The writers are members of our White Collar Support Group that meets online on Zoom on Monday evenings. They are all currently in Federal Prison camps for white collar crimes. As they can’t attend support group meetings while they are in prison, we are in touch regularly on Corrlinks prison email. They each send me prison coronavirus updates to post on prisonist.org. – Jeff Grant
Click here to read our article, “After Trauma: The Time for Spiritual Growth.”
Progressive Prison Ministries, Inc. is the world’s first ministry supporting the white collar criminal justice/economy exiled community. It hosts a White Collar Support Group online on Zoom every Monday at 7:00 pm ET, 6:00 pm CT, 5:00 pm MT, 4:00 pm PT, information here. We will be hosting our 200th consecutive weekly meeting online on Monday, April 13, 2020.
April 2nd: Four BOP prisoners at Oakdale (Louisiana) and one at Elkton (OH) have died from Coronavirus. Oakdale is a ‘Low’ prison and Elkton is a Camp. Prisoners at these low-level prisons are much more susceptible to the virus because we live in very close quarters, while ‘High’ and ‘Medium’ prisoners have cells with one or two prisoners per cell. Putting Camp and Low prisoners on lock down is the exact opposite of what should be done!
The barracks building I am in is a 6,000 SF warehouse-type building with 142 inmates (capacity is 155); there are no interior walls in the barracks area. Imagine putting 142 people in 3 average sized houses and telling them they have to breathe the same air 24/7, and then bringing 5-10 DIFFERENT people (guards) from the outside every day to mingle with the 142 prisoners.
During the Town Hall meeting yesterday a Camp prisoner was told he would be disciplined if he used a bandana or handkerchief as a health mask since that would be considered a disguise!
There are several prisoners at the Camp that have health categories of Level 2 and Level 3, which puts them at significant risk. (Level 1 is life threatening). How the BOP and Justice Department can justify risking the lives of elderly prisoners with no violent history is beyond me. This is immoral.
XXX has several federal and state prisons, and a high number of border law enforcement and prisoners. Prison(er) issues are a common story in the local newspaper. It’s only a matter of time before this story gets out, and people will be outraged!
Weds., April 1st
The Assistant Warden (AW) concluded a “Town Hall” meeting with the XXX ‘camper’ prisoners a moment ago. Please pray for my health, and for the health of several prisoners in this camp who are over 70 years-old and in poor health. (Our oldest prisoner is an 84 year-old retired doctor; it is immoral that he is in this prison).
Here are the key points:
1. We are on lockdown for the next 14 days, meaning all 142 men are confined to the barracks. This is a national Bureau of Prisons (BOP) action as part of Phase Six of their COVID-19 mitigation plan.
2. All guards and staff have their temperature taken daily before they are allowed to go to their work area.
3. TWO BOP-XXX GUARDS HAVE TESTED POSITIVE FOR COVID-19, but Staff claims they contracted the virus while they were on vacation, and they did not have access to any prisoners.
4. Everyone is required to practice social-distancing. (This comment was met with some derision since they called everyone to the front of the barracks for the meeting, while the staff leaders stood shoulder-to-shoulder as they spoke).
5. One prisoner questioned the truthfulness of some of the information, and he was immediately removed from the meeting.
6. When asked about comments made the past few days by Attorney General Barr, policy makers, and politicians to have all low-risk prisoners over age 55 to be released to home confinement, the AW said “there’s nothing to that – it’s just politicians talking.” (For context, there are approximately 17,000 prisoners in BOP Camps, and it’s estimated that about 3,000 are over 55 (there are 33 at this XXX prison camp). Two days ago AG Barr stated publicly that he believes releasing older non-violent prisoners to home confinement may be a more effective way to manage the virus. A BOP prison in Louisiana has 7 cases currently which was a result of 4 guards testing positive for the virus and bringing it into the prison; one prisoner in his 50’s has died. As of yesterday, 28 BOP prisoners and 24 BOP guards have tested positive for COVID-19, and there is risk for a “wildfire” in some prisons.)
Dear Family & Friends:
Some updates from XXX:
No visits will be allowed by family, friends and legal counsel for the next 30 days. After 30 days, it will be reevaluated. As a result, phone call minutes have been increased to 500 minutes per month vs the 300 we had. A modified staff ratio will be present on campus – currently we have the kitchen supervisor, one person in front in admin and then they call another person in from the men’s FCI when count is requested. Total skeleton operation. No one has been tested positive for Covid within the system which is good news. These measures are taken to ensure that the virus does not come from the outside.
Keeping you all in my thoughts and prayers. I’m ok. Please be careful too.
Hi Jeff –
The XXX federal complex includes three prisons; High, Medium, and Camp. There are ~ 1,400 prisoners at the High, 350 at the Medium, and 150 at the Camp. Last Thursday a new prisoner with “flu-like” sumptons arrived at the High which caused all three prisons to go on lock-down pending the results of his test. However, Camp prisoners were required to go the Medium and High to cook meals for those prisoners. Campers were NOT allowed to go outside, but we were forced to work at the other two prisons. Very aggravating!!
Yesterday (Saturday) around 1p local time the prison staff announced the tests were negative, but the lock-down would remain in force through the weekend. Again, very aggravating! We have heard that the lock-down will end Monday.
The complex has implemented the BOP changes of 500 phone minutes and suspending visits for 30 days.
March 15, 2020
Dear Family and Friends
Friday, at 12:30pm, we were all recalled back to the Camp and told to remain in our rooms (they call it our ‘cells’, but I hate that term). We had no idea what was going on. And there we remained until 3:30pm at which time we were directed to the big TV room for a Town Hall with the Warden. Yes, the Warden. He spends most of his time across the street ‘behind the fence’ at the Medium, so we knew it was important.
The Warden announced the new BOP protocols to be proactive against the Corona Virus. All the steps seem logical, at least to me. I am sure the BOP put out a national press release about it. The initial 30 day restriction on visitation and volunteers from the outside make sense to me. That is not to say I am happy about it, but it needs to be done. However, the BOP increased our monthly phone allowance from 300 to 500 minutes to make up for the lack of visitation!
I am also glad they say they are going to put a halt on transfers between facilities for the next 30 days. That also makes sense. I do hope they will be vigilant with the CO’s who come and go every day, making sure they are not a source for introduction of the virus.
That said, this was not the big event for the week. And what I am about to tell you hasn’t happened here in the time I have been at El Reno, that is until now.
This past Wednesday, one of the Camp inmates committed suicide. He intentionally overdosed on his blood pressure and other medicines. This is very sad.
His name is XXX. And I can personally attest to the fact that XXX is a troubled soul. I, along with two others, shared a room with XXX for 4 – 5 months. I decided to move out of the room earlier this year (January) because I was at my wits-end and I knew that the longer I stayed the more I would become someone I didn’t like.
XXX is a very smart guy. He had been to state prison in California before his time in Federal Prison for identity theft/Social security fraud. He didn’t have too much longer to go on his sentence, but he was a very angry and bitter guy. He misplaced his blame on others and his anger and bitterness turned inward and his behavior became more and more anti-social.
I am certain that the administration here knew he needed help. He was constantly getting in trouble for one thing or another, for breaking rules that our children could have followed. Instead of helping him, or transferring him to a medical facility, they ignored him.
No one I talked to is really sure what set XXX off on Wednesday. Maybe it was just the culmination of small things that built up over time. I do know that he would tell any one who would listen “I am going to die in here. The BOP will never let me go.” The truth is XXX would have been out of here in 12 – 18 months, but he had convinced himself that he should have been allowed to leave sooner because of the FSA/Over 60 Home Confinement program, but the BOP was denying him out of spite. We will never know.
Was XXX disliked, yes he was. Did he do things intentionally to try and make those around him as miserable as he was, yes he did, constantly. But that isn’t the point.
It is so sad that XXX felt like he had no other option than to take his own life. Did some inmates try to help and counsel him, yes we did. Did some inmates pray with him, yes we did. Did inmates show him kindness and compassion, yes we did. But he could never see the light at the end of the tunnel. He couldn’t recognize that his life was of value, and he could never see or believe that he could make the world a better place.
I hope XXX has finally found peace.
Let me tell you what it has been like here at XXXX – a complete cluster fuck. No one seems to know what is going on and the right hand is not talking to the left.
They have put us on controlled movements and let us only out to eat unit by unit (there are 8 units). Lunch alone takes 3+ hours. They just cleared out my unit entirely to make room for a flight that is coming in for them to be quarantined- even though they told us that they were not moving any inmates around in BOP custody. So every single unit is completely full- does that not make it a breeding ground for sickeness?!
They want to take precautions- I get that. But there has to be a better way to do it than the way that they are.
We have NA but it’s inmate led. So far they are letting the campus administer it. We are also currently allowed to teach GED classes but they are less than 10pp. All volunteers are not allowed to come in to do the ministry and or reentry classes they were administering (Trauma, Criminal Thinking, Reentry 101). Hope this helps!
Jeff: When I was talking with my son (17 in April) yesterday he rightly pointed out that all things being equal, most of us at the Camp are about as isolated as we can get. And he is right. What I worry about, and I didn’t get into this with him is if the BOP is lax in their day-to-day screening procedures at the front gate (contractors, truck drivers, CO’s, etc.) we inmates are in trouble. Yes the BOP has stopped the transfer of inmates and self-surrenders are being quarantined for 14 days across the street at the Medium in the SHU of all places.
I choose to believe that we are being protected, but that will not stop me for praying for protection for all of the inmates here. There are plenty here who are severely immune compromised, and we know the BOP is loathe to release inmates before they are good and ready to, regardless of what Congress wants.
As you know, being locked away from family is stressful enough, but in a time of crisis it is especially frustrating and frightening. The BOP must focus on keeping the inmate population truthfully informed, and keep them from becoming too restless and frightened. Inmates distrust the BOP for good reason, so they are going to have to work extra hard to overcome this. They should also loosen some of the dumb Camp restrictions that cause unnecessary stress…. and believe me this Camp is stressed!
I do know this much, once this crisis is behind us, and I am back home with my family, I don’t think there will ever be a situation that I cannot face.
Jeff, talk to you soon. And if you have time keep me in the loop with relevant news and developments.
Pastor Jeff –
This is a great writing, and it’s very timely with all the “opportunity” that surviving coronavirus is going to bring to all business sectors!
The ‘Magical Thinking – Entrepreneurs Beware’ paragraph is indeed a “tough one”. An old proverb states “any strength over-emphasized leads to weakness”; entrepreneurs can feel invincible especially if they have succeeded in the past. One of my all-time favorite business books is What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (Marshall), and it essentially warns entrepreneurs that certain conditions and actions may have led to prior success, but assuming that those same conditions and actions exist now is a fatal business mistake. Thank you for sharing.
We were on lockdown for three + days (March 13-16) because an incoming prisoner to the USP had “flu-like symtons.” The test results came back negative on the 15th and the lockdown was lifted 1.5 days later. Campers were somewhat irritated because we were forced to go to the USP and FCI to prepare meals for those prisoners, but we were not allowed to go outside at the camp.
All classes involving over 10 people have been cancelled, including church meetings. This past Sunday (Mar 22) we asked if we could split into groups with fewer than 10 people, but we were denied. Amazingly, the Assistant Chaplain stopped at the library where 6 of us were reading to inform us that gathering for a “religous service” of even 6 people was prohibited, but we could stay in the library! (A couple of hours later about 8 of us gathered our chairs together in the barracks to read and pray together). Two Natives (the only two attending) who engaged in their Sweat Lodge ritual this past Sunday were written-up by the Assistant Chaplain for violating the ban on religious congregating! Less than two hours later I was playing cards with these two Natives. Orientation was held today for new incoming prisoners, and BOP staff split them into two groups of less than 10 so they could conduct their training. Hypocrites!
Yesterday I and one other prisoner were called to the Warden’s office to clean her conference room which is undergoing light remodeling. The guards there (FCI) are routinely violating the 6-foot distance rule with us and with themselves, even though there is no legitimate reason for them to get that close to us or themselves.
BOP employees are being tested for COVID-19 as of this past Monday.
I am the head of education here at the camp and very involved at the church. So, I know what is happening both here and in the Low next door. All group gatherings have been banned. No GED classes. No ACE classes. No church services. No exercise classes. Nothing. In the Low they are basically under 23/1 lockdown. They have to stay in their units except for an hour in the exercise yard each day and meals which are served by unit. The camp only has 75 guys so, with the exception of no classes, we are not affected.
The only suggestion that I have would be to set up some sort of group email. Guys could email in thoughts questions etc. You or someone on the outside that is familiar with running support groups could create answers to the questions in addition to some thoughts for that day. Those questions, answers and thoughts could be bulk emailed to all who are in prison and part of your organization. I am one of the thousands of guys who receives emails from FAMM so I know that it can be done, I’m just not sure what the logistics of bulk email are into this system. Hope that helps.
Federal Bureau of Prisons Coronavirus Webpage: https://www.bop.gov/coronavirus/
Federal Bureau of Prisons COVID-19 Action Plan: https://www.bop.gov/resources/news/20200313_covid-19.jsp
Petition: HOME-CONFINEMENT TO LESSEN CAMPER’S EXPOSURE TO THE DEADLY COVID-19 VIRUS: http://chng.it/DF4JCGfh2b
Some Recent Articles About Prison and Coronavirus:
Prisonist.org: Scared White Collar Sh*tless: Reporting to Prison During the Coronavirus Pandemic, https://prisonist.org/scared-white-collar-shitless-reporting-to-prison-during-coronavirus-pandemic/
Prisonist.org: Coronavirus Updates from Prison, https://prisonist.org/white-collar-support-group-coronavirus-updates-from-prison/
Prisonist.org: 12 Things to Know When You Report to Prison During the Coronavirus Pandemic, From Inside a Federal Prison Camp, https://prisonist.org/white-collar-support-group-12-things-to-know-when-you-report-to-prison-from-inside-federal-prison-camp/
The Marshall Project: When Purell is Contraband, How Do You Contain Coronavirus? Handwashing and sanitizers may make people on the outside safer. But in prison it can be impossible to follow public health advice, https://www.themarshallproject.org/2020/03/06/when-purell-is-contraband-how-do-you-contain-coronavirus
The Hill: ACLU calls on Justice Department, Bureau of Prisons to release inmates vulnerable to coronavirus, https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/public-global-health/488244-aclu-calls-on-justice-department-federal-bureau-of
The Crime Report: Huge Parole Caseloads Called Threat to Public Health in COVID-19 Pandemic, https://thecrimereport.org/2020/03/17/huge-parole-caseloads-threaten-public-health-in-covid-19-pandemic-warn-agency-chiefs/
NPR: Prisons And Jails Worry About Becoming Coronavirus ‘Incubators’, https://www.npr.org/2020/03/13/815002735/prisons-and-jails-worry-about-becoming-coronavirus-incubators
CT Mirror: To contain coronavirus, release people in prison. Do not let Covid-19 become Katrina in Connecticut, https://ctmirror.org/category/ct-viewpoints/joseph-gaylin-noora-reffat-and-arvind-venkataraman/
Business Insider: US jails and prisons are ‘fertile grounds for infectious disease’ and preventing the spread of coronavirus behind bars will be a challenge, say experts, https://www.businessinsider.com/experts-keeping-prisons-free-of-coronavirus-will-be-a-challenge-2020-3
Prison Policy Initiative: No need to wait for pandemics: The public health case for criminal justice reform, https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2020/03/06/pandemic/
Government Executive: Federal Prison Employees and Others Question BOP’s Readiness for Coronavirus,https://www.govexec.com/management/2020/03/federal-prison-employees-and-others-question-bops-readiness-coronavirus/163692/
My Record Journal: State organizations seek prisoner release due to virus concerns, https://www.myrecordjournal.com/News/State/Organizations-seeking-release-of-prisoners-due-to-virus-concerns.html