Interview with Ralph Poynter, husband of jailed people’s lawyer Lynn Stewart
Lynne Stewart, a heroic and long-time progressive lawyer, is serving a ten-year prison sentence in Fort Worth, Texas for ‘material support of terrorism,’ after serving as defense attorney for Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman. On June 9 Fight Back! spoke with her husband, Ralph Poynter, about her case. Poynter is a Black community leader and retired New York City teacher.
Fight Back!: At the Left Forum, you organized a panel on political prisoners. How does Lynne's story relate to the general problem of political repression today?
Ralph Poynter: Lynne’s story is the same as all other political prisoners. Those who want to work toward a more decent society – no matter what way they work on it, by telling the truth, or acting on the truth – have become the automatic enemies of a destructive, corrupt state, and they act in that manner.
So Lynne is a political prisoner who defended those who were not supposed to get a defense. That is, the poor, the people of color and those involved in acts that did not harm anyone else, but the prohibition acts of certain drugs – and they left out alcohol and cigarettes, which are responsible for more deaths than all the others put together. And so Lynne defended these people, and she is paying the price.
Fight Back!: What is going on with Lynne's case today?
Poynter: Her legal case, we’re putting it before the Supreme Court, they call it certiorari. We’ve sent papers to see if the court is going accept the case. No one has challenged the Patriot Act through the Supreme Court on First Amendment rights, et cetera. This is one of the things that Lynne is doing legally.
And we’re asking for compassionate release because she is dying in prison. We want to get her out and get her to a facility in New York City. In Lynne’s own words, “If you are white, have a reasonable amount of economic support and certain notoriety, medical care is available to you in New York City.” We can have her survive long enough to carry her case to the Supreme Court, if she gets out of prison now, so she can access this medical care that is available to her in New York City.
Now, it is a race, no matter where she is. It’s a race for her life, and every day she’s in jail, it cuts down on her possibility of winning it.
Fight Back!: A lot of people know about Lynne’s case and there has been an outpouring of support for her, and for her compassionate release. What has been the impact of that support?
Poynter: We are hoping – today is Sunday – we are hoping that Monday we have a response from the government. We are hoping, but we are also planning Tuesday to have meetings to see our next step. We know the government knows about it. She has passed all of the legalities of compassionate release; she qualifies as the bill was written. But we also know that when Lynne went to prison, she was scheduled for an operation, and it was 18 months before they scheduled the operation in Fort Worth, Texas. So, they are in no hurry, and as I say, they are looking to kill her. And as the attending physician said, it was the worst case she’d ever seen, due to the delay. So this is nothing new.
We say we want treatment for her cancer. They’re delaying. We said we wanted treatment for her other physical problems, they delayed. This is death by lack of medical treatment in prison. But that makes Lynne no different than all the other political prisoners who are in jail. They suffer the lack of physical medical treatment.
Fight Back!: You’ve said people should keep making calls for Lynne. Tell us about those calls, and what else our readers can do to help Lynne now.
Poynter: The calls are going to the Office of the President, the Office of Eric Holder and the head of the prisons, Samuels. But the interesting thing is, she’s already qualified. Samuels said yes, the prison warden in Fort Worth said yes – that’s all that’s required by the statute of compassionate release and yet Lynne is still in jail.
And so we say, 'hey, it’s someplace. They just forgot about it, or they set it aside, or they’re waiting for her to die.'
So keep on calling. Keep on signing that petition in two places – change.org and iacenter.org
Keep on signing and calling until we change strategy, because we are running out of possibilities. Or we have to create some new possibilities, new actions, to make this government move. We have people fasting. Maybe we have to boycott something, maybe we have to pick a strategic place, maybe we have to block highways. Who knows what we will have to do? But the government will decide how far we have to go, because we’re running out of time very quickly.
Fight Back! urges our readers to answer this call for continued support.
Call and urge immediate compassionate release for Lynne Stewart:
Attorney General Eric Holder – 202-514-2001
White House President Obama – 202-456-1111 or 202-456-1414
Bureau of Prisons Director Charles Samuels – 202-307-3250
Follow the campaign, and sign the petition for Lynne’s compassion release at http://lynnestewart.org