Two prisoners at FMC Carswell have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the Bureau of Prisons, including a pregnant woman in critical care on a ventilator, her baby delivered early by C-section. Although federal directives call for the release of at-risk prisoners to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Carswell’s population remains essentially unchanged since late March, declining to 1,658 from 1,664, despite being at higher risk. Multiple women have told The Appeal that they were discouraged from filing paperwork for early release, or that officials have told them that they’re not eligible, without giving a clear reason. Carswell is at more than 130 percent capacity.
Amy Povah, who runs CAN-DO, a nonprofit focused on clemency, points out that Carswell should have been one of the first federal institutions to release prisoners. “If priority were given to any one federal facility in this country, it should be the Carswell medical facility where women are medically compromised and extremely vulnerable to the coronavirus,” Povah said. “As someone who served nine years in federal prison it was rare for anyone to escape the flu during flu season—it takes off like a fire in a dry barn due to our close proximity to one another and inability to practice social distancing or have access to medications and vitamins such as zinc, fresh citrus or vegetables, etcetera.”
(CAN-DO member) Nancy Ferneau, who spent 16 years in prison, is familiar with the cruelties of Carswell. Over the phone from her home in Seattle, where she has been since her release in August, she ticked off a list of incidents she said happened during her time there, including a woman whose breast was removed because she was misdiagnosed with cancer and another who died in the laundry room after complaints about her pacemaker were ignored by staff.
“Doctors do not want to see you,” Ferneau said. “You only get to see the actual doctor once a year. To see a physician’s assistant or a nurse, a lot of times they use a number system and by the time you get your turn you get over what’s wrong with you.”
Ferneau is terrified for her friends who are still in Carswell. “They’re supposed to be on quarantine, but everybody from different units work in the kitchen, go back to their units, so they’re not really in quarantine,” she said. “I tell them girls every single day, cover your face, wash your hands.”
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