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When leaving prison means choosing to die

Plus, solar project confronts town's mining past.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen

Tuesday, November 21, 2023
In today's edition: Dying to get out, official dilemma, PR crisis?, 'crooked' contract, lawmaker pay raise, and Rosalynn Carter's Pa. getaway.
GIVE THANKS, GET 2X: To kick off the Season of Giving, all gifts in support of Spotlight PA's vital journalism will be DOUBLED. Show your support and give thanks for the tireless work of our reporters by making a tax-deductible gift now »

As Raymond Caliman's health deteriorated inside prison, his sister Mary Buffaloe wrote letters to state officials, made phone calls, and did everything in her power to get him out so he could receive better health care.

The Abolitionist Law Center had connected Buffaloe with an attorney from another firm after Spotlight PA wrote about Caliman's case in 2022. Buffaloe would eventually petition for a special kind of parole for the sick and dying. But doing so would require her to end her yearslong fight for better care.

She would also need to agree to let her brother die. 

Buffaloe was anguished but decided to petition for "compassionate release." Weeks later, with his health failing, Raymond was moved to hospice care. He was outside prison for the first time in four decades, but he was so sick by then that he couldn't communicate with the sister who got him there. 

Read Spotlight PA's full report: A dying man won release from prison after Spotlight PA's reporting. It shouldn’t be that hard, advocates say.

THE CONTEXT: To receive the type of parole Caliman did, incarcerated people in Pennsylvania must stop receiving treatment that could improve their condition. Data show fewer than 50 people were released in the past 14 years under the state's current compassionate release law.

Mary Buffaloe and others say the parameters are too narrow. She added in a conversation with Spotlight PA, "It shouldn't have come to this." 

Some Pennsylvania lawmakers agree, and in October, legislation to revamp Pennsylvania’s compassionate release law made it out of a state House committee, a step previous attempts have failed to achieve.

Caliman died Nov. 16, almost two months after his release. Pennsylvania  incarcerates 10,300 people over the age of 50 who are considered elderly because lack of access to health care and atypical living conditions age them at a faster rate than those on the outside, according to state officials.


“I never went out of my way to hide anything. I’m in the database. It’s an easy search.”

Phillip Fisher Jr., a pastor and GOP ward leader with ties to Philadelphia’s Moms for Liberty chapter who's also a registered sex offender
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Tall trees, via Robert N. in Derry Township, Dauphin County. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on IG, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
Looking way up at tree canopies against the blue sky.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.SHAPIRO SKEPTICS: Environmentalists are divided over Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro's deal with a fracking company to collect data on air emissions and water quality at well sites. The administration is calling it the most intensive independent study of fracking in the nation. But some environmentalists see it as little more than public relations and perhaps a model for industry self-regulation, Capital & Main reports.
  • RELATED: Shapiro on possible appeal of RGGI ruling: “I think we’ll have more to say in the coming days,” via Capital-Star
  • Washington County families call on Shapiro to fulfill recommendations of fracking grand jury report, via StateImpact
Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.RURAL SUNBLOCK: Plans for a solar array in Rush Township, Schuylkill County, have officials worried about a conflict with local cleanups of coal mining pollution, namely acid mine drainage, Spotlight PA reports. If the array is built, the township’s supervisors — who say they aren't opposed to the project outright — fear land restoration will be impossible, or, at the very least, force a decadeslong wait for cleaner waterways.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.CLOSED BIDDING: The $73.2 million contract at the center of a juvenile detention controversy in Allegheny County was issued with no open bidding and virtually no input from the public or government oversight. Several outlets collaboratively report that exemptions were granted to skirt the traditional bidding process and put a contractor with a checkered past in charge of reopening a shuttered facility.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.CAPITOL PAY: Pennsylvania lawmakers, already among the highest paid in the U.S., are getting a raise next month. PennLive (paywall) reports the 3.5% pay hike starts Dec. 1 and pushes yearly salaries to $106,422 — or $8,869 a month. Last year's raise pushed lawmakers into six figures for the first time. State law ties the pay to the consumer price index. A raise for judges and executive branch officials is also coming.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.NATURE NURTURE: Bay Journal reports: For the third time in nine years, residents and public officials in rural Montour and Columbia Counties are rallying to save a beloved nature preserve created by a power plant 51 years ago. Meanwhile, in Monroe County, WVIA traces the origins of a rare cranberry bog back 13,000 years; that makes it a relic of the ice age. The center of the bog is 60 feet deep. 
ON WAIVERS: Bernard Williams has been waived by the Philadelphia Eagles — 29 years after his final NFL game. The Eagles didn't realize he was still on the squad. Williams got the news while driving his route for Amazon when a friend spotted his name on the NFL's transaction wire.

CARTER CAMP: Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who died Sunday at 96, often accompanied her husband during and after his presidency on visits to Wayne Harpster’s farm in Huntingdon County, the Altoona Mirror reports. Their first visit was unannounced and centered on fishing.

MAP QUEST: U.S. Sen. and #CertifiedMapGuy Bob Casey (D., Pa.) was challenged by his reelection team to blindly name all 67 Pennsylvania counties on a map. Now that he's done it, it's your turn to try it with 13.

1A LAWSUIT: Berks County's Twin Valley School District won’t officially recognize a club that is calling for the removal of an offensive "Raider" mascot there. WITF reports a First Amendment lawsuit has been filed.

OVERSAUCED: Someone Freaky Friday'd Heinz ketchup and Hellman's mayo, resulting in this tabletop dilemma, while TikTok made Heinz ketchup transparent for some reason and the company chose to add pickles.
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