A leading Yorkshire disabilities campaigner is flying to the States next week (Friday, 2 May 2014) to lead a campaign to free a fellow Thalidomider from an American prison.
Harrogate businessman Guy Tweedy has taken up the case of Mark Gizewski, who is alleging that US prison authorities have subjected him to physical violence, intimidation and have neglected his medical needs.
Even though the 53-year-old has served his sentence in Five Points Correctional Facility, New York, for a string of petty crimes, he is being detained for his original sentence, for which he should be on permanent parole.
Mr Gizewski, who has a mental age of ten and is supported financially by the Cambridgeshire-based Thalidomide Trust, was born in New York after his parents emigrated there whilst his mother was pregnant with him.
Mr Tweedy, who sits on the Trust’s National Advisory Council and is one of the country’s leading Thalidomide campaigners, is travelling to New York on Friday to meet up with Mr Gizewski’s lawyers.
From there, he will travel to the medical facility where Mr Gizewski is being temporarily detained, following an incident with a prison warder which resulted in his elbow being shattered in five places.
Mr Tweedy, who was instrumental in the release of Wetherby Thalidomider Billy Burton from a Filipino jail, said: Mark’s case is one of the saddest I have ever come across in all my years’ campaigning on behalf of fellow victims.
I believe Mark is being victimised and that is why I am flying to America to take up his case. I’m determined to help him as I did with Billy Burton.
I was reduced to tears when I read about his deformities and the way he has been treated in prison. This poor man has had a shocking life from the moment he was born.
Because of his learning disabilities he fell into the wrong crowd, and, subsequently found himself on the wrong side of the law.
His treatment in prison has been diabolical. His pleas for help and medication to ease his chronic pain fell on deaf ears and the injuries he sustained are truly shocking.
During his time in the Filipino jail, Billy Burton was never treated this badly. Those who run Five Points should hang their heads in shame.
Mr Tweedy added: “I have been liaising closely with Mark’s lawyers in the States, and visiting Mark in person is crucial to my campaign.
I’m determined by the time I leave for home he will have a parole date set. Giving up is not is my nature and the American prison authorities will come to understand this.
In addition, Mr Tweedy has already began lobbying the American Ambassador in London, New York State Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schuner, and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Billy Burton said of Mark’s plight: How we treat the needy defines who we are as a society.
When the medical profession as a whole does not understand Thalidomide how can prison authorities be expected to know?
As I well know from my own experience, the psychological effects of having to deal with the disability are an even more stressful burden than the psychological obstacles faced by non-disabled prisoners.
Mark has served his sentence and we need to get him released so he can get the proper care and attention he needs.
The uncertainty of not knowing if one will ever be released is paralysing.
Mr Gizewski was born with a number of deformities brought about by his mother taking Thalidomide whilst in the early stages of pregnancy to cure her morning sickness.
These include dwarfism, scoliosis of the spine, severe deformity to his limbs and sphincter, bilateral radial club hands with ulna and four fingers retaining very little function and several other medical issues.
He is now a full-time wheelchair user, and attempting to use a wheelchair with his disabilities is virtually impossible for him.
When he was nine his left leg was amputated to allow for prosthetic fitting as it was seven inches shorter than the right leg. He also suffers from learning difficulties attributed to spending the first five years of his life in hospital.
Since being jailed in 2009, Mr Gizewski claims he has been denied painkillers for chronic pain, the foot on his prosthetic leg was broken and not replaced, his request for an “egg crate” mattress was ignored and a severe ear infection went untreated.
Last September, he requested to be transferred from Five Points due to the lack of medical care, denial of reasonable accommodations, and the facility-wide bar regarding chronic pain management.
At the same time he also asked for a wheelchair pusher, grabber tool and grab bars to assist him when showering and shower brushes.
The following month, some of the reasonable requests were approved, but on December 23, he was placed in solitary confinement with no tools to help clean himself, and was denied the right to a daily bath or shower.
Last month, Mr Gizewski was transferred from Five Points to Walsh Medical Centre at Mohawk Correctional Facility, New York. However, it wasn’t until ten days after admission that he was given any medication for his elbow and aliments.
*Thalidomide was administered to pregnant women to combat the effects of morning sickness, however, in December 1961 the drug was withdrawn after it was linked to crippling side effects in new born babies.
At least 2,000 babies were born in the UK with deformities brought about directly by Thalidomide, and more than half of them died within their first year. An unknown number also died in the womb.
Main photograph: USA Bound! Leading Thalidomide campaigner Guy Tweedy is travelling to America to help secure parole for a fellow victim of the anti-morning sickness drug.