The Right to Heal Initiative

The Chain gang apothecary intends to place a public initiative proposal on the 2018 California voter ballot. If passed, the right to heal initiative would establish the Office of Prison Wellness, which would operate an ongoing, state-wide prison wellness effort. This initiative would not raise taxes; it would fund the Office of Prison Wellness by diverting 5% of the existing prison budget.

The purposes of this effort

1. Reduce Budget

Reduce the prison budget and various public health epidemics through the improvement of prisoners’ health and medical outcomes.

2. Reduce need

Reduce the need for prisons by improving mental health outcomes and rates of recovery from addiction.

3. Improve Wellness Research

Perform large-scale wellness research to improve prisoner wellness and the progress of wellness sciences in general.

4. Heal

To provide healing services where healing needs to be done.

When it comes to the fight against the diabetes epidemic and the spread of food deserts, prisoners have been left behind. The result: high rates of expensive, but easily preventable, disease. According to research generated by The Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School, state prisoners are 31% more likely to suffer from asthma, 55% more likely to be diabetic, and 90% more likely to have had a heart attack, when compared to un-incarcerated citizens of the same age. Andrew Wilper, M.D. summed up the impact of the crisis:


"Twelve million Americans are released from prisons and jails each year. These individuals and the communities to which they return suffer, as many carry with them the costs of untreated illness and preventable disability."


These higher rates of disease are due, in large part, to the extremely unhealthy food made available to prisoners in the chow hall and prison "canteens". ("Canteens" are state run corner stores inside prisons which sell prisoners ice cream, candy, and dried goods. They provide no fresh produce or anything else remotely healthy, despite prisoners regularly requesting healthy items be stocked.)

The prison system also continues to follow miserably outdated, low-fat, high carb dietary guidelines which have been well proven to cause diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression, and anxiety. The state spends $1.14 per meal served in the chow hall (1% of the total prison budget), most of which is spent on cookies, cake, bread, potatoes, noodles, biscuits, syrup, jelly, Jello, crackers, chips, corn nuts, processed meat, fake soy meats, texturized wheat gluten protein supplements, and ultra cheap nutracuetical Koolaid packets which are supposed to provide much of the prisoners F.D.A. recommended daily vitamin and mineral intake, which the diet lacks. About 30% of the budget is then spent on healthcare, much of which would not be needed if prisoners were simply offered the most basic of healthy dietary options.

The Right to Heal Initiative will mandate that the Department of Corrections update its dietary guidelines, offer healing diet options to any prisoner who wishes to embrace more potent healing dietary practices, stock its canteens with healthy dietary options, establish wellness education programs, and operate responsible farming projects in any medium or low security prison where prisoners wish to grow their own food. The initiative will also mandate that the Department of Corrections cooperate with The Office of Prison Wellness in regard to the management of all such programs.

The Office of Prison Wellness will track all medical, mental health, and addiction recovery outcomes related to the programs it designs and oversees. It will be responsible for continually revising its programs in order to improve medical outcomes. All of these programs will be be financed by the Office of Prison Wellness, using the diverted 5% of the existing prison budget. The Office of Prison Wellness will also track all financial outcomes of its rehabilitative programs. (For detailed information regarding the the programs which the Office of Wellness will establish, the dietary protocols it will put in place, and the research objectives it will pursue, click here and read the Initiative outline.)

This is an ambitious undertaking. Please join the mission! Beating the counter campaign which the Department of Corrections will certainly run against the proposition will require massive support. Click here to join our community support list and receive updates and alerts related to the prison wellness effort.

The Promise of the Distributed Model

We will be attempting the first distributed signature gathering campaign ever. A distributed petition effort applies the principles of a crowd funding campaign in the service of signature gathering. Rather than paying millions of dollars to professional petitioners who will work long hours and do rapid fire solicitation of strangers, we are asking for a much larger group of people to commit to gathering just five signatures per day. This would mean signing up a friend or family member every day or two. Or it could mean spending twenty minutes at the local market or concert, once a week, canvasing the community in a traditional style. Either way, it will result in slower, more in-depth, more impactful conversations.

If we can prove this model workable, the multi million-dollar barrier to entry which has long prevented many grassroots organizations from gaining access to the ballot will be replaced with the much less restrictive threshold of organizing a distributed campaign. If this model is successful, it can be expected to result in a veritable renaissance of direct democracy.

We see the distributed petition campaign as an ideal way to engage people in a casual and easy, but highly meaningful, form of activism. We are hoping this style of more personal, well-paced petitioning will appeal to some who would like to do more than retweet, repost, and become a cybermember of everything—but don’t have the time to remake their lifestyle around marches, full time volunteer efforts, or direct action. This style of political engagement can be seen as a long distance, long haul organizing approach which will create a less abrasive, more impactful form of public education. It may also engage a broader spectrum of individuals, within a broader spectrum of forums.

Click here to join this experiment in casual activism. Help increase public access to direct democracy, and provide the incarcerated the right to heal.


Join our network to be kept up to date with the Options newsletter and the Right to Heal Initiative.