Medical Alert: Prison Activist in Need

By Christopher Zoukis  Sangye Rinchen and Christopher Zoukis

Today I bring a story that hits a bit too close to home that requires your immediate attention.  For the past two years Sangye Rinchen, a close friend of mine, has been battling a serious, debilitating nerve injury to her leg.  For years she -- Sangye's a transgender Buddhist, thus the feminine pronoun -- has tried to work with her prison's Health Services Department to resolve the issue, but medical care has not been forthcoming.  Instead, all she receives is delays and excuses from FCI Petersburg staff.

Sangye's condition and the lack of medical attention to it is particularly frustrating for many in this prison to watch because she has always been a tireless advocate for the rights of others, and is known as a compassionate voice of reason on the prison yard, always ready to give up her time to help someone in need, regardless of their background or circumstances.  She is the spiritual heart of the strong Buddhist community that she helped found at this prison, and is a true peacemaker among all factions.  Yet, she suffers without any real medical attention.  Some in this community theorize that it is her transgender status, and advocacy efforts for other transgender women here, that is at the root of the FCI Petersburg's failure to treat her.  In the end, the reasons don't matter.  Even some of the line officers here have expressed shock and dismay at the lack of medical treatment.  As for the inmate population, well, many of them are unhappy to say the least.  If it could happen to Sangye, it could happen to them.  As for Sangye, I know she tries to rely on her Buddhist training to remain buoyant and free of anger, but I know that it must be hard.  I'm her cellmate, and I see the pain on her face each and every day.

Thus far, Health Services has allowed some basic diagnostic tests: x-rays, an EMG, a brief review by a orthopedist, and a consult with a brace-maker.  But additional steps have not been forthcoming.  For example, the orthopedist actually refused to touch the leg, stating that a neurologist and an MRI were required.  She has waited for more than a year to see a neurologist, but, in truth, no appointment has even been scheduled.  The EMG showed significant blockage in the nerves of the leg.  She's now using a cane, but continues to fall nevertheless.

As time has gone on, my friend has continued to suffer unnecessarily.  And these issues have persisted.  They're obviously worsening.  Our hope is that they are not degenerative and permanent.  Sangye no longer teaches her cheery yoga classes to the prisoners on Thursday mornings; on some days, she can barely stand up without assistance. Thus far, every medical professional who has examined her leg has exclaimed that she shouldn't have waited so long to come in for help, that waiting has certainly made it worse.  All have been shocked that my friend has been seeking treatment for years on end.

What is needed is your help.  I need you to read the interview that I did with Sangye and I need you to share it with your contacts on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere.  This can simply be accomplished by liking, sharing, tweeting, and commenting on the interview's page.  You can find the interview at the Huffington Post through the following link:

By socially sharing this article (and the previous interview), you will be doing your part to make a difference.  As more people read it and share it with others, more attention will be brought to her condition.  And as more attention is garnered, the Federal Bureau of Prisons will be harder and harder pressed to ignore this matter.

Thank you very much for your time and attention to this matter.  By sharing this interview with others, you will be making a real, timely impact upon my friend's quality of life.

Sandy