Aug. 21 2013 09:25 AM

Cancer sufferer says she's trading one prison for another'

Robin Reid
Photo by Kelly Davis
A couple weeks ago, Robin Reid dropped off the map. Or, at least her GPS signal did. She was at Scripps Mercy Hospital for an MRI, in a part of the building where wireless signals are blocked to keep them from interfering with medical equipment. She had let the Sheriff 's Department know where she was, but an apparent miscommunication resulted in confusion at the GPS monitoring center. After all, not many people wearing electronic-monitoring devices get MRIs.

CityBeat wrote about Reid in May, when she was an inmate at Las Colinas Women's Detention Facility, where she was serving a four-year sentence for running a business that specialized in massages that finished with hand jobs—or, colloquially, "happy endings"—for male clientele. Because Reid was being treated for recurring breast cancer that had spread to her liver, the District Attorney's office agreed to a part-time sentence: She could leave jail on Thursday morning to receive treatment and have the weekend to recover before returning on Monday.

But even those three days behind bars were tough. The cancer spread to her brain in May, causing severe headaches; placed in a cell at the end of a hallway, one day she spent two hours yelling for a nurse to bring her Tylenol.

A month after CityBeat's story, the ACLU sent a letter to Sheriff Bill Gore. Signed by David Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, and Jolene Forman, a criminal justice and drug policy fellow with the ACLU of Northern California, the letter urges Gore to either release Reid from jail or place her in alternative custody, a program created two years ago to relieve jail overcrowding by releasing low-level, nonviolent offenders to home detention, electronic monitoring or both.

Within two weeks, Reid, a 48-year-old mother of four who'd been in custody since Nov. 15, 2012, was out.

Sheriff 's Commander John Ingrassia said Reid's unique sentence made her an obvious candidate for alternative custody.

"She was essentially being, almost on a weekly basis, let out for her treatment, so I think that made it a little more comfortable in the assessment process to put her in the program."

Reid's grateful to be out. "Now I have a comfy bed to be in. I have organic food to eat. I have fresh water. I have family around me."

But, she adds, in some ways, "it's trading one prison for another."

In addition to the GPS anklet, she's mostly confined to her Ocean Beach home. She's allowed short walks—an exception requested by her doctor—and she gets three hours a week to run errands. If she's got a doctor's appointment, she needs to make sure the sheriff's deputy who's managing her case knows about it. She has to spend fours hours a day near enough to a wall plug to charge the GPS device. Reid says she was told she'd be in alternative custody until August 2016.

The alternative-custody program also forbids her from using medical marijuana, which helped Reid deal with the side effects of chemotherapy. She tried Marinol, the FDA-approved synthetic version of marijuana, but it doesn't provide the same benefits.

Reid had hoped to be released under SB 1462, a 2013 law that gives county sheriffs the authority to release low-risk inmates who are terminally ill or so physically incapacitated that they can't care for themselves. But the law's stuck in the implementation process. Before it can take effect, the state's Department of Health Care Services has to issue guidelines to counties to ensure that sick inmates receive the same level of care outside jail. Those guidelines are still in the works.

In their letter, Loy and Forman argued that because Reid pays for her own medical care, a bureaucratic holdup shouldn't undermine SB 1462's intent.

"Obviously, the whole system ought to move forward and get his done, so anyone on or off Medi-Cal who otherwise qualifies for compassionate release is able to access it," Loy told CityBeat. "But there are many individuals [for whom] home monitoring is an alternative to compassionate release and something the sheriff clearly has authority to do—no one disputes that."

In May, Reid underwent radiation treatment to zap small cancer tumors in her brain. On Aug. 16, she was told that the tumors had returned. 

Email or follow her on Twitter at @citybeatkelly.


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