Hard Time

A mother battles state prison officials to keep her son's testicular cancer from becoming a life sentence.

It was his mother's fear and love that helped put Correy Castonguay in prison. It will be his mother's fear and love that may help get him out alive.

Not yet 20, Castonguay was unable to stop his life from spiraling out of control. He smoked dope and popped pills. He committed a variety of petty offenses before graduating to a larger theft that put him in the Cochise County jail.

On a generous probation, he continued to screw up. More dope and bad friends. He got bounced from jobs. He blew off rules. Then he blew up at his mother with such force that he was arrested for domestic violence. He fled the probation officer's knock at his door in a Sierra Vista motel, taking off with a newly acquired girlfriend in a stolen truck near Prescott. And though the pair made a one-day run for freedom, the spiral ultimately touched down at the state prison in Florence.

The other spiral, more real and more deadly, began in Castonguay's 10th month as one of nearly 4,000 Arizona prisoners held in Florence. It was testicular cancer that was misdiagnosed and perhaps even trivialized by a prison doctor. More than three months after he made his initial complaints of painful lump, Castonguay had surgery to remove the cancerous mass from a testicle and subsequent surgery to remove cancerous lymph nodes.

Despite the best efforts of doctors at St. Mary's Hospital, which is contracted to provide care to ill inmates in Southern Arizona, prison is no place to have cancer. Castonguay's new spiral included a dangerous blood clot in the arm used to snake a catheter for chemotherapy, debilitating weakness, severe vomiting with blood and a blown IV that spilled a three-drug cocktail into healthy muscle and rendered his other arm immobile.

"He's terrified. He's by himself. He doesn't have family there to be with him, to say, 'You're going to be O.K.," Castonguay's mother, Roxanne Newman said. "I want my son to come home alive."

Castonguay is weak and gaunt, having lost 10 pounds from his already thin, five-foot, five-inch frame. He requires a wheelchair. He requires physical therapy. He requires decent meals. His hair is gone, thanks to the chemotherapy. Light-skinned to begin with, he is now shockingly pale. When prison doctors abruptly cut off his morphine, Castonguays could barely stand to be in his body. His skin crawls. He is agitated.

Newman, through it all, has tried to find positives. She has praise for Dr. William Kuo, the surgeon who performed both operations on her son. She has praise for the oncologists. She has been thankful for the medical program. But she questions whether the state Department of Corrections, understaffed and overwhelmed, can effectively monitor and care for her son.

"It's not the quality of the medicine," she said. "It is the attention. They are not attentive. He called for his meds--for pain and to control nausea--one day at 1 and got them at 4. The prison is doing the best it can, but nobody is qualified. Every time he goes back, he gets worse."

Newman, who works for a Sierra Vista pediatrician, David Leopold, is worried that her son, though "tough," is "tired of fighting. Tired of fighting for his medicine. Tired of fighting for everything."

When he flags, she picks up. But she, too, is frightened. She worries that her son will be transferred to a more remote prison in Yuma or Winslow, farther away from her eye. She is suspicious. Prison officials surprised him with a search recently, after The Weekly made an inquiry about his condition and possible release.

"They locked him in the showers and trashed his room," Newman said.

Charles Flanagan, warden of the Tucson prison, declined comment on Castonguay and referred questions to Michael Arra, a former Phoenix television reporter and longtime Department of Corrections spokesman.

Arra said Castonguay faces no retaliatory action by prison staff.

"We search all inmates randomly. Inmates are subject to search at any time," Arra said. "With Castonguay it is a periodic thing with him, where we search his single-cell environment where he resides and he evidently doesn't like it.

"It was not in retaliation for anything. As you well know, this department does not retaliate against inmates. We are accountable to the public. And if we did so, not only you but all of the inmates' families and the media would be knowing about it."

A mental health worker in the prison asked that Castonguay's cell be searched "every now and then," Arra said. "So it did have a legitimate purpose."

Arra said he could not discuss details of Castonguay's medical care, including termination of the morphine therapy, other than to say he continues to receive medication.

NEWMAN GREW UP IN Tempe, but spent her summers on the ranch homesteaded by her ancestors at Hereford. She moved Correy and his younger brother Logan there five years ago from Apache Junction. The family still runs cattle on what's left of the ranch, well away from the commercial strips and budding subdivisions of Sierra Vista. She is tough and direct, but pleasant and open even to the prison wardens with whom she does battle for the early release of her son.

Correy Castonguey was a regular kid. He was in the Scouts and played Little League. He was in the drama club. But he grew bored and became distracted enough to drop out of Buena High School not long before graduation. He planned on joining the Army and passed his GED when he simply walked in and took the exam.

His mother describes "a last hurrah" before the Army that included joining some young friends to ride off with two Polaris all-terrain vehicles and some jewelry. She remembers being infuriated on that spring day in 1999 because her son wouldn't come clean about the ATVs, to whom they belonged, how he and his three pals, all juveniles, were using them. She called the cops.

"They were stupid," his mother said. "They brought them to my house."

He spent more than three weeks in jail and then was sentenced, less than a month before his 19th birthday, to four years in the community punishment program. But work was spotty. Jobs at a couple of grocery stores didn't last, restitution goals went unmet. He did, however, attend life skills classes and substance abuse counseling, records show.

The spiral started again in January 2000, when Castonguay made the mistake of partying. He smoked pot and used methamphetamines, drank, kept drug supplies over the course of the next three months. In late March of that year, he had a fight with his mother, who on one occasion showed a probation officer the marijuana her son stashed in an empty video cartridge along with some rolling papers.

After another 21 days in jail, Castonguay was placed in intensive probation. But he bolted from a room at the Village Inn on Sierra Vista's Fry Boulevard in July 2000. He and his girlfriend, a juvenile, were picked up near Prescott after a Department of Public Safety officer was called to a stranded vehicle. A license plate on the truck had been changed and Castonguay and the girl were handcuffed. While the patrolman was talking to a motorist who had stopped earlier to help Castonguay, the two managed to escape. They were found about three miles away the next day.

Castonguay pleaded guilty two counts of theft and one count of escape and was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in state prison.

Castonguay told Cochise County probation officers that he knew he "could not make it on intensive probation and that his life was in a downward spiral which he couldn't pull out of." He fled, he said, after he "got with the wrong people, on the wrong day and made the wrong decision."

From county jail, Castonguay was sent through the state's Alhambra prison facility and thento Safford, Tucson and finally Florence, the pioneer town in south central Arizona that has more people living inside cells and walls than outside. He worked as a cook and a landscaper and had a few disciplinary write-ups for minor infractions.

Wrong moves at Florence were not all his. He asked to see a doctor after being disturbed by swelling of a testicle. He was in pain, but the doctor told him that it was nothing.

Prisoners, especially young ones like Castonguay, are isolated for what really is the first time in their lives. They have too much time. They spend too much of that time, the doctor told him, on their own bodies. They fondle themselves too much, the doctor assured him. They jack off too much. He sees it all the time.

Castonguay's pain persisted. It got so bad he couldn't walk.

He and his mother pleaded for a urologist and were told one was not available. Money, or the lack of it at the start of Arizona's budget crunch, ruled a specialist out, they were told.

"I told them I would pay for it," Newman said. "I told them I would pay for the doctor and for the transportation."

Newman had another crisis. Her mother took ill in Massachusetts with a liver stone. She was dead, at age 55, in 12 days.

At Florence, they gave Castonguay antibiotics. All the while the testicular tumor grew and the cancer, as later tumor markers and surgery revealed, spread.

It wasn't until Feb. 28-four months after first feeling the mass on his testicle--that Castonguay had surgery at St. Mary's.

NEWMAN GOT SOME RELIEF. HER son got the necessary surgery and a more complete diagnosis and treatment regimen would follow. But she had no access. The prison ward at St. Mary's is in many respects more restrictive than the prison. She had no visitation, no phone contact. And her son was shackled to the bed in such a way that turning from one side to another was impossible.

"I remember thinking, 'I guess my son is doing better,' " Newman said.

Her son handled surgery well, but he was still sick. Tumor markers showed elevated numbers that required Dr. Kuo to remove five cancerous lymph nodes on May 7, 2002.

Arra, the Department of Corrections spokesman, said Castonguay "was treated appropriately and timely."

At St. Mary's, Dr. Gerald Altschuler set the course for chemotherapy, a combination of bleomycin, etoposide and platinum to be fed through a line inserted in Castonguay's left arm and dripping near his heart.

Despite prison food, an especially poor diet for a cancer patient, and the threat of dehydration, he responded well to the chemo. But a dangerous blood clot developed and Castonguay was poked again with an IV for blood thinners, heparin and Coumadin.

Chemo's frequent side effects of nausea and vomiting hit Castonguay particularly hard. His retching, in the infirmary at the state prison on South Wilmot, was so violent that he developed Mallory-Weiss syndrome, a tearing of lining in the esophagus at the point where it joins the stomach. He soon, and frequently, began throwing up blood.

Newman makes the 90-minute trip to the Rincon unit of the Tucson prison at least each Saturday. She prefers an early morning trip, while it is still cool for her and her grandson, Joseph, born on Christmas 1999, a shy boy who talks to his dad about catching fish together. She carries a bag of quarters for the vending machines.

Off Interstate 10, past emerging subdivisions-Blackhawk Ranch and Vista Montano-sits the federal prison to the left and the state complex to the right. The Tucson complex houses 3,903 prisoners in squat buildings cooled, sort of, by swamp coolers. Heat and cancer don't mix. Heat and chemotherapy don't mix. Castonguay was taken to St. Mary's for a chemo session in a prison van that he says had no air conditioning. In the state's vast motor pool, a prison van with no air conditioning in the middle of the summer? Newman complained. She was told that the air conditioning vents malfunctioned where her son was sitting in the back.

Warden Flanagan, Arra said, reviewed the last 14 transports and found no reports of the air conditioning malfunctioning in any van. There have been other setbacks, including the last round of chemotherapy. A new IV line was inserted in Castonguay's right arm to continue chemotherapy. The vein quickly burst and the three drugs poured into muscle, a dangerous occurrence that can cause severe and permanent damage. He alerted the staff that something was wrong as his arm was swelling. But the IV was not stopped.

"This is going to be a permanent thing for my son," Newman said.

A plastic surgeon has been consulted and her son has begun physical therapy. The incident put Newman at her limit. She fired off emails to Warden Flanagan.

"This is unforgiveable," Newman wrote. "If he loses use of that arm, what is he going to do for the rest of his life. Are you going to send him to school to get a degree in one-handed computer programming or repair? Or maybe one-armed mechanic? This kid is only 21 years old. He didn't get a prison sentence with you, he got a life sentence. I'm asking you again, please send my son home before you kill him."

Newman has volunteered to serve the rest of her son's time, which runs as a flat sentence until Jan. 21, 2004. But he is eligible for release in less than a year--June 1, 2003.

"What's a year of my life?" Newman said of her willingness to serve her son's time, a bargain DOC would never strike.

There are some signs of encouragement. Her son walked-for the first time in four months-to the visitation room. But he is weak. He is in pain. And he is not free of the cancer's threat.

For all her frustration and anger, Newman is forgiving. She apologizes to Flanagan for the tone of her e-mails and, in interviews, expresses understanding for the warden and most of the staff. She can blister a guard who ignorantly does not respond or help her convulsing son in visitation and instead announces: "There is nothing I can do. It's time for lockdown." In the next breath, she will praise another guard who rendered aid.

When she gets an answer that the prison is "doing the best we can," she will fire back: "That's not good enough. He'll be dead."

And moments later, she offers that any number of prison officials are, in fact, doing all they can.

She grasps that the Department of Corrections has a tough job, spending more than a half-billion dollars a year to house and manage 29,035 inmates. Medical spending in DOC is budgeted at $85.3 million this year. It is staffing that is the biggest problem. A report released Aug. 12 stated that DOC needed at least 1,637 new officers, a 31 percent increase to its staff of 5,300 corrections officers. And the medical staff at the Tucson prison is short 15 people of its 117-member staff. At Florence, 14 of 93 positions are vacant.

Newman is seeking her son's release through a provision for "compassionate release,'' a decision up to corrections Director Terry Stewart. She also may seek his release through a petition to the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency.

That is unlikely.

Castonguay, Arra said last week, "does not qualify for the medical release or furlough because DOC can provide his treatment within the DOC health delivery system. It is being denied."

Castonguay and his mother are looking at 10 more months behind bars, at least.

"What he did was stupid," Newman said of her son's offenses. "It was stupid. He didn't do anything for a life sentence."

But she is not giving up. She also feels for others. Other mothers, other sons. "What would have happened to my son if he had a mother who didn't work in a medical office? Who didn't have access to the Internet? Who wasn't such a pain in the ass?"

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