COVID-19 continues to plague Md. corrections system
Many say the deaths of COs Karen Kennedy and Barthphine Maduh underscore the dangers faced by officers and inmates
By Phillip Jackson
The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE — In June, a group of Baltimore City correctional officers gathered outside the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center for a vigil honoring Karen Kennedy. The 60-year-old corrections officer had worked there and contracted COVID-19 in May, eventually succumbing to complications.
The close-knit group of officers told stories of their colleague, bonded over the difficult job they shared and said they wondered every day if they could be next to catch COVID-19.
One of those in attendance was Barthphine Maduh, 68, a veteran officer who trained and mentored new guards for years. Likeable and respected, Maduh worked long hours and spent decades on the job.
Last week, the officers gathered again, this time to honor Maduh. He had contracted the virus in July, fought it for months and finally succumbed in late September, his wife said.
Kennedy and Maduh worked out of the same facility and are the only two correctional officers in the state to have died from COVID-19. Their deaths underscore the dangers faced by officers and inmates as the state grapples with a virus that has plagued the corrections system for seven months and killed at least 11 inmates.
That was on the mind of nearly 100 officers gathered outside of the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center for Maduh’s vigil Oct. 8. Balloons were tied together leading up to a podium, where his wife and two of their children sat in black chairs. In their hands, the family held Maduh’s old uniform and different images of him and candles were passed out.
Maryland’s two deaths appear to be on the low side compared with states such as Louisiana, which has recorded six deaths, or Texas, with more than a dozen, according to the website Corrections1, which focuses on labor issues connected to prison workers. Most of the states on the list have more people behind bars than in Maryland, making exact comparisons difficult.
“The loss of our two veteran correctional officers is devastating, and we are committed to honoring their memory and never forgetting their courage and dedication to the citizens of Maryland,” said Gary McLhinney, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Latia Barney, vice president of the AFSCME Union in Maryland, met Maduh when she was new to her job as a correctional officer. He was her trainer, and she recalled memories of how he taught her to do the job with “efficiency.”
A loving husband and father, Barthphine Maduh had built long-lasting relationships with his co-workers, and it was a blow when he suddenly became sick in July, they said.
He had been married to his wife, Vivian Maduh, for 38 years, and they had four children. Still coping with the loss, his widow recalled Maduh as a “good provider” for his family.
“He was a gentle soul; he’s a peacemaker,” she said. “He was just a dedicated worker and a hardworking individual.”
Gary Everett, retired from the correctional system for six years, said that when he learned about Maduh’s death he immediately flashed back to working with him at the Jail Industries building in Baltimore back in 2013.
Everett said they often would go back and forth with each other over football, as Maduh was not a fan of the Ravens or former quarterback Joe Flacco.
“He was a very nice guy. First thing you would see was his smile,” Everett said.
Kennedy brought that same spirit and commitment to the job during her 20 years as an officer, colleagues and her family said.
Her daughter, Danyetta Davis, remembers vividly the stress her mother carried daily as she witnessed inmates and correctional staff grappling with coronavirus in the cramped facility. Kennedy worked long hours of overtime and was often at work more than at home, despite worries about her underlying health conditions, including diabetes.
She was first diagnosed with the virus May 15, Davis said. The long hours her mother worked were always a concern. Now, Davis is looking for the next steps to take after she believes the unsafe environment in the prison facility ultimately led to her death.
“She would come home every day complaining and said a lot of inmates had it. She had diabetes and was worried for her health,” Davis said. “There was a fear for her to work inside of that prison, but she had to because: How else was she going to pay her bills?”
Barney, the union vice president, said officers around the state face the difficulty of performing their jobs as professionals while battling the uncertainties and dangers of a pandemic.
“The only thing we can do is just pull together and try to stay safe like the rest of the community,” Barney said following the vigil. “At this moment all the correctional officers showed that we are going to stay together and get the job done.”
As of Monday, the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center has the highest number of confirmed cases statewide for officers at 127 and the second highest for inmates at 147, according to numbers from the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
During the early stages of the pandemic, the department created a COVID-19 Response Team that meets three times a week to review its COVID status. The department has distributed 3.9 million pieces of personal protective equipment to staff and inmates, according to Mark Vernarelli, spokesperson for the department.
“We consistently stress to all employees the critical importance of personal responsibility, good hygiene practices, and adherence to all recommended COVID prevention protocols,” Vernarelli said. “COVID is transmitted in community settings outside the facilities; therefore employees must remain vigilant when they are not at work.”
Morial Hayes, another AFSCME union representative, believes prisons and jails in Baltimore have a long way to go to keep guards and inmates safe, especially in light of the deaths of Kennedy and Maduh.
“I think that the state needs to take more precaution to make sure everyone has proper [personal protective equipment]. And make sure inmates are also taking the same precautions," he said. “It won’t bring this brother [Mudah] back, but they should be bring in more precautionary measures so people will continue to not put themselves at risk."
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