The girlfriend of a veteran sentenced to two years in federal prison on drug charges is shedding light on the challenges her partner faces while in prison, and she is calling for better treatment of wounded service members.
In early June, Jesse Anthony Cruz, about 45 years old, was sentenced to 27 months with 21 days credit after pleading guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine.
There was some discussion about delaying the sentencing in order to give Cruz time to attend treatment courses, but this was abandoned with the understanding that he would get help finding treatment as he waited for the prison designation.
But Cruz is languishing in the Adult Correctional Facility, according to his girlfriend.
"He suffers chronic daily pain from the spine injury, and it's worsening because he is not able to take his cane, back brace and knee brace while being detained," said Christine, who asked to give only her first name. She contacted The Guam Daily Post in June.
"Then there's his (post-traumatic stress disorder). He's trying to control his anxieties by just staying in his cell and covering up with the blanket as if he's back in deployment, taking cover in a Humvee as his shield of protection."
Cruz is depressed but doesn't want to inform guards about his pain or anxieties because it might show weakness to other prisoners, she said. Christine fears he will not receive help while awaiting designation.
Cruz's attorney motioned for temporary release on June 20 for an appointment with a doctor at the Guam Vet Center in Maite. His girlfriend would have provided transportation. The matter was discussed during sentencing, according to the motion.
"In compliance with the court's instructions, the appointment was made in an effort to secure counseling services for Mr. Cruz prior to designation," the motion stated.
However, after consultation with the U.S. Probation Office, the motion was denied.
Christine said Cruz began using drugs as an attempt to self-medicate against pain as he waited for coverage to be approved. He eventually received pain medication, but that stopped after a change of doctors.
After his arrest, Cruz committed some pretrial violations, resulting in his detention. He has admitted to using meth on release and tested presumptive positive for the drug, according to court files.
"I don't condone that he self-medicated with street drugs. When he violated his pretrial release conditions by testing positive, he stated that his pain got so unbearable. They won't give him narcotic pain medicine. He only gets muscle relaxer and ibuprofen, which does not help alleviate his pain," Christine said.
"We had car trouble, and he didn't make it to one group session for substance abuse and this (was) one of his violations. He finally agreed to inpatient treatment at Lighthouse Recovery Center but was given a hearing for violations and ended up being detained on May 21."
Christine had been doing research but couldn't find an advocate on island to help veterans who have run intro trouble with the law.
'Options and alternatives'
Fred Bordallo Jr., executive director at the Guam Veterans Affairs Office, said local and federal officials would like to reduce the number of veterans coming at odds with the law due to challenges such as substance abuse.
The local office works with the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, while the courts have the Veterans Treatment Court program, Bordallo said.
"These are the options and alternatives that we hope can reach the veterans," Bordallo said.
As her boyfriend's primary caregiver, Christine said she feels helpless. At this point, she hopes he will get the physical and mental health treatment that he needs.
"Being incarcerated only makes our veterans' physical and mental medical conditions worse. They need medical treatment to help with their daily struggles. A war veteran living with PTSD every single day struggles with the fact that everyone is the enemy and feels that nothing good will happen for them. They need a lot of love and support from at least one person," she added.