Tommy Clark knows what it is like to have a child stricken with a life-threatening disease.
Two of his daughters died at 4 months of age.One was born with a terminal illness. The other died of sudden infant death syndrome. Their names, Angela and Danielle, are tatooed on his arm.
Because he knows the emotional and financial devastation a child's illness can cause a parent, Clark, an inmate at Utah State Prison, initiated raising funds for 5-year-old Jason Overman of Orem.
Clark handed Jason's father, John, a $803.50 check Tuesday to help finance a bone marrow transplant that will cost more than $200,000. The money represented the sacrifices of 184 inmates who had earned the money by working jobs at the prison.
With the check, Clark gave John Overman a letter to give to Jason. That letter reads:
"Jason, I remembered years ago how I felt when my two daughters were taken from me while I watched, helpless. I know how your parents feel. My heart aches for them.
"So I decided to do something about it. I talked to some of the inmates here at the prison and got the feeling that they, too, wanted to help.
"Their response came from the heart and it came swiftly. This check . . . is our way of saying `We love you.' Good luck with your operation."
Impressed with the inmates' concern and sincerity, John Overman thanked Clark, saying he was overwhelmed with the amount they were able to raise.
After he gave the check, Clark stepped away from the spotlight because he "didn't want people to see me cloud up."
"We want people not to be scared of us, but to know that inmates are capable of caring about others," Clark said.
Jason was scheduled to leave Wednesday for the UCLA Medical Center to undergo extensive bone marrow treatment. He suffers from neuroblastoma, a rare form of nerve cancer that leaves him with only a 20 percent chance of survival. With a marrow transplant from his 16-year-old sister, Julie, his chances will increase to 50 percent.
Because the treatment requires weeks, Jason and Julie will celebrate their birthdays on the same day - Aug. 5 - while in the hospital.
Since Jason began chemotherapy treatment in February, his weight has dropped significantly, the hair of his eyebrows has fallen out and he has lost most of his strength.
While the pressure of coping with Jason's disease is constant, John Overman says, his son remains cheerful and courageous.
"I wish I had the courage Jason has," he said.
The Overmans reluctantly turned to the community for support when they learned their insurance would not cover the marrow transplant because the company considers it experimental.
Since that time, community groups throughout Utah have raised $170,000.
The inmates' contribution was "money hard-earned and heart-felt," Clark said.
As a janitor in the medium-security unit, Clark earns 36 cents an hour. The maximum salary an inmate earns is $1.25 an hour.
Within the confines of prison, the meager salary provides inmates a few extra fringe benefits - shaving lotion, cigarettes, candy bars. It also allows them to send something home to their children and wives.
Inmates want the community to understand that "prisoners have good in them," Clark said.