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CORONA VIRUS IN FCI- ALICEVILLE
FCI ALICEVILLE is a relatively new medium security detention facility that houses mostly immigrants and violators from other prisons. I got here in 2017 when they needed “head count” due to devastating effects of tornados, reconstruction and relocation of inmates that took place the year prior. FCI Aliceville is located in Alabama, a Southern State next to Florida. Like all prisons in FBOP we’ve been on lockdown since March of 2020. Besides holding inmates locked in their cells FCI Aliceville has not taken any meaningful measures to prevent CORONA VIRUS from spreading.
FCI ALICEVILLE is not in compliance with any local Alabama State regulation, Federal guidelines or CDC recommendations. It has not reduced head count and facility is still overcrowded. In addition to overcrowding it is also short staffed. On many occasions we do not get to come out from our cells because there is no officer-inmates miss their video visits, phone time and do not get to use shower. Our officers are currently assigned to two cell blocks, or units, about 240 inmates, When the officer is one unit he/she can’t be on the other, leaving inmates entirely unsupervised. In addition that officer goes in/out from other units, creating risk of contamination and entirely defeating the purpose of lockdown. Many prisons are intentionally running below minimum staffing levels to maximize profit margin. It is unclear whether FCI-Aliceville understaffing is intentional, however, with THE CARES ACT and additional funds and grants appropriated by Congress there is more funding now than ever before to hire additional staff to handle this pandemic, and with current staggering unemployment rate there is plenty of labor force to tap into.
New arrivals keep being placed with general population after 14 days quarantine. Recently because there were staffing issues and no officers in quarantine area new arrivals were just let out without screening or completing quarantine. My last bunkmate, T.K., was COVID-19 positive, asymptomatic. I have informed staff, unit Team and Warden of my underlying health condition and potential risk of placing someone COVID-19 positive in the same 6-9 cell with poor ventilation, closed door and 22+ hour daily lockdown. Not only no measures have been taken but also I was told I would get a “shot” (disciplinary report) for refusing housing. When you refuse housing they send you to the SHU (segregation housing unit) and there are more sick people there. There is no way to self-isolate or keep 6-foot distance at any time. Officers from the SHU, quarantine and other units are being constantly rotated, causing further risk of contamination and in violation of CDC recommendations.
We do not have proper cleaning supplies and our commissary is constantly out of hygiene items. We do not have other options- we are in FBOP custody. Additionally, we have no jobs and many are indigent and unable to shop for basic necessities. Prisons are not exactly a place where somebody will come forward and offer you something, especially this one- we are all in the same boat here. We are locked in and entirely dependent on the FBOP. Our food is malnutricious, we have no clean drinking water and insufficient exposure to sun. Even though we have 1 (one) hour REC (recreation) since around September of 2020, our REC time rarely happens because of shortage of officers, staffing issues, prison events. holidays and weather. When it does happen out time frequently gets cut in half. All that lead to weakened immune system and combined with already high stress levels it makes inmates more susceptible to COVID-19. Most inmates have some chronic or health condition and about 79% of inmates have mental health issues that only exacerbate during the lockdown. That can translate into suicides, aggression and mental health outbreaks.
Because of lockdown we do not have access to law library and counselors operate on modified schedule. During the lockdown because we are completely cut off all resources they only have more work not less, but instead of assigning someone to help with their work they are being assigned other duties and get pulled to do other jobs. Staffing issues affect inmate’s ability to properly litigate their cases in courts and courts do not extend the deadlines. Many missed deadlines, the few lucky ones who new how to file got granted extensions. But extensions do not work in our favor, we are the ones sitting in prison, on LOCKDOWN. I have seen only one person leave on compassionate release on our unit, when so many are qualified! Our medical records officer, Ms. Hester. is taking six months to produce medical records, being perfectly aware that in times of this crisis this is a life and death issue for every inmates who requests them. Our medical care is substandard. Health care contractors have suspended non COVID-19 related care and our local hospital shut down due to financial insolvency.
A stirring rally to remember New Jersey inmates who died of the corona virus took place in Trenton, Patch.com reported. “More than 450 cars gathered from across the state at the Trenton War Memorial for a “Say Their Names funeral procession. Bearing photos of diseased loved ones, the vehicles cavalcade served a grim reminder that social distancing in near impossible task when you are trapped behind bards”. Who will stand up for or remember inmates in FCI-Aliceville when most are immigrants and have families who can’t travel or enter United States. Likewise, if deported to their home country, they will pose no risk of re-entry and no threat to society. For humanitarian reasons it would only make sense to deport those eligible who are non-violent, first time offenders, served majority of their sentence and pose no risk. Ninety five percent (95%) of these women are mothers; they are daughters, sisters and family to someone who needs them now more than ever before. First Step Act (FSA) mandated early deportation but NONE are being implemented by FBOP, DOJ, Sentencing Courts, Immigration Courts or ICE, even upon numerous motions and requests by the inmates.
Interestingly enough when inmates are infected and die from COVID-19 courts do not view that as “deliberate indifference” on the part of the detention facility. On June 16, 2020 Miami Metro West Detention Center (MDCRD) reported 592 prisoners, 123 employees tested positive and one died. In the lawsuit, Swain v. Junior, 961 F. 3d 1276 (11th Cir. 2020), the court stated that as long as defendants (MDCRD) showed that they “did their best”…”neither the resultant harm of increasing infections nor the impossibility of achieving six-foor social distancing in a jail environment establishes the defendants acted with “subjective recklessness as used in criminal law”, relying on Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). In other words, prisons’s non-compliance resulting in death and irreparable harm was justified. That sort of inhumane conditions of confinement that is likely to result in death with no consequences is commensurate to Nazi concentration camps where people were tortured, slaughtered and placed in gas chambers. Placing someone in one cell with COVID-19 is no different.
In “Corona virus: A Second Wave of Infection”, Michael D. Cohen, M.D. describes long term damage from COVID-19. He says: “Evidence continues to accumulate that many patients who have recovered from acute COVID-19 infection have suffered long term organ damage…heart muscle damage…brain damage that has lasting effects on memory and other higher functions. Loss of smell and/or taste…persistent lung, liver and kidney damage have also occurred. Others have reported fatigue, “brain fog”, irregular body temperatures, rashes, and insomnia persisting after COVID…PTSD, depression and persistent anxiety, including nightmares, fear of being along, and fear of going to sleep”. PLN, 2020. People in prisons are exposed to risk of highly infectious COVID-19 with no action taken on the part of the prisons and the government and no meaningful measures taken to prevent it at the detention level.
Is this United States of America? Is this not an infringement of Eighth Amendment Constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment? If it was decided that “Infringement of Haze’s First Amendment Rights itself constitutes an INJURY” in Haze v. Harrison, 961 F. 3d 654 (4th Cir. 2020), then infringement of Eighth Amendment should constitute an INJURY. An INJURY should translate into remedy, relief and injunctions.
Inadequate medical care, inaccessible mental health care, malnutricious food, inability to access law library, insufficient recreation time are only a few examples of Eighth Amendment violations. In McCray v. Lee, 963 F. 3d 110 (2nd Cir. 2020) it was decided that lack of exercise due to snow in outdoor exercise yard constituted Eighth Amendment violation. In a suit filed in October, 2020 by Raymond Skelton in NJ deprivation of properly nutritious food is alleged to be Eighth Amendment violation. In Briggs v. Dunn, 257 F. Supp 3d 1171 (M.D. Ala. June 27, 2017) it was decided that mental health services “simply put…horrendously inadequate” is a violation of Eighth Amendment, same decision was arrived at in Head v. Dunn, Case No. 2:20-cv-00132-SMD, U.S. D.C. (N.D. Ala. 2020). “The cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment imposes a DUTY upon prison officials to ensure the inmates receive adequate medical care” Salahuddin v. Goord, 467 F. 3d 263 (2nd Cir. 2006), same in Bardo v. Wright, Case No. 3-17-cv-1430 (JBA) USDC (D.Conn). Mental health care is especially important because many inmates lost their family members and there is no counseling available and inmates are unable to properly grieve in overcrowded facility and contact their family while on lockdown.
Additionally, in “DOJ Finds Frequent Use of Excessive Force in Alabama Prison” published by David M. Reutter in PLN, November 30th, 2020, it is stated: “The US Department of Justice, DOJ, issued a report that found the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) violates prisoner’s Eighth Amendment rights by frequently using excessive force. The report found overcrowding and understaffing are major contributors to the improper use of force”…”Two examples of guards inappropriately using chemical spray were detailed”. “Guards often fail to report or accurately document the use of force”… “evidence of officers placing inmates to segregation to et injuries heal unobserved and undocumented”. This is all too familiar as on April 7th, 2020 this is exactly what happened in my case. I was pepper sprayed because I asked to open cell door. Records were falsified and I was thrown to the SHU with injuries for thirty (30) days. Since April of 2020 I was continuously requesting medical records and to this day they were not produced by FCI Aliceville. The records of the report as well as DHO records were falsified or conveniently incorrectly recorded, all appeals to the Warden, Regional Director and Central Office were returned untimely, with no due diligence or investigation of any asserted claims, rejected for process without merits determination. This is how FBOP operates- the system is designed for them and is only an illusion of any rights. It does not matter who is right because they ALWAYS win.
Most inmates in FCI-Aliceville are immigrants and do not speak or write English. This is the only thing I can do being behind bars. FCI Aliceville is not the only Federal Detention facility. Detainees serving unduly harsh and long sentences are similarly situated in other prisons. This is not a humane or fair way to punish people and this is happening in America, the land of the free. We are a civilized nation and a leader in Human Rights, a Nation for the People and by the People. Not only United State Government, lawmakers, Congress, FBOP, DOJ and other government agencies have to take immediate measures to expedite releases and deportations like it was done by many States but also prison staff and officials have to communicate and be transparent about risk of death, inhumane conditions of confinement and public safety concern it creates. Prisons are part of our community, many work in prisons and live in nearby areas, inmates are being released back into communities and deported. It is absolutely necessary to address COVID-19 in Federal Prisons and find a solution to safely house, deport and release inmates in the most expeditious way. Time is of essence, Lives are at Stake and All Lives Matter.
Written by an Inmate at FCI Aliceville