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In Report, Federal Inmates Tell Of 'Revolving Door of Death'

When his chest hurt and breathing became difficult, Shannon Derrell Williams considered his history of blood clots and worried he had a pulmonary embolism. Then he tested positive for the coronavirus. If Williams had been home in Washington, D.C., what happened next would have unfolded differently. He was in one of the worst places to fall ill — a federal prison. Soon, he found himself coughing and shaking in a “suicide cell” with three other men who had also tested positive. “The cell was cold and the lights were on throughout the night,” Williams recalled in a written account. “When you’re sick with COVID, hydration is essential. But the water in the cell was disgusting and unhealthy … The water that came directly from the sink was literally hot and had to be cooled down first. Plus, it was filled with impurities. It was OK for brushing our teeth, but to drink? No."


As Williams tells it, by the time he left that section of the prison, he had lost 25 pounds, was dehydrated and had missed doses of his high blood pressure medication. “This place is a revolving door of death and depression,” he said, reports the Washington Post A report by two D.C. organizations shows how much work new federal prison director Colette Peters and lawmakers have in front of them to reform a system that often falls short of treating people “with humanity” — and then sends them back to their communities. “This report fills a yawning void in a couple of respects,” said Pam Bailey, co-founder of the nonprofit More Than Our Crimes, which released the report with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “First, it centers the voices of the individuals who are incarcerated inside. Everyone seems to talk about them, but few talk directly to and with them. They are among the most qualified experts on the problems of our system of incarceration, yet we don’t tap into their lived experience. Second, it documents that there is systemic abuse, neglect and corruption.”

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