “was ecstatic! I cried. I was told by my case manager through my locked cell.” He was released 14 days later.

At home with his family in Virginia, Barry continues to think about those at Butner who are at high risk for coronavirus. “Many of the men on my floor had already been given a cancer death sentence! My bunkmate has served thirty-plus years and has less than two years to go. He is not a threat to society and has more than learned his lesson. He has had cancer twice now, has had pneumonia five times, rheumatic fever and is not in good health. He needs to be home with his family... and this is many, many inmates’ stories. Many of these men have no one to help them! These men do not deserve the potential threat of dying in prison from COVID‐19.”

Reflecting on Barry’s release from FMC Butner, Joanne added, “What a glorious moment to see Barry walking FREE out of that prison… We have our life back, our family unit back. Once we had him home, things felt complete again. It has been wonderful.”

Barry is now able to have his family involved in his healthcare and accompanying him to doctor appointments, “instead of being in the dark,” Joanne says, as they were when Barry received medical treatment while in the BOP. Joanne summed up her gratitude for the assistance from the Federal Public Defender’s Office and FAMM, by saying, “All a person needs whether incarcerated or not is to be HEARD, and you all chose to listen and act. We are forever thankful…We will NEVER forget!”