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Several years ago, I discovered that The California Department of Corrections (CDCR) did not have a legal policy in place by which state prisoners, regardless of their offenses, could legally freely donate organs and tissues to their biological family members. I thought to myself, this needs to change.

Additional research led me to find out that the Federal Bureau of Prisons allows prisoners to donate an organ to save a family member in need. This policy applied only to federal prisons not state run prisons.

With the federal policy in mind, I wrote a handful of letters to California state senators in the hope that a state senate bill could be drawn for state-run facilities that was similar to existing federal policy. 

I received a response from California State Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D), who drafted the legislation SB1419. It passed through both the public safety and senate health committees, but once the bill appeared before the appropriations committee, it met with opposition from CDCR, which refused to provide the funds required to train state prison employees and to educate the prison population about their rights. 

CDCR’s lack of cooperation forced SB 1419 to scale itself back to bare bones. The idea of permitting prisoners to be living organ donors was removed from the bill, leaving state prisoners with the ability to only make a donation in the event of their deaths. 

Had SB1419 been dealt with properly my very own father might be alive today. He died in 2016 because he needed a lung even though I would have gladly given my lung to save his precious life. He was my best friend, my mentor and my hero. 

In this country there are over 2.3 million people are incarcerated, according to Prison Policy Initiative. Yet only 10% are housed in federal custody. There are 1.29 million men and women housed across this nation in state-run prisons. That means countless family members languish on organ donor registries, waiting. We could and should be doing our part to save their lives. 

The failure to adopt a national state and federal prisoner protocol for organ donations from prisoners is profoundly irresponsible.

It is my hope and goal to shift the narrative a bit. I’m aggressively pushing for social action, political awareness and public policy reform around this issue. I’m hoping to invite fresh eyes, ears, tech savvy volunteers, bloggers and a new legislative partner to reboot this deserving concept and get it to fruition. Second best isn’t good enough.

While hope and healing remain in short supply, I pray for empathy not apathy. Looking forward to a day where state prisoners are part of life saving conversations. Why should only 10% of the national prison population be permitted to make living vital organ and tissue donations to our dying family members?

Many Americans on donor registries have biological, match-worthy donors behind state prison walls.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Michael Flinner is the author of “A Portion of Thyself: Essential Reflections from Death Row.” He is proactive in efforts to support living inmate organ donation legislation and is working on supporting laws that would allow inmates to donate organs for transplants to immediate family members in need. Flinner is incarcerated in California.