Federal Correctional Institution-Oakdale I, Oakdale, Louisiana
April 8, 2020

A ruckus ensued in response to an effort by staff to move prisoners who had just finished a two week quarantine due to them potentially having COIVID-19, into housing units with no known COVID-19 cases.

According to prisoner Chad Ingersoll who spoke with Vice News, “They released some of them and tried to put them back inside the units, and that caused a big old ruckus.” Prisoners in the housing unit and those coming out of the quarantine refused to mix together for fear of spreading the virus. Refusing guards’ orders to submit, things escalated and they called for backup. When back up came, the guards used paintball guns to fire paintballs full of pepper spray at the prisoners, as well as tear gas.

Ingersoll again, “They come running down here with their paintball guns and their gas-canister guns and everything else. One guy got hit with a paintball gun so many times it looked like he was bleeding. But the thing is, they didn’t want to come back in. They didn’t want to be in there and we didn’t want ‘em in here.” By the end of the conflict, three prisoners from the housing unit, were taken away in plastic handcuffs, where, presumably, Ingersoll says, they are now in solitary confinement.

According to a prisoner and staff member inside of FCI Oakdale I, there have been at least 46 positive cases of COVID-19 amongst the prisoner population. Six of those prisoners have died. Sixteen of those are currently hospitalized, 6 of whom are in intensive care and 3 are struggling to breathe on ventilators. 56 other prisoners who are experiencing severe symptoms are being kept in isolation and around 575 others are quarantined together in small housing units.

To make matters worse, there is a culture of prisoners feeling compelled to hide any indication of sickness, according to Ingersoll. “Nobody has ever come back from quarantine,” he says, “We feel that going there is certain death…People are afraid to tell them [officials] that they’re sick because they take them away and lock them up. You don’t see ‘em anymore once they leave here. So these people that are sick, they have the cough and everything, they don’t want to turn themselves in because they don’t want to be segregated.” Also, getting sent to quarantine is a loss to one’s freedom of movement, access to personal property, and disconnect from the prison’s social structure.

According to Ingersoll, the fear of being quarantined, the cramped quarters of the housing units, only being allowed to leave housing units for either showers or to pick up food at the cafeteria and not having access to the commissary where one can buy over-the-counter medicines all contribute to the faster spread of the virus.

An anonymous staff member told media that nurses and medical personnel are making regular rounds in the housing units to check temperatures and look for symptoms, but they believe that some sick prisoners are likely not being discovered. “The medical people are making the rounds twice a day, trying to catch anybody with symptoms so they can get ‘em out and get ‘em treated. But every once in a while, one’ll pop up. You can’t catch all of these symptoms. It can go from bad to worse in a matter of hours.”

Before this uprising, amongst staff at FCI Oakdale I, morale was “not great,” says Eric Morris, president of the union for all of Oakdale’s facilities. At least 24 staff have tested positive for COVID-19, prompting concerns that staff are spreading it to prisoners and those outside. The high number of infections has led to staff shortages and some guards are being asked to work 24 hour shifts. “Everybody is tired, of course, and fearful. The anxiety and stress levels are high. They are telling people you can wear N95 masks but only in certain areas; they won’t give you one unless you work in that area. They gave them out, but when they started running low, they took them back from the staff.” Several staff have filed a lawsuit against the federal government for allegedly failing to provide proper protective equipment against COVD-19.

On April 6, the ACLU sued the Bureau of Prisons and FCI-Oakdale I’s warden, as an effort to get prison officials to speed up the release of prisoners. Attorney General William Barr issued a memo last week ordering the BOP to release “vulnerable” inmates from Oakdale. Somil Trivedi, spokesperson for the ACLU, says local officials in Louisiana have been dragging their feet, claiming they need more clarity about who exactly is eligible for release and when. Says Trivdei, “Local officials are actually using the memo to gum up the process and slow it down because they claim they’re awaiting further guidance. It’s having the opposite of the intended effect. People are waiting to have their cases heard based on a memo that says they should be released immediately.”

So far, the brunt of the outbreak is at FCI-Oakdale I, which is one of three facilities at Oakdale. But the authorities have confirmed one positive COVID-19 case at FCI-Oakdale II, a facility that houses another 900 prisoners. Oakdale Detention Center, the third facility has over 130 prisoners. The prisoners at that camp prepare the food for the rest of the prisoners, another possible source for a broader outbreak. The staff source, quoted above, said one prisoner there appears to have COVID-19, and 119 inmates there have been placed under quarantine as a precaution.
Ingersoll is not very hopeful and expects more confrontations with guards and staff, “These people aren’t going to make any type of move as far as getting people out of here,” Ingersoll said. “William Barr, Donald Trump — whoever, they don’t care. [They’re] keeping us trapped in here…People don’t understand it. How much longer is this going to go before this place just erupts?”
Citations:

Inmates Revolted Against a Federal Prison’s Coronavirus Response. They Got Tear-Gassed.” Vice, April 9th, 2020

 

Article Published: 4/16/2020

Header Source: InmateAid.com