500 women at Texas federal prison test positive for COVID-19

FMC Carswell has the second highest number of cases out of all the country's federal prisons


By Kaley Johnson
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

FORT WORTH, Texas — More than 500 women at Fort Worth’s federal medical prison have tested positive for coronavirus, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

On Sunday, the Bureau of Prisons reported 200 women had tested positive for COVID-19 at FMC Carswell. On Monday, that number jumped to 509, giving Carswell the second highest number of cases out of all the country’s federal prisons. Only FCI Seagoville, which is also in Dallas-Fort Worth, had more infected inmates, with 1,132 cases as of Monday.

FMC Carswell inmates said the prison doesn't have enough cleaning supplies or PPE, and cells aren't immediately sanitized after someone tests positive. (Photo/BOP.gov)
FMC Carswell inmates said the prison doesn't have enough cleaning supplies or PPE, and cells aren't immediately sanitized after someone tests positive. (Photo/BOP.gov)

“We’re like a whole bunch of hamsters in a cage chasing our own tails,” Holli Chapman, an inmate at Carswell, said.

Three weeks ago, three women had tested positive at the prison since the pandemic began. One of those women, Andrea Circle Bear, died in April. On July 12, 69-year-old Sandra Kincaid became the second woman to die at Carswell from the virus.

Most of the 1,357 women at Carswell have medical problems and, since April, many inmates have told the Star-Telegram that they feared what would happen if the virus began to spread through the prison.

Carswell’s administration referred questions to the Bureau of Prisons. In a statement, the BOP said it is monitoring coronavirus at all its prisons, including FMC Carswell, and is taking steps to prevent the spread of the virus.

“As with any type of emergency situation, we carefully assess how to best ensure the safety of staff, inmates and the public,” the BOP said. “All of our facilities are implementing the BOP’s guidance on mitigating the spread of COVID-19.”

‘We feel basically abandoned’

Multiple women in the prison told the Star-Telegram last week that the prison did not have enough cleaning supplies or personal protection equipment, and that cells are not immediately sanitized after someone tests positive. Inmate Sandra Shoulders described a mountain of mattresses from those who tested positive piling up in a TV room. She said the prison planned on sanitizing the mattresses and reusing them.

Chapman said inmates at Carswell feel “anxious, angry, scared, dehumanized, lied to.”

Chapman said they stopped getting two meals a day and instead receive one sack lunch with a cold sandwich inside.

“We feel basically abandoned,” she said. “(Officers) are saying they’re doing all this stuff for us, that they’re in here with us. But they’re not the ones in 24-hour quarantine, left in a 6-by-6 cell with three other people with 10 minute showers, 10 minutes to be on the phone or email to communicate with their families.”

On July 14, Chapman said the administration handed out printed notices to inmates about what they were doing to stop the spread of the virus. Inmates were told to stay in their rooms, and masks were handed out for the first time in two months, she said.

She said administration wrote at the end of the notice that “we are making every effort to limit cross contamination and appreciate you doing your part.”

Reality Winner also tested positive for the virus, AP News reported. Winner is serving a five-year prison sentence at Carswell for leaking a classified government document to a news agency. The documents discussed Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Winner is a former Air Force translator who worked as a contractor at a National Security Agency office.

A friend shared Winner’s email with the Star-Telegram about testing positive. In the email, Winner said an officer mocked her for testing positive and she has faced retaliation for talking to the media.

“The officer went out of her way to come to my room and say, ‘I just wanted to congratulate you on your positive results,’” Winner wrote.

Winner also said she had not been able to buy basic hygiene products and had not had a hot meal in three weeks.

BOP response

In a statement, the BOP said it is “carefully monitoring the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” and is in Phase 8 of its COVID-19 action plan. The plan is detailed on the agency’s website and includes actions such as limited inmate transfers, increased cleaning and testing and enhanced health screening of staff.

Soap is available throughout institutions and cells, and is able to be purchased through the commissary, the BOP said. In the statement, the BOP did not answer questions about the inmates’ meals or access to other hygiene products.

“The BOP follows CDC guidance the same as community doctors and hospitals with regard to quarantine and isolation procedures, along with providing appropriate treatment,” the BOP said in the statement.

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©2020 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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