Inmates Describe Limited Food, Water As Prison Flooded During Harvey

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A prison in Texas denies claims that inmates went days without clean water or hot meals during Hurricane Harvey, despite multiple reports from loved ones.

Inmates at a federal prison in Texas allege they endured extreme, inhumane conditions during Hurricane Harvey, but prison officials deny any mistreatment. 

Prison inmates sleep in crowded gymnasium

Relatives of inmates at Beaumont’s Federal Correctional Institution, which holds 1,821 low-security inmates, claim their loved ones were trapped in their cells and given limited drinking water as the facility flooded. Inmates were allegedly restricted from communicating with concerned loved ones and were forced to defecate in bags as water rose to their ankles, BuzzFeed News reported.

The complex was one of several correctional facilities to experience flooding from Harvey, but while at least five state prisons were evacuated due to the unprecedented storm, the institution in Beaumont was not, despite power failure, lack of clean water, and flooding.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons said in a statement that there was an issue with telephone communication, and although the facility’s water source was compromised and there was intermittent power, the complex was “adequately maintained with generator backup power when needed” and there was “an adequate food and water supply for both inmates and staff.”

Those close to the inmates tell a different story.

In messages obtained by the Houston Chronicle, one man said that a fellow inmate passed out because of malnutrition, that they hadn’t received a warm meal in more than five days, and that portable toilets were “topped off” with waste.

“Save me Jesus,” the man said in an email. “I never thought nothing like this would happen in prison.”

One inmate begged his daughter to keep posting about their treatment to social media and to call Washington, D.C, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“The more information they get the better,” he said.

"My dad has been without running or drinking water today, without AC and with maybe 1300-1500 calories of food all day. That speaks for itself doesn't it,” said Morgan Owen, daughter of the inmate.  

Several other accounts emailed from inmates claim the environment was “obscene,” that men with “open soars [sic] and staph infection” were ignored, that they were only given two bottles of water per day, and that were told to lie to their families about their conditions.

Andrea Hasberry posted images of emails her boyfriend sent her to Facebook and asked people to call and spread information to their friends and family.

Inmates and their relatives claiming the treatment was inhumane are at odds with the correctional facility as a prison spokesperson said these allegations are false.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said he personally did not witness standing water when touring the facility, despite an inmate claiming water rose to his calves.

Additionally, contacts for the inmates were hesitant to share their loved ones' information with news outlets in fear that the guards would retaliate against those who spoke out. In 2005, the Beaumont facility filed a class-action lawsuit following the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, when more than 400 inmates in the maximum-security unit went days without food and water. Unfortunately, they lost their appeal.

The attorney for the inmates, Norman Sirak, said the decision would “give the Federal Bureau of Prisons a license to treat federal prisoners like animals.”

“Just because a person made a mistake they don’t deserve to be treated as an animal,” Hasberry said.

“Animals are treated better than those men," she continued. "They evacuated all those animals and made sure they were safe, why can’t they make sure those men in those units are safe, fed, healthy with clean clothes and enough amount of water; they are people too.”

Clark said that while the Beaumont area was “significantly impacted by flood waters,” hot meals were being served, laundry was being washed, additional staff was brought in, and that medicine had been delivered.

A diabetic inmate with high blood pressure told his mother however, that he didn’t receive his medication for days because the infirmary was so understaffed. Lance Lowry, who heads the Texas Correctional Employees union in Huntsville, said several hundred officers were unable to make it to the units in Beaumont, and others were marooned in the facility once they got there.

Lowry claims Clark is just doing his job by presenting a rosier picture than what actually happened. The Prison Abolition Prisoner Support (PAPs) group has been watching the Beaumont situation, and it said it doesn’t trust statements from the Bureau of Prisons of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

“There are too many reports from loved ones claiming otherwise for anyone to trust what Jason Clark says,” Azzurra Crispino, co-founder of PAPs, said.

Inmates deserve humane treatment, and the fact that this prison has already gotten away with horrific actions in the past indicates a clear pattern of abuse and impunity. As of now, the prison has not accepted requests for visits from the press, but the truth will come out eventually.

Banner/Thumbnail Credit: FLICKR/Robert Stringer

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