In a rare television interview, former Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi sat down with NBC10 Boston's political reporter Alison King to discuss his life-and-death battle with cancer and what he's fighting for now.
Two years ago, DiMasi was released from federal prison, but he is still dealing with the affects of his throat cancer, made worse he believes by the poor medical treatment he received. And the trauma of his five-year incarceration will always be with him.
Back in December, DiMasi was invited onto the floor of the House of Representatives, marking his first visit there since he resigned as Speaker in 2009.
“Well, I was very nervous at the beginning to go back to the State House," Dimasi said. "It brought back so many memories.”
The memories of what followed his resignation are not happy ones: the 2011 conviction on federal corruption charges; the sentence of eight years in prison; and the diagnosis, months after entering the Butner Correctional facility in North Carolina, that he had stage four throat cancer.
“I was on a feeding tube for a year," he recalled. "They gave me the wrong chemo, my medical care was horrible.”
Asked what he did all day for years at prison, DiMasi said, "Well, for the first year and a half, I fought for my life.”
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DiMasi says he read five newspapers a day, mentored young black men and taught a class on current events.
He says prison did change him.
“It gave me the ability to find out how much courage I had, how much fortitude I had in dealing with all of this,” he said.
DiMasi will not say if he believes he committed a crime: “I don’t want to re-litigate that, it’s not going to help me move forward."
And he will not directly answer if he believes he was treated fairly: “That still is a question of interpretation by people as to what my case was all about.”
DiMasi received compassionate release from prison in 2016 after serving five of his eight years. He says it took about 18 months for his health to come back.
He is now working as an advocate, consultant and lobbyist on issues relating to health care, the homeless and prison reform.
"There’s no mercy, there’s no compassion anymore," he said. "There’s no understanding anymore. It’s just punishment, punishment, punishment.”
Asked if he’s happy, DiMasi says he is.
“Yes. I am happy. My wife and I are enjoying life together again.”
DiMasi says he intends to write a book, but that his wife Debbie will likely have her book published before his. Debbie DiMasi of course played a major role in advocating for her husband’s early compassionate release.