Momentum for the release of former Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi slowed Monday, when federal Judge Mark Wolf expressed concern that "compassionate release" requests had been filed only 24 times a year on average between 1992 and 2012, and demanded evidence DiMasi's petition wasn't politically motivated.

Last week, the Federal Bureau of Prisons filed a motion, with the blessing of U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, requesting a compassionate release from federal prison for DiMasi—a measure reserved for inmates who are elderly or extremely sick. DiMasi has served five years out of an eight-year term, for taking a kickback on a state contract. He was diagnosed with prostate and tongue cancer while in prison. For some time, the 71-year-old was unable to eat and relied on a feeding tube.

A hearing has been scheduled for the first of November. Deborah DiMasi, the wife of the former speaker, and attorney John Reinstein joined Greater Boston to discuss the recent developments.

Describing her family's situation as a "surreal," Deborah DiMasi said it's hard to believe her husband's release could be imminent, and they are remaining "cautiously optimistic." 

Sal's health has been deteriorating during his prison sentence. After four years of waiting, a swallowing function test showed that the former speaker needed to be on a pureed diet. Deborah said Sal isn't getting the nutrition he needs.

"Sal cannot function in an institutional setting," she said. 

The judge has the authority to grant the compassionate release without a hearing, Reinstein explained.  

While Wolf was concerned about Sal DiMasi's stature having an outsize impact on the decision, Reinstein said they were concerned that Sal's local prominence would work against him.

Legally, it's taken the DiMasis and their lawyers over a year to get to where they are today. They are all cautiously optimistic, as these releases are rare.

Deborah said that she is "OK," plugging away and breathing.

"We're human beings," she said.