Help! My son is locked in a coronavirus-infected Texas prison

Editorial note: Wrenda Waters is a Palmer Report researcher. She’s written this article about her son.

My son is isolated and incommunicado in a medically-risky environment, locked-up at SAFPF (Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility) in TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) at Jester1 in Richmond, Texas. SAFPF is intensive treatment, in a prison setting. Except for one essential component, there is no treatment available when an employee tests positive for COVID-19. That employee worked in the kitchen alongside my son, approximately a foot of distance between them.

This is the 5th employee at Jester1 who has tested positive for COVID-19. The first occurrence was a counselor prior to pandemic precautions. No treatment was offered at that time. Inmates were out of isolation briefly and are now in medical isolation, again.

No treatment, no phone calls, no going to the cafeteria. Three sack meals a day, consisting of PB&J, raisins and an occasional boiled egg are delivered to their unit. This is unhealthy for loved ones recovering from this disease. There are 323 men at Jester1, with beds 3 feet apart and no ability for outdoor sunshine. We won’t know if they are sick unless they transfer to a hospital, with symptoms of fever and inability to breathe. We won’t know how they’re doing. Who can maintain good mental health in these conditions?

Several weeks ago, Travis County released 1,000 pretrial inmates from jail, due to fears of COVID-19 inundating the crowded system. The same humanitarian principle of releasing non-violent people, from incarceration made deadly by the pandemic, should apply to my son and no doubt numerous others. We’ve been contacting lawyers, putting calls into various organizations, writing emails and reaching out to anyone who might help. His wife has written Governor Abbott only to receive automated responses.

Recently my son decided to file habeas corpus with the Court, as a last resort for release due to COVID-19. We cannot help to effectuate papers with telecommunication completely cut off. He should be released immediately. It is cruel and unusual punishment to place a person who is in custody of Texas, especially as a guest of SAFPF, at highly increased risk of death.

He’s been a model inmate, attending treatment incarceration as a revised term of Travis County Probation. He was placed on county probation for possession, no history of violence, then subsequently admitted to relapse and so was chosen as a permissible candidate for diversion from serving prison time. He agreed to participate in SAFPF offered by Travis County as a 6 month program and housed by TDCJ. While waiting for treatment to begin, upon arrival at Jester1 we learned he was transferred to a 9 month program, he has concluded nearly 6 months. With risk of Coronavirus in confinement, he needs to come home.

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