Four institutions comprise the Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) in Beaumont, Texas: a United States Penitentiary (USP), a medium- and low-security Federal Correctional Institution (FCI), and a minimum-security camp. Approximately 5,400 inmates are housed between the four facilities. Given recent media account about Tropical Storm Harvey’s impact on Beaumont, Friday I e-mailed the FCC, where visitation has been suspended indefinitely. Specifically, I inquired as to whether there was any information that could be shared with attorneys and passed along to clients’ families. On Sunday afternoon, I received this response:
At this time, the power has been restored to FCC Beaumont, and generator power is no longer being used. The Inmate Telephone System (ITS) is currently operational. The FCC continues to use its own reserve of water to operate the Complex. There is ample food and bottled water for inmates and staff.
The response is consistent with updates the institution has been providing. However, Beaumont inmates and their loved ones are telling a different story. Friday’s Houston Chronicle included an account from one FCI inmate:
The man described a scene where a fellow inmate passed out Thursday night because of malnutrition; inmates haven’t had a warm meal in more than five days, he said. Because of the water shortage, four portable toilets were brought in to service the man’s building. No chemicals were placed in the toilets, which have already been “topped off” with waste, the man said.
Johnathan Grimes, 37, a diabetic with high blood pressure, told his mother, Margaret Greene, that he could not get his medication for days at the low-security federal facility because the infirmary was so understaffed.
David Vergara, 32, an inmate at the medium security federal prison who also has diabetes and hypertension, told his wife Rachel he’d seen people faint from a lack of drinking water. He told her he had resorted to drinking discolored and possibly contaminated toilet water to stay hydrated.
“In the mornings his eyelids will stick to his eyeballs. His tongue is dry — it sticks to the top of his mouth,” she said.
Bureau of Prisons officials at the Beaumont facilities do not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The foregoing jibes with the account of a reported Beaumont inmate’s spouse:
During Hurricane Harvey, Beaumont Federal Prison was put on lockdown. There are two people to a tank—it’s a small cell. There is flood water in their cells and they didn’t let them out. They were stuck in their cells for five days- cells that were flooded. They were on lockdown for five days.[…]
They are using the restroom in bags so they can save the toilet water. They all have been drinking the toilet water since they have been low on water supply. He said that even though the toilet water has bacteria, at this moment he didn’t care and the other prisoners didn’t care either. They are really thirsty. He said he would drink anything. He told me that if this water didn’t kill him, the conditions were going to kill him. That’s how bad it is.
It appears that more is happening at Beaumont than the Bureau has publicly acknowledged. Appreciating what occurs in the aftermath of catastrophic events, like Harvey, hopefully institutional actors will intervene and ensure that the prison population affected by the storm is properly treated and managed.
*h/t Peter Goldberger, Esq.