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The Sun editorial: Living the good life, while in prison

HAMBURG — Last week, I dug deep into my digital pockets to pay my share of a very expensive prenatal blood test. I have health insurance, for which I pay a pretty hefty monthly fee, but its limited coverage leaves me responsible for a generous portion of my health care costs. It’s ramen noodles for dinner again, folks.

Contrast my story – which is not unlike millions of Americans’ – to that of mass murderer Michelle Kosilek’s, born as Robert Kosilek.

The Massachusetts inmate, who identifies as a female, is currently serving a life sentence for strangling and nearly decapitating wife Cheryl in 1990.

In 2000, Kosilek successfully sued the state department of corrections for the right to undergo hormone therapy and psychotherapy for gender identity disorder.

But that was not enough. The inmate sued the state eight times, requesting different forms of treatment, including electrolysis to remove facial hair, and sex reassignment surgery.

United States District Judge Mark Wolf ruled that Massachusetts had violated Kosilek’s constitutional rights, by denying the request for surgery. On Jan. 17, this decision was upheld by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

According to Fox News, Judge Juan Torruella, the only member of that panel to disagree with the order, said “the ruling went beyond the boundaries of protections offered under the Eighth Amendment.”

That constitutional amendment weighs in on incarceration and the rights of American prisoners. “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Kosilek and a team of lawyers claimed that the state’s not providing the reassignment surgery was cruel and unusual punishment.

Other cruel and unusual punishment cases have focused on the beating of inmates, the use of corporal punishment, putting a prisoner on the electric chair a second time (after a failed first attempt) and excessive sentences, such as life in prison for possession of marijuana.

The Constitution is not specific about the type of medical treatment prisoners should receive, so opinions about this topic are varied.

Here is mine.

I have never murdered anyone. I have never robbed a home or business. I have never been involved in a hit-and-run. I have never even received a speeding ticket. I pretty consistently obey the law. But nobody is lining up to pay my medical expenses, cosmetic or otherwise.

I realize my use of the word “cosmetic” will raise many eyebrows, as Kosilek has expressed a high level of discomfort with living in a male body and residing in a male-only prison.

But Kosilek chose to take another person’s life. In the United States, decisions like that come with a cost.

I believe that murderers should not be comfortable. They should not enjoy life. They should get the bare necessities, and that is it. After all, what is Cheryl Kosilek enjoying, right now?

Prisoners are incarcerated for a reason. They have not checked into a five-star hotel, or booked a stay at a luxury resort. They have committed a crime and have been ordered to serve the time.

That time should not include elective surgeries or cosmetic procedures that will make prisoners feel more comfortable. They are being punished, not coddled.

The rest of us, who have not committed crimes and are working hard to make a living, have to pay for the care of the 1.5 million prisoners who have been brought to justice.

We have all heard the stories about inmates who have been released, only to turn around and commit another crime so they can go back to jail, where they feel most at home. Where they can put their feet up and watch the game, earn a degree, play basketball, work out or take trade classes. Sounds like a blast.

Prison should not be enjoyable. It should not be a good time. It should 100 percent feel like a punishment, because that is what it is supposed to be.

Instead, we are treating Robert “Michelle” Kosilek like a star guest, rolling out the red carpet for this inmate and those very specific medical demands, instead of offering just the basic health care treatments.

If a prisoner comes down with the flu, he or she should get a dose of generic fever reducer. If he or she gets a cut, bring on the stitches, a bandage and some pain reliever. The medical coddling should stop there.

I would probably not take issue with Kosilek’s being allowed to pay for the surgery out-of-pocket, but the fact that Massachusetts has been ordered to use taxpayers’ dollars to pay for a sex reassignment surgery has left me cold.

According to the Star Tribune, the surgery could cost more than $50,000.

A Los Angeles Times editorial agreed that the reassignment surgery would definitely make life easier for Kosilek and the state (which could move the inmate to a women’s prison), but still disagreed with the court of appeals’ decision.

“We see no reason for a convicted criminal to receive medical attention that is above and beyond the community standard of care,” the editorial read, pointing out that a California court denied a similar request in 2011.

The publication brought up another good point, by saying that sex reassignment surgery is not typically covered (for non-prisoners) by health insurance companies.

“Should the generally recognized standard of insurance coverage change for gender identity disorder, it would be right for prisons to follow that standard,” the editorial concluded. “For the moment, though, the Massachusetts prison system should have been allowed to follow the current standard.”

I guess the long and the short of it is, if you can’t afford to pay for an elective surgery, but you want one really badly, do something stupid and illegal, and head to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. But don’t worry. It will be worth your time.
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