Please write Vince a note! 

Your words of encouragement would mean so much to him now.

Help me to send a thousand letters to him by the end of January.

Dr. Vince Gilmer: # 1190607, MCTC, 110 Wright St, Marion VA. 24354


New Year’s Update

January 1st, 2024 

After a decade-long legal battle to get Dr. Vince Gilmer out of prison and into treatment for his Huntington’s Disease, in January 2022, Governor Ralph Northam granted Vince Gilmer clemency during his last hours in office, granting Vince to be released from prison to a clinical setting. For the last two years, though technically a free man, Vince has remained in prison, wheelchair-bound and suffering from late-stage, terminal Huntington’s disease.

His transfer has been complicated because the Virginia Departments of Corrections and Mental Health have not seen it as their responsibility to facilitate a transfer to one of their public hospitals. They have explicitly expressed that they have “no duty” to help with Vince’s placement. Crossing state lines from a prison to a hospital has been much more complicated than I could imagine.

Through his window, Vince can see one of Virginia’s finest public mental health hospitals, the Southwestern Mental Health Institute, which is on the prison campus only a stone’s throw away from his cell. It has been immensely challenging for Vince to reconcile being a “clemency-granted – free – man” who is actively dying and Virginia’s decision to not facilitate his release.

In order to return home to North Carolina, Vince must be admitted to a hospital first where he can be stabilized medically before being transferred to either a NC public facility, the Veteran’s hospital or a private long-term care facility. To make this happen, we needed money as assurance that we could support his hospitalization and a medical facility that would meet Virginia’s parole conditions, medical and psychiatric needs.

I am grateful for the nearly 1,500 people who came together through the incredible publicity efforts of Quentin Quarantino and People Magazine. Our GoFundMe Campaign has raised over a $100,000 which has been essential to opening doors for Vince. I approached many hospitals and clinics throughout North Carolina as the Virginia mental health system refused to assist in getting Vince across the parking lot. No one was immediately agreeing to take Vince due to the complexity of his circumstances and they needed assurance that another facility was on-deck to take care of him longterm.

In September of 2022, I started negotiating with the hospital where I work in Asheville, Mission Hospital (HCA), whose CEO, lead psychiatrist, mental health team, and my group’s inpatient medical team (MAHEC), advocated to take care of him because we are the most resourced hospital in the 25 counties of Western North Carolina. Asheville is also his home, and as his legal guardian, I would be able to take care of him here. Mission was on-board, and this emerged as the best option as I knew all the neurologists, psychiatrists and the general medical team who would be taking care of him.

In February of 2023, after nearly four months of negotiating, the administration at Mission Hospital broke our verbal agreement and decided not to accept Vince as a patient.

It is important to explain this because in the paperback print of my book, “The Other Dr. Gilmer,” (released on March 7th, 2023) I write a new postscript conclusion:

 In the fall of 2022, I approached the lead psychiatrist at Mission Hospital in Asheville, who asked me about Vince. She had just read this book., she said, and had been moved by it, “What can I do to help?” she asked.

Over the ensuing months, we had numerous meetings:  with lawyers, public relations teams, the CEO, the psychiatry team, the Virginia attorney general, state public health officials, and other hospitals.

And then, the week before Thanksgiving, Mission Hospital officially decided to take Vince as a transitional step to long-term care. Eleven months after Northam’s clemency reversal, after nearly nineteen years of incarceration, Vince would begin his healing journey, and it would be in his own community hospital.

He was getting out.

Vince is not out.

Mission’s leadership made a decision to mitigate any potential negative PR risk due to the media scrutiny they have been faced with in our community, and by our attorney general who recently initiated an investigation of the hospital. Mission’s decision to reject Vince was symbolically one of the saddest moments of my career, after serving faithfully on the medical staff at Mission since 2006. I have always believed in our shared commitment to provide the highest quality of care to ALL the citizens of our region. This decision was an affront to that mission. 

This decision was calculated with the knowledge that the consequences would let a terminally ill – clemency-granted – patient remain in prison rather than enable his treatment and freedom to begin. This is a violation of the Hippocratic oath, to do no harm.

In March of 2023, after this heartbreaking rejection, I was reminded that Vince honorably served in the Army for four years, and could potentially be a candidate for the VA Medical system. I immediately called one of their psychiatrists, a close friend from medical school. Her response, as well as the leadership team, was completely different: “We want to do what is right for our veterans and don’t care where he is coming from, whether that be a prison or another hospital.” After interviewing him on Zoom, they saw Vince as a patient who was struggling for his life, a veteran in need, and wanted to do something about it. Several months ensued trying to navigate the administrative process to get him enrolled and clearance from DC to bring him there.

During the spring and summer of 2023, negotiations with the VA continued without resolution, and our request made it all the way to the head of the Veterans Affairs system, Denis McDonough.  While we waited, I started looking for other options as a back-up.

In June of 2023, I reached out to a smaller, regional hospital near Asheville with fewer resources but could be a viable option. Through the support of our regional state Senator, Julie Mayfield, we built a relationship with the administration agreeing that our regional hospitals have a duty to take care of their community members regardless of their history just as Vince once took care of his patients, even delivered babies, in this hospital. They asked all the appropriate questions and concluded that Vince needed acute attention. Not taking care of him during this final phase of his illness would be antithetical to their mission to provide equitable care for everyone. 

In August of 2023, we submitted to the Commonwealth of Virginia that a NC hospital had officially accepted him. We were all ready for the transfer. For Vince’s own privacy, the hospital preferred not to be named.

Throughout fall of 2023, after submitting our proposal, we waited as the Virginia parole board fell apart and had to be rebuilt. Their job was to articulate the parole conditions set forth by Governor Northam’s clemency of Vince before releasing him to another state. Despite the fact that Vince had lost nearly 75 lbs, could no longer walk, was confined to a wheel chair, was floridly depressed (at times suicidal) and still being placed in “administrative segregation” (solitary confinement) from time to time, it took three months to consider his parole conditions and communicate them through the interstate compact board to NC’s parole board.

As Thanksgiving 2023 approached, we still had no response yet from any of the involved parties to whom we were emailing weekly. The NC parole and interstate compact board was aware and on-deck to receive the Virginia parole conditions so they could initiate the due diligence process. Senator Mayfield and I communicated with our attorney general, Josh Stein. I communicated with our Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, Kody Kinsely. Our faithful legal team, Toby Long, attempted to communicate with the AG of Virginia. I communicated with Vince, telling him that he would celebrate his first Thanksgiving meal out of prison in 19 years. Thanksgiving arrived and once again, I let him down.

At our Gilmer Thanksgiving gathering which has been a tradition in our family for over 60 years, I found myself washing dishes next to a young man whom I didn’t know well but had seen before. Avery was married to a cousin on the other side of the family. While scrubbing a dirty pan, he said, “we received Vince’s parole conditions. We are soon to start the due diligence investigation of the hospital to make sure it complies with the new parole conditions.” I couldn’t believe it! Here we were in the woods, at a church camp, washing dishes in an old industrial kitchen finally hearing some meaningful information about where we stood in this process. Virginia had shared nothing about “new” conditions or how we should even anticipate this process would unfold. I didn’t know if we should prepare a hospital bed, or a funeral at this point. But that night, I joyously hugged the young man, and before leaving the camp gave “The Other Dr. Gilmer” books to take back to his team so they could learn more about the man they were investigating.

In December of 2023, I learned directly from the NC parole investigator that the hospital did not meet the requirements of the “new parole conditions,” she said regretfully. I could tell the young officer was torn up by it. “Virginia has added that Dr. Gilmer must remain in a ‘locked’ unit.” She had done everything she could which included visiting the hospital, speaking to the administration, and appealing to her higher-ups. We were unaware of this language and had not prepared for it. “This is a man who is actively dying,” I said. “He is no flight risk, he can’t even walk. He is not physically capable of being violent. He dreams of being in a hospital receiving care for the first time.” The officer acknowledged this shamefully, saying that “her hands were tied, and that we would have to take it up with the Virginia Parole board.” I told her I appreciated her efforts and empathetic approach. It had taken us four months to get to this juncture. Now, we were starting over and I had promised Vince that he would not spend another Christmas behind bars, entering now his 20th year in prison.

On December 14th, 2003, our attorney general, Josh Stein, and the state of NC officially sued Mission Hospital, stating that “For profit HCA (Mission Hospital) had broken its promise to the people of Western North Carolina and to my office. Quality health care is too important – in some cases, a matter of life and death. But HCA apparently cares more about its profits than its patients.

Indeed, this was the message implied when Mission/HCA had refused to accept Vince as a patient.  “Life or death” did not seem to be not part of the calculus. For many months, Mission had been building a new mental health hospital for our community, a free-standing well-resourced unit prepared to take care of the most severe mental health patients in our region, patients like Vince. There he could receive psychiatric and medical care by a group of psychiatrists that had recently graduated from our psychiatry residency at MAHEC, physicians fully capable of taking care of Vince.

On December 21st, I reached out to the Mission CEO and administrative head of the psychiatric hospital as a “Hail Mary” to ask again if they would consider taking Vince for a period of time while we sorted out the parole conditions.  Throughout the holidays I heard no response. That same week, I learned that our Governor, Roy Cooper, was to have a Christmas celebration at the Governor’s western residence in Asheville. Along with a friend, who works alongside the Governor as legal counsel for the crime division, we showed up. I gave him a copy of my book and asked if I could write him a letter summarizing a single ask: I needed him to communicate one request to the Governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin – ask your parole board to please remove one word, “locked,” from the parole conditions. I asked him to share with Governor Youngkin that we wanted to transfer him now because he needed urgent treatment. Christmas arrived without any word.

New Year’s 2024, arrived without any news except a brief email from Julie Lohman, the head of the Virginia interstate compact board, who sent me the contact of someone on the newly established parole board. At every step, we have asked for the actual parole conditions, but still no one has yet sent them to our legal team, nor me, his legal guardian. In medical terms, the process has been like trying to treat an infection without having any idea which bug you are trying to target.

This first week of 2024 has been hard to find hope for Vince’s release, until I had lunch with the president of the Huntington’s Study Group (HSG), Shari Kinel, who happened to be passing through Asheville and reached out to me. She shared the amazing work that HSG is doing to study and bring novel treatments to patients with Huntington’s. She expressed her sadness that Vince remained in prison and that he was not yet a candidate to be enrolled in one of their clinical trials. She gave me hope though that the national and international HD communities were cheering for Vince. Vince, on the other hand, struggles to imagine dying with dignity outside of his prison walls. He is fearful he will never leave. He is hopeless.

After eleven years of fighting this battle to release a terminally ill man from his life sentence, my eternal optimism has been broken. I now know that restorative justice – healing – is not possible in most prisons, certainly not in Vince’s. I remain motivated to beat Vince’s biologic clock and get him out but am also fearful. I have so much gratitude for the tremendous collaborative efforts of NC politicians (Julie Mayfield); Virginia lawyers (Toby Long, Geri Greenspan, and Dawn Davison); HD physician experts who have contributed to Vince’s clemency petition (Dr. Mary Edmonson, Dr. Karen Anderson); filmmakers (Jennifer Fox, Concordia, Maven, Social Construct, Decoy Productions) who are committed to sharing Vince’s story on the screen; journalists who have written about Vince’s story (The Wash Post, USA Today, People, NYT); musicians (Johnny Irion and Kinobe) who have written songs about Vince; and especially to this one unnamed hospital who has vowed to get Vince the treatment he deserves.

On January 3rd, I received a reply to my request to transfer Vince to the new “locked” mental health facility from the CEO of Mission Hospital, Chad Patrick. It was short:  “We can’t help. Thankfully, our smaller regional hospital has remained steadfast and committed to receiving Vince as a patient but unfortunately do not have a “locked” medical or psychiatric ward (for men). In fact, few hospitals in our country have a locked medical unit because medical units are, by nature, not padlocked. They invite visitors and families to be part of the healing process even in our intensive care units. Psychiatry units are “locked” to protect their patients from harming themselves, but our accepting hospital doesn’t have a unit like this. It has been so unbearable to witness the tragedy of Vince slowly dying without the human connection of his family and loved ones. This is perhaps the cruelest act we could deliver to another human. This is not “Reverence for Life,” as I describe in my book, it is contempt for life.

Today, Vince is likely the only incarcerated person in America who has remained in prison for more than two years after being granted his freedom. His Huntington’s continues to relentlessly accelerate. He needs nutrition. He needs teeth. He needs physical therapy. He needs medicine. But, as Luya, my daughter, reminded me: “he does not need handcuffs.” I learned through one of the NC parole investigators that Vince is also “required to be handcuffed” during the transport to North Carolina.

Now in his 20th year of incarceration, Vince still remains behind bars though he was promised his freedom by the Governor of Virginia. He is being denied appropriate care for his Huntington’s disease and is suffering unjustly. This is the definition of Cruel and Unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth amendment of our constitution.

Vince Gilmer’s story illuminates the plight of hundreds of thousands of mentally and physically ill patients incarcerated in US prisons, where they suffer from a system that does not seek restorative justice, a system designed to punish, not heal.

I am grateful for all of you who have supported our efforts to free Vince over the years and your generous financial contributions to our campaign. I am grateful for the emotional support you have given me and my family. I am grateful for the many, many people who have inspired and taught me how to pursue seeking justice along the way: lawyers, authors, politicians, advocates and the many others who have taught me the importance of advocacy.

Change truly requires all of us to step out of our silos and join hands as a community and be willing to make sacrifices for our common good. I am especially grateful for the amazing example of advocacy through the Huntington’s community who advocates passionately for their patients and who have played important roles in supporting Vince. Special thanks to Dr. Mary Edmonson, Dr. Daniel Claassen, HDSA, HSG and the NC HD Reach team. Special thanks to Jennifer Fox, Zak Kilberg and my family who have been my steadfast advocacy partners and have enabled me to do this work.

I hope to have a hopeful update very soon and a video of Vince joyously leaving the prison one day! In the meantime, I ask you to send Vince a letter or note. This would be so meaningful to him as he is feeling very hopeless now. Your words of encouragement will help him get through these next difficult weeks as he awaits his freedom.  

With gratitude,

Benjamin Gilmer

Please write to:

Dr. Vince Gilmer # 1190607, MCTC, 110 Wright St, Marion VA. 24354



Vince needs our help. Contribute today