[Pnews] Families of Inmates of Prison Hit by Hurricane Michael Describe 'Inhumane' Conditions
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Oct 15 10:05:51 EDT 2018
Families of Inmates of Prison Hit by Hurricane Michael Describe
By Zahra Hirji and Talal Ansari, BuzzFeed News
14 October 18
*/“I want to know where my son is and did he sleep on the floor,” one
inmate’s mother told BuzzFeed News./*
A Florida Panhandle correctional facility that houses more than 1,500
inmates took a direct hit from Hurricane Michael and was badly damaged,
BuzzFeed News has confirmed.
Located about 30 miles inland from where Michael made landfall as a
powerful Category 4 hurricane
Gulf Correctional Institution was not evacuated ahead of the
record-setting storm. Instead, the Wewahitchka, Florida, facility took
in inmates from at least one of the state's six evacuated facilities
to multiple family members of inmates.
Since Michael’s devastating landfall on Wednesday, official information
about what happened has been limited and communication lines at the Gulf
Correctional Institution and the overseeing state agency, Florida
Department of Corrections, have been down.
“There have been no reported injuries and all inmates are secured. Staff
and inmates have access to food, shelter and water,” Patrick
Manderfield, a Department of Corrections spokesperson, told BuzzFeed
News in an email. Every Panhandle facility has checked in with the
state, he added, and additional supplies, including fuel, food, and
water, are being sent to all impacted facilities. A similar message has
been posted on the agency’s Facebook page
But scenes from outside the facility Friday morning, coupled with
interviews with 10 mothers, wives, and girlfriends of inmates and prison
officials that have received some contact from inside, tell a more
chaotic, disturbing story.
Keresten Chen last spoke to her fiancé, an inmate at Gulf Correctional
Institution, on Wednesday morning. “Water was coming through the doors
already,” Chen recalled being told. Chen and other family members spoke
with BuzzFeed News on the condition that inmate names would not be
disclosed for fear of retaliation.
“They only gave him a bad lunch and told him not to eat it right away
because they didn’t know when they’ll be able to feed them again,”
Nicole said, adding that he stayed in a two-man cell the night before,
and more people were sleeping on the floor. “It is so inhumane.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Melinda Aronson got the second — and final —
call of the day from her son. “Mom, it’s really bad here,” Aronson
recalled being told. “The roof of my dorm just fell out.”
Lacey Alford, who is married to a facility official and had stayed in
close contact with him during the storm, described a long list of
facility damages: “a lot of the dorm rooms are destroyed”; “a lot of
roof damage”; “windows blown off”; “the main control and administration
rooms are destroyed”; “no fences”; and “the staff housing are gone.”
State officials did not respond to repeated questions by phone and email
about damage to the facility. BuzzFeed News then confirmed the facility
sustained some roof damage during a Friday visit to the site. An
official in the facility's administrative building declined to comment
to questions in person.
The roofs of at least two buildings were badly damaged and shingles were
removed from many others. The correctional facility’s own signage, made
of brick and concrete, was toppled over by the hurricane’s winds.
Another structure, related to the prison but outside of its barbed wire
fence, had completely collapsed and debris could be seen strewn around
the exterior of the facility. What appeared to be an industrial
generator was working outside the administrative building. And while
there was no obvious signs of damage to the facilities’ exterior fence,
law enforcement personnel, accompanied by their patrol cars, were
stationed around the perimeter of the facility.
"These inmates were left scurrying in chaos because nobody had a plan. I
want to know who failed these inmates,” said Aronson. “I want to know
where my son is and did he sleep on the floor."
“Much like the rest of the panhandle, our institutions did sustain
damage due to the Hurricane,” Florida prison officials wrote in a
Aerial images of the Florida coast before and after the storm
released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, show
the widespread damage, with entire neighborhoods razed, trees toppled,
and boats dislodged.
Officials, however, are not yet saying which facilities were damaged or
what that damage looks like. And while they suggested some inmates will
soon be moved, no details were provided. Based on Facebook chatter
<https://www.facebook.com/FLCorrections/?ref=br_tf>, and local reporting
it’s clear Gulf Correctional Institution isn’t the only one that’s been
damaged and inmate conditions may not line up with official accounts.
Jennifer Oneal’s Wednesday afternoon call with her boyfriend at Gulf
Correctional Institution was cut off, presumably because of a power
outage. “The call abruptly ended,” Oneal said. She then had to go to
work, and struggled to concentrate because she kept thinking: “Is my
Oneal later received a call back from a prison official, and then from
her boyfriend, on Friday morning. He was uninjured, but hungry, she
said, and would soon be evacuated to a different, undisclosed facility.
Two others told BuzzFeed News they’d heard the inmates were being moved
on Friday or soon after.
“They are not handing out bottled waters. Told to drink tap water at
their own risk,” Oneal said. “It’s crazy. It’s uncalled for.”
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