Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Times Up

by Donna Pendergast

It was a call that I never expected to get.  Susan Murphy-Milano was on the line and she wanted me to write the foreword to her book Times Up. I had to repeat the words to make sure I understood. "You want ME to write the foreword to your book," I  asked with incredulity? to which she answered, "Yes."

I could almost hear the smile in her voice as she repeated her request.  She went on to give her reasons, stating how much she admired me and what I had accomplished in my career and how she could think of no one else who she would rather have write the foreword to her new book.  As I listened through the fog, the words kept repeating in my mind, "She wants ME to write the foreword to HER book." WOW.

As I listened to her reasons, all I could think was why is this incredible woman saying all these things about me-she is the hero? We ended the call with me agreeing to write the foreword and her expressing her utmost gratitude that I would honor her by accepting her request. Honor to her? I thought as I hung up the phone. You have got to be kidding me. For the truth is, I was the one who was overwhelmed and honored. I never dreamed at the time that her chosen title for the book would be eerily prophetic.

In hindsight, I now know that the tone of that call was nothing out of the ordinary. For Susan, it has never been all about herself but rather always about everyone else. She has spent her life looking out for and trying to ensure that women in abusive relationships didn't have their lives cut short because they were naive and in denial as to the inevitable outcome of  their dangerous situations. You see for Susan it was a matter of life and death, she had seen a horrific outcome first hand and she was determined that no one else would have to experience what she had gone through.

In January 1989, Susan's father, Philip Murphy, a 30-year Chicago police officer and decorated violent crimes investigator killed her mother with his .44-caliber service weapon.  He then took his own life by shooting himself in the head.  It was the culmination of a violent and abusive pattern of behavior which had characterized her parents entire marriage. After finding her parents' bodies, Susan vowed to change the way intimate partner homicides are handled and investigated. It was to become a lifelong crusade which undertook with ferocity and passion.

She went on to become a nationally renowned  crusader and women's rights advocate who spent her career advocating for women and children who are the victims of domestic violence. A much sought after speaker she has been regularly featured on shows such a  "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "Larry King Live," MSNBC, CNN. The list goes on.   Her books Defending Our Lives, Moving Out, Moving On, Times Up, and the just released Holding My Hand Through Hell have empowered scores of women and set the standard as the go to  tomes for women in trouble. She was a contributor here at Women In Crime Ink for a period of time but had to give it up because  of the demands on her time and the need to fulfill other commitments.

But  it was what she did behind the scenes that really defines Susan as a person.  Always available on the other end of a phone she personally involved herself in the fight to keep women safe sometimes at considerable risk to her own personal safety.  I personally  was the recipient of Susan's concern and compassion last year when I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer.She was always at the other end of a phone and her calls always seemed to come when I needed them most. In her personal life and her professional life Susan burned the candle at both ends and saved more lives than we will ever know.

As the fates would have it, she couldn't save her own. On October 1, Susan decided to forego her treatment and let nature take its course with her cancer.  I was blessed in my situation, needing no radiation nor chemotheraphy after my initial surgery. Susan was not as lucky. Without treatment, she is reported to be declining rapidly, although comfortable and well cared for by a team of hospice care workers and a dear and committed friend who is holding her hands toward heaven. It is a cruel and unfair irony. The woman who saved so many lives can not save her own.  She has fought a valiant fight but this  demon  is  just too strong. We all, of course, hope for a miracle, but the odds are hugely against her and time is said to be running out.

Susan realizes more than most that time can be short.  She has lived life fully grasping it and making the most of it, and she will leave behind  a larger legacy than most can ever hope to leave behind. So I know I speak on behalf of Susan when I say these words,  fight the fear, follow your dream, seize the day, don't be afraid to love, take a chance. You never know when your time might be up.

Go softly on the wings of angels, sister. You have earned some rest. I love you!

Statements made in this post are my own and are not intended to reflect the views, opinion or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Prisoner Rights Run Amok in Sex-change Case

(Wikipedia Commons)
by Diane Dimond

I unequivocally oppose a recent pro-prisoner court order that you may find positively shocking. I know I did.

The prisoner at the center of the controversy is MichelleKosilek. But up until 1993, this person was known as Robert Kosilek. In 1990, Robert’s wife, Cheryl, already distressed over his drinking came home to find him dressed up in her clothes. A fight ensued and the trial court found Robert was guilty of strangling Cheryl with a wire and abandoning her naked body in the family car outside a local mall.

Just before Kosilek went on trial for Cheryl’s murder in 1993, he declared he was a woman trapped in a man’s body and legally changed his name to Michelle. Kosilek appeared in court with long luxurious hair and wearing eye makeup, rouge, women’s glasses, slim cut jeans and a set of dangling circle earrings. Despite self-identifying as a female, upon conviction, Kosilek was sentenced to an all-male prison in Norfolk, Massachusetts to serve life in prison without parole.

Over the years, Kosilek’s attorneys have repeatedly filed motions asking the court to order sex-reassignment surgery for the convicted murderer. In 2002, after specialists testified Kosilek did, indeed, suffer from severe gender identity disorder the court allowed Kosilek to begin receiving taxpayer funded psychotherapy, female hormone injections, laser hair removal and access to women’s underwear and make-up. All of that wasn’t enough for Kosilek’s peace of mind, however. Court documents revealed s/he  attempted self-castration and twice attempted suicide in prison.

Now, let’s pause here so I can be clear. I have no doubt that gender identity disorder exists and that it can be psychological hell for those who are born this way. But there are lots of people on the outside struggling with Kosilek’s problem, unable to come up with the money for a gender reassignment operation. Do we afford convicted killers health care rights that law abiding citizens don’t have? The answer is yes, according to a recent decision from U.S. District Court Judge Mark Wolf.

“It may seem strange that in the United States citizens do not generally have a constitutional right to adequate medical care, but the Eighth Amendment promises prisoners such care,” Judge Wolf wrote in ruling that the state of Massachusetts must pay for the prisoner’s sex-change operation. To do otherwise, Wolf ruled, would constitution cruel and unusual punishment.

Now, stop and think about this a minute. Here is a person who lives in the general population of an all – male prison. It may be one thing for him to dress up like the character Klinger from the old M*A*S*H* TV series but it might be something altogether more dangerous for Kosilek to actually become transgendered and think nothing will change within his testosterone driven prison community. Judge Wolf heard testimony from prison officials about the unique security problems Kosilek’s case would present but he dismissed the argument. As it stands now Kosilek gets his free operation but the state could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court which would delay things.

Other states have grappled with similar federal cases filed by prisoners wanting a sex change operation but I couldn’t find one where a judge actually ordered taxpayer funded surgery.

Judge Wolf’s apparently groundbreaking decision seems so shortsighted to me. He made it sound as if he had no choice in the matter, that it was a “medical necessity” for this prisoner. It’s as if the judge forgot that the state has already bent over backward to accommodate this prisoner’s numerous wishes over the years.

I’m not the only one who is outraged by this. After the ruling, U.S. Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts said Kosilek’s surgery would be, “An outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars.” A niece of Cheryl Kosilek nearly begged the state to quickly appeal the decision saying, “As far as I’m concerned, he deserves nothing. If he wants to attempt suicide … let him.”

Judge Wolf’s written ruling didn’t address what would happen to Kosilek after the operation. Would s/he be left to fend for her/himself in the all-male population or be transferred to a women’s prison? What if Kosilek decides he is unhappy with the results and wants further surgery? And, most important, what signal does this send to all the other poor but law-abiding souls who cannot afford the psychotherapy, the hormones, the gender reassignment surgery? For the truly desperate it seems to be an invitation to commit a really serious crime so they can advance their goal of changing sexes.

I can see providing a prisoner a heart transplant or expensive cancer treatments so they don’t die. That, to me, fits in the “medically necessary” category. But, to those Kosilek sympathizers who declare granting this operation is humane – I asked them one question: How humane was Robert Kosilek when he pulled that wire around his wife’s neck and tugged on it until it nearly took her head off? He’s gotten enough rewards for his murderous behavior.