A stark view from inside MCI-Framingham

In 2013, Lee Unitt was sentenced to four consecutive two-year terms in prison and up to 20 years of probation, but according to an ongoing lawsuit, the real punishment she received was far worse than that.

At the state’s women’s prison in Framingham where she was incarcerated for six years, Unitt claims she was confined in cells that often felt like a furnace with heat pouring in, no air conditioning, and no ventilation except for windows that could only be cracked open. The temperature indoors would sometimes climb above 100 degrees. Without many other options, prisoners regularly tried to block the heat emanating from the ceiling by using trash bags as makeshift heat shields.

It gets worse. As reported by Shira Schoenberg of the Springfield Republican/MassLive, the so-called cottages where Unitt was housed were contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, a harmful chemical known as PCBs. In her federal lawsuit, Unitt claims that the cottages’ tile floors were made of asbestos, a potentially deadly substance, and that she was exposed to black mold in the showers.

It sounds hellish for anyone, but for Unitt, it may have been particularly damaging. The former paralegal who is now out of prison and in her mid-50s has “a rare, chronic medical condition characterized by abnormal cell growth in artery walls,” which is exacerbated by exposure to toxic particles. Unitt also has diabetes and hypertension, and the medication she takes makes it difficult for her body to regulate its own temperature. Despite that, when Unitt asked for a fan in her cell to help cool down, she was denied.

According to the MassLive story, Unitt suffered a series of strokes during a 2016 heat wave before prison officials relented and gave her a fan. Medical care at the women’s prison was also lacking, according to Unitt who says that after she suffered internal bleeding in a leg she was given an ice pack and sent back to her cell. The injury was later diagnosed as a tear in her artery and because she wasn’t treated quickly enough, she continues to suffer pain.

Now seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and given the green light to proceed with her suit by US District Court Judge Richard Stearns, Unitt has another troubling allegation: her treatment was hardly unique.

“It’s devastating because of the fact that it happens every day at Framingham,” Unitt said in an interview with Schoenberg. “I wasn’t the only one, but I was the only one that fought.”

If Unitt’s description of the Framingham prison is fair and accurate, then the decades of sending women to the facility for involuntary commitment for substance abuse disorder look even worse than they already did. For years, MCI-Framingham doubled as correctional facility and a quasi-hospital for people addicted to drugs and alcohol. Gov. Charlie Baker ended that practice in 2016, signing a law to ensure it would not continue.

Years ago, before her trial and conviction for embezzling money, Unitt lived a lavish lifestyle, including vacations to “Malaysia, Club Med, Cancun and Aruba, expensive cars including Hummers, Cadillacs and Land Rovers, and thousands of dollars in monthly personal expenses,” as the Newburyport Daily News reported in 2013.

Unitt, who lived in Concord, worked at The Crest Group, a Woburn law office run by her husband, Peter Unitt III, who ran unsuccessfully for state representative as a Republican in 2002. From the law office, the couple essentially ran a Ponzi scheme, dipping into clients’ investments and repaying them from other clients’ funds, misappropriating or stealing $800,000.

According to the Daily News article, Lee Unitt was the one who came up with the embezzlement operation in the first place, but her lawyer husband was the sole signatory on the accounts.

Peter Unitt, who didn’t go to trial, received a lighter penalty. He copped to the charges against him, and was “sentenced to the house of correction for two years, with one hundred twenty days credited as time served and the balance suspended for four years with the condition that he pay restitution,” according to his subsequent disbarment issued by the Supreme Judicial Court.

For Lee Unitt, who has now accused the state of violating her Eighth Amendment right to be free of “cruel and unusual punishment,” the years spent in prison took an enormous toll — and are now the basis for an alarming account of overall conditions at Framingham.

ANDY METZGER


BEACON HILL

Legislative leaders unveiled a long-awaited bill revamping the state’s education funding law, an ambitious proposal that would steer $1.4 billion in new aid to local school districts, significantly more than proposed in a bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker. (CommonWealth)

Baker says a Massachusetts Republican State Committee resolution condemning two Democratic Muslim congresswomen “does exactly the wrong thing with respect to what we should be trying to do with public dialogue generally.” (State House News Service) CommonWealth reported earlier this week on the MassGOP action.

“Enough is enough,” said Sen. Mark Montigny about delays in passing legislation to ban hand-held use of cellphones while driving. (State House News Service)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller wants to take 17 acres of land owned by Boston College by eminent domain. BC is not happy. (Boston Globe)

The Orleans Board of Selectmen adopted a fee waiver program for youth sports and recreation programs to help ease the burden on families that need financial assistance. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

In a surprising reversal, the Trump administration says it will reinstate a program allowing immigrants receiving medical for serious conditions to apply for legal status to remain in the US while being treated. (CommonWealth)

A whistleblower complaint from within US intelligence alleges President Trump had improper communications concerning Ukraine. (Washington Post)

Millions of people are expected to take to the streets worldwide today as part of a “global climate strike.” (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

In the first formal endorsements of Joe Kennedy’s not-yet-even-official campaign for US Senate from Massachusetts elected officials, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll and Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller say they’re backing the 38-year-old congressman in his expected run against Sen. Ed Markey. (CommonWealth)

Fellow Democrats here and nationally are mixed on a Kennedy run for Senate. (Boston Globe) He has one big-name booster whose nod may not be all that helpful in a Democratic primary match-up: former Republican governor Bill Weld. (Washington Post)

Many had barely noticed his entry, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says he’s quitting the Democratic president contest. (New York Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

US Rep. Joe Kennedy is trying to put some meat on the bones of his recent call for “moral capitalism” with a bill that would regulate company stock buy-backs, moves that he says benefit top executives the most. (Boston Globe)

An aerospace testing chamber is coming to the Berkshire Innovation Center in Pittsfield, as Western Mass. looks to grow its role in the state’s innovation and tech economy. (Berkshire Eagle)

Nike is cutting its ties with Patriots receiver Antonio Brown. (Boston Globe)

Several New Bedford city councilors are defending taking money from businesses that want to open marijuana shops or from those associated with those shops. (Standard-Times)

The CEO of Wayfair, where workers recently staged a walkout to protest company sales to immigration detention centers, says he’d like prospective employees to be “non-political.” (Boston Business Journal)

Apothca, a medical marijuana dispensary, will become Lynn’s first legal retail marijuana store. (Lynn Item)

EDUCATION

MIT Media Lab’s Open Agriculture Initiative in Middleton “routinely drained hundreds of gallons of water with nitrogen into an underground disposal well, at concentrations much higher than the lab’s permit allowed,” according to ProPublica and WBUR.

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A nurse is facing charges for diluting morphine at the Bedford Veterans Administration Hospital, and Reps. Stephen Lynch and Seth Moulton vow to get to the bottom of the problem. (Boston Herald)

The life expectancy of a prison guard is only 59 years, and Massachusetts correctional officials are now taking steps to try to reduce the stress of the job. (WGBH)

ARTS/CULTURE

Reviewing Rambo: Last Blood, Sean Burns writes that an overview of the decades-long series shows Sylvester Stallone “opportunistically pandering to fashionable grievances of the moment and then moving along to the next without much care for consistency.” (WBUR)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Sen. Ed Markey, in an op-ed, says Big Oil is the beneficiary of President Trump’s attack on fuel standards. (Boston Globe)

The Daily Hampshire Gazette looks at what major environmentally friendly policy changes, like those proposed in the Green New Deal, would mean for the Pioneer Valley.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A Boston police officer was placed on administrative leave after students at a Hyde Park high school accused him making racial slurs during a confrontation they had with him last week. (Boston Globe)

State Police trooper Matthew Sheehan has been indicted on charges stemming from an incident in which a suspect in Randolph was shot. Sheehan is already off the job facing an investigation into racist social media comments. (Patriot Ledger) 

A third alleged co-conspirator in an extortion scheme that prosecutors say was orchestrated by Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia II pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday. (Herald News)

A judge has terminated a harassment prevention order against prominent Newburyport psychiatrist Keith Ablow filed by a former assistant. (Eagle-Tribune)

Alexei Saab, a New Jersey man allegedly acting at the behest of Hezbollah, photographed Fenway Park among other targets in the mid-2000s as part of a terrorist plot, according to federal prosecutors. (WBUR)

Former Milford Police Chief Thomas O’Loughlin claims he was let go because of his age and his limp, and now he’s accusing the town’s attorney of acting at the political behest of the selectmen, which the attorney unequivocally denies. (MetroWest Daily News)

Two young men allegedly stole an ambulance from Melrose-Wakefield Hospital and led police on a two-town chase before crashing into a teacher’s car in Lynn. (Lynn Item)