Lesbian inmate moved to prison near Erie

Lesbian inmate moved to prison near Erie

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Lois J. Farquharson, a lesbian inmate who, at age 91, is believed to be the oldest woman incarcerated in Pennsylvania, has been transferred to a prison in the northwest corner of the state.

For almost 45 years, Farquharson, a psychiatrist, had been incarcerated at the state prison for women in Muncy, which is located in northcentral Pennsylvania. But in February, Farquharson was transferred to a female prison in Cambridge Springs, near Erie.

Her advocates expressed concern that the move took a physical toll on Farquharson. They also noted that she cultivated many longterm friendships at Muncy.

Farquharson was sentenced to life without parole in the 1971 shooting death of Leon Weingrad, a Philadelphia physician, with whom she worked and had disagreements. Prosecutors contend that Farquharson induced her lesbian lover and former patient, Gloria Burnette, to shoot Weingrad. 

Farquharson’s advocates deny that accusation but acknowledge Farquharson didn’t prevent the tragedy. Burnette spent a few years in prison before being released, according to court records. 

The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons has repeatedly declined to recommend clemency for Farquharson.

Farquharson is wheelchair-bound and was single-celled in Muncy’s infirmary for the past few years. But advocates say she remains vibrant and engaged in life. 

Jane Keller, a close friend of Farquharson, expressed concern for her.

“Lois has spent the last 40-plus years at Muncy,” Keller said. “She has earned the respect of administrators, staff and fellow inmates, and the friendship of many. She was named ‘Inmate of the Year’ several years ago, and has been enthusiastically supported by the administration in her numerous quests for clemency. Muncy has, in effect, become her home. She jokes with me, ‘Come and see me any time. I’m always home.’ Now, at age 91, she has been moved to Cambridge Springs and has to adjust to a new home, new surroundings, new caregivers, new routines — a challenge for anyone, especially a nonagenarian.” 

Even though Farquharson is located in a remote area of the state, Keller plans to visit her.

“I have been visiting and corresponding with Lois for almost 30 years. Her friendship has enriched me in many ways. She is compassionate, intelligent, well-educated, witty and gifted. I am keenly aware that our remaining time together is limited and precious. Since she has been relocated, a visit to her has become a 10-hour round trip instead of a one-hour one. I plan to make the trip soon, knowing full well that, considering the distance, I will be unable to accompany her much longer on her life journey. I hope the separation is not causing her as much heartache as it is causing me. And I pray that she will have adequate and compassionate care, even without my presence, for as long as she remains there.” 

Susan McNaughton, a spokesperson for the state Department of Corrections, issued this statement about Farquharson’s transfer:

“Lois Farquharson was transferred to SCI Cambridge Springs on Feb. 11, 2016. Based on bed limitations at SCI Muncy, a small number of inmates were temporarily transferred to Cambridge Springs. These are temporary placements pending the opening of additional beds at Muncy.” 

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