This article was sent to me by my friend, great attorney, Steve Hampton. It is a poignant reminder of the real toll of mass incarceration: needlessly ripping apart families.
We can be sure that many, many inmates will die from coronavirus, for the prison “health care” is abominable.
Excerpts from the Article:
In the months before the coronavirus infiltrated the U.S., a 49-year-old inmate began drafting a letter inside the walls of a federal prison in Louisiana. The man, Patrick Jones, had been locked up for nearly 13 years on a nonviolent drug charge. He hadn’t seen his youngest son, then 16, since the boy was a toddler.
“I feel that my conviction and sentence was also a punishment that my child has had to endure also and there are no words for how remorseful I am,” Jones wrote to U.S. District Judge Alan Albright in a letter dated Oct. 15. “Years of ‘I am sorry’ don’t seem to justify the absence of a father or the chance of having purpose in life by raising my child.”
Jones was arrested in 2007 after cops found 19 grams of crack and 21 grams of powder cocaine inside the apartment he shared with his wife in Temple, Texas. His wife testified against him and was spared a prison sentence.
Jones wasn’t so fortunate. He was ultimately ordered to spend 27 years behind bars, in part because he lived within 1,000 feet of a junior college and already had a long rap sheet, mostly burglaries that he committed when he was a teenager living on the streets.
He was now writing the judge in the hope of receiving a sentence reduction through the newly signed First Step Act, which offered relief to some inmates convicted of nonviolent drug crimes. “My child having his own experience of raising his own child would validate my life experience and give meaning to my existence in this world, because 83582-180 has no meaning,” he wrote, referring to his federal inmate number.
“It is just a number to be forgotten in time. But Mr. Patrick Estell Jones is a very good person. Caring, hard working, free and clean of drugs and a lot smarter now, with a balanced outlook on life.”
The judge denied the request on Feb. 26. Twenty-two days later, Patrick Estell Jones was dead, the first federal inmate to die of the coronavirus disease.
He had contracted COVID-19 at the low-security prison in Oakdale, Louisiana, a penitentiary now dealing with the deadliest outbreak of any of the 122 federal facilities. “He spent the last 12 years contesting a sentence that ultimately killed him,” said Alison Looman, a New York-based lawyer who had represented Jones in an earlier bid for clemency. “Ironically, it seems it is his death that might finally bring his case some attention.”
The U.S. has seen a movement in the past several years to reduce the sentences of nonviolent drug offenders, but criminal justice reform advocates say Jones’ case illustrates the limits of the effort.
“You see everything that is wrong with our sentencing system in this case,” said Kevin Ring, president of the criminal justice advocacy group FAMM, which stands for Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
Ring ticked off the series of factors that led to Jones’ lengthy prison term: a questionable accounting of the amount of drugs he was selling, his apartment’s proximity to a junior college, his decision to go to trial rather than take a plea and a criminal record that was made up largely of teenage offenses.
“He was no choirboy, but his life had meaning,” Ring said. “I feel like his life was taken from him when he was sentenced, and then he was killed in prison, and both of those things should trouble us.”
At least 18 inmates and four staff members have tested positive, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons, but prison union leaders say the real numbers are significantly higher.
“You’re just afraid all the time,” said an Oakdale corrections officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he’s not authorized to speak to the media. “You’re afraid of catching it and bringing it home to your family. You’re afraid of spreading it in the community.” The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on jails and prisons across the country. Last week, the Bureau of Prisons announced that it was locking down all inmates in their cells or quarters, with limited exceptions, for 14 days, but new cases keep popping up.
“There’s a feeling of terror not knowing when this is going to end,” the Oakdale staffer said.