There will be sighs of relief and sighs of sadness when former representative George Hansen (R-Idaho) is released from prison next month. Elated will be the prison officials he has been censuring for over a year; dejected will be his fellow inmates, for whom he has acted as an ardent ombudsman.
Hansen is finishing his second stint at the Petersburg, Va., federal prison camp. After his 1984 conviction for filing false financial disclosure statements, he served six months. When he ventured too far from Washington and refused to disclose details about his finances, he was cited for parole violations and tossed in the can again in April.
Always the maverick, he has bombarded the press and his former colleagues on Capitol Hill with complaints about prison food, safety and sanitation problems, waste of government property, and arbitrary treatment of inmates.
The Petersburg prison camp is a minimum-security facility that holds about 200 inmates, including former public officials, businessmen, brokers, lawyers and judges. Hansen's impassioned and fearless defense of the interests of these new and otherwise voiceless friends has earned him their gratitude. Hansen called to our attention, for example, the case of Tom Williams, an inmate from Mechanicsville, Va.
A management consultant, Williams is serving five years for tax evasion. He is husky, healthy and, during the first two years of incarceration, never missed a day of work in the compound. Last spring, his son, Joseph, 18, suffered kidney failure, and Williams offered to donate a kidney to him. He obtained permission from the camp director, he told us, to take about a month's unsupervised leave for medical tests and the operation.
The transplant was performed by Dr. Vernon Smith of the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond on June 24. When Williams was allowed to leave the hospital, he went home -- five minutes away -- for a short recuperation. This was done -- with the vocal concurrence of the camp director, according to Williams -- to facilitate postoperative hospital visits and to avoid the exertions he would have had to endure at camp.
Tom Williams' stitches were removed on July 6. He reported to the prison the same day and learned that the previous camp director had left. There was no written record of approval for his home stay, and he was therefore absent without permission. He was given an "incident report" (a "shot" in prison parlance) and placed in solitary confinement.
Williams had a recently healed wound in his side, but that apparently mattered little to the prison authorities. He remained in the hole for 13 days. He was examined by his doctor nine days later and learned that he had somehow avoided infection.
Williams was expecting to have his sentence reduced by eight months and to spend four months in a halfway house. After the "incident," however, he was hauled before a parole board in shackles and his early departure was canceled.
Since we started asking questions about Williams, the "shot" has been expunged from his record, but his sentence adjustments have not been restored. As far as he knows, donating a kidney to his son cost him another year behind bars.