Johnny is in dire need of a kidney transplant. His precarious health is now in greater danger than ever with the Delta and Omicron variants of COVID-19 spreading. Even if Omicron proves less lethal for most people, the highly transmissible variant could imperil Johnny as prisons across the country have had great difficulty protecting those in their care.
While we would love to establish Johnny’s innocence in a court of law, right now the focus is on clemency due to his health conditions. Yet Gov. J.B. Pritzker denied his most recent petition.
The inhumane conditions in Stateville are certainly killing Johnny who at age 39 has been given three to five years to live. And it could well be considerably less. He has kidney failure and is on dialysis. I had to plead with the regional director of the Illinois Department of Corrections to get Johnny on the list for fistula surgery. Without the surgery, Johnny would not have been able to receive dialysis and would have been gone by now. With kidney failure, the dialysis will only sustain him temporarily. He will only survive with a kidney transplant.
At one point, Johnny had 12 percent kidney function back. Now it is down to two percent. The dialysis he receives is essential to his well being and his very ability to stay alive. After dialysis, Johnny sometimes sleeps for 18 or 19 hours and occasionally goes into a coma, passes out, and gets injured when he falls. He is not always rushed to the hospital when needed.
When he had pneumonia, he was kept in the prison’s infirmary. I was scared to death for him. As his condition worsened, he was finally rushed to the hospital. At that time, I didn’t even know where he was.
Now I’m battling with Stateville as they continue to refuse providing me with crucial information about his blood tyoe that would help in our struggle to find him a kidney donor.
I thank God for his cellmates who have called for medical assistance when he needs it. Mostly, he’s now in a wheelchair though he can walk short distances when needed.
My son Johnny is bloated and occasionally requires emergency insulin injections. He has suffered a heart attack, has neuropathy and hypertension. His many conditions can make urinating difficult.
My struggle for Johnny’s clemency is part of a larger struggle across the state of Illinois. The design of prisons is unsafe for anyone. Policy reinforces this danger. Incarcerated people are more likely to contract serious diseases.
Health experts say that as prisons become more and more overcrowded, the lack of health protections and care for inmates is ignored. Organizations like Decarcerate Illinois have been advocating for quality healthcare and for immediately reduce Illinois’ record high prison population. For inmates with illnesses like Johnny’s, the profound harm they face is but one of the many ways prisons deny the humanity of incarcerated people.
For all the medical difficulties he’s endured in recent years, the worst of it is what Johnny reported to the warden, that, in 2017, he was assaulted by a nurse while in diabetic shock. Another nurse, also present during the incident, told him, “I hope you die.” Until now, his report has been met with virtual silence.
Alan Mills, Executive Director of the People’s Law Office, called attention to the unjust health care system in prison when he sued the Illinois Department of Corrections. In the lawsuit, he says, “Prisoners are provided care which is so inadequate that serious illnesses are left untreated, people are forced to live in pain for months with easily treatable conditions, and in some cases have suffered permanent damage, had legs amputated, and even died as a result.”
Johnny is a threat to no one, with exemplary prison behavior, and certainly the governor can see that documented in the medical reports on my son’s declining health.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are among the hardest times. There is an empty seat where Johnny should be. A plate is always put out for him. For all these years, since Johnny’s conviction in 2013, we have been a traumatized family – routinely sick, devastated and grieving.
After being caught up for so many years in the violence of the prison industrial complex, I am actively involved in activist groups fighting to end the injustices of this system.
Many mothers and families I have met know that our loved ones are not the same people – mentally or physically – who went into those difficult and dangerous living conditions. They are much like me, traumatized, and that pain constantly threatens to take us down.
I am lucky that Johnny helps me keep my faith and hope alive, telling me that God is with him. We have to believe that he will come home before it is too late.
Thinking of my son living at the edge of death in prison is my worst nightmare. Vigilance is required to keep him alive and I worry that he is not a priority in our overcrowded and understaffed prison facilities. I can’t bear the thought of one day getting the call that he’s gone.
The governor’s power to pardon and commute sentences is absolute and he can do it at any time, for any reason.
No one should die in prison.
My hope and my demand is that Governor Pritzker can see to it that doesn’t happen in Johnny’s case by revisiting his petition and commuting his sentence NOW.
Christina Borizov is the mother of Johnny Borizov and active with these organizations: Mamas Activating Movements for Abolition and Solodarity; Decarcerate Illinois, Chicago Torture Justice Center, and the Chicago Alliance against Racist and Political Repression. She is originally from Macedonia and grew up in Chicagoland.