Waylon Young Bird
Waylon Young Bird

Waylon Young Bird, a federal prisoner in Springfield, Missouri, sent a letter to a federal judge in the privacy of his cell.

“Greetings sir, just a quick letter concerning the pandemic of the coronavirus,” Young Bird wrote in response to the letter. In addition to our health issues, the overcrowding in this facility, and the filth in this prison medical center, many of us are at high risk for contracting this virus, according to the doctor.

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci

It was the 15th of March in the year 2020. Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke on network television to warn Americans to “hunker down significantly,” and states began closing their pubs and restaurants on the same day as the announcement of New York City’s closure of its public schools. Many individuals were beginning to realize that something life-altering was already taking place, and they were becoming alarmed. Young Bird was starting to see what was going on as well.

For crimes relating to methamphetamine distribution, he had been sentenced to 11 years in prison and had been detained at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield since September the previous year. On April 5, 2020, he sent another letter.

Chief Judge Roberto Lange
Chief Judge Roberto Lange

“If given the chance I will prove I can stay out of trouble and follow the rules and conditions set for me,” Young Bird wrote to Chief Judge Roberto Lange of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota, where he was sentenced. “I’m not a bad person. I just made a few bad decisions in my life.”

Young Bird was in his early 50s and was suffering from a variety of ailments, including late-stage kidney disease, for which he needed dialysis. On April 8, he sent a letter to the court requesting that he be released from prison. By that time, the coronavirus had begun to spread swiftly throughout the entire country.

How COVID Gets into the BOP

“Once a guard or staff member brings it in here, it will spread,” he said in another letter, this time to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, dated April 19, 2018.

Young Bird was attempting to seek a way out of prison as quickly as possible in order to prevent the virus from spreading.

Young Bird
Young Bird

Thousands of other federal detainees have taken the same bleak stance during the past two years, attempting to use an established mechanism to petition for release before their stay in jail effectively becomes a death sentence.

Many of them were finally defeated. Young Bird would eventually come to the same conclusion.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) reports that 287 federal detainees have died as a result of COVID-19 as of early March, a figure that does not include deaths in privately operated prisons. However, according to a recent NPR investigation of federal prison death statistics, the Bureau has maintained that it has a plan to keep the pandemic under control since the outset.

During the epidemic years, the number of deaths in the federal prison system has increased significantly. The death rate in institutions operated by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was 50 percent greater in 2020 than it had been in the five years before to the pandemic. According to an examination of age-adjusted death rates conducted by NPR, the rate was 20 percent higher last year.

Many of them appeared to be aware of their predicament – and attempted to flee. And those who took their case to court often found themselves in the midst of a lengthy and difficult procedure that was unable to keep up with the fast spread of the virus.

Nearly all of those who died from COVID-19 were over the age of 65 or had a medical condition that put them at a higher risk of dying from the virus.

“All you heard was just coughing all night, all night” says the narrator.

Prisons – Perfect breeding ground for COVID

From the moment the coronavirus arrived in the United States, the Federal Bureau of Prisons was confronted with a problem: prisons were likely to serve as a breeding ground for COVID-19. Because it is practically hard to remain isolated in a prison setting, health professionals believe that the most effective method to address this issue is to reduce the prison population significantly – and soon.
Ron Shehee was a survivor of the outbreak at the federal prison facility in Lompoc, California, where 70 percent of inmates tested positive for the coronavirus by May 2020, according to Shehee’s account.

Over 100 other guys occupied his cell block at the prison camp, which was also known as a minimum-security institution. They shared bunk beds and shared restrooms, and they all ate together in the prison camp’s dining hall. When the pandemic struck, Shehee had only been in Lompoc for a few months, after being found guilty of crimes linked to the sale of methamphetamine in 2019.

“At first, we didn’t even know that COVID existed. We just had people start getting real, real sick,” Shehee remembers. Some were so sick that Shehee, who is paralyzed from the waist down, said he began letting other inmates use his wheelchair to transport people to the medical room. The atmosphere became very strained.

In Shehee’s experience, “People trying to hold in their cough because it’ll start an argument, and people trying to get up and rush to the bathroom so they don’t cough,” The only thing you could hear in the middle of the night was coughing. “At nighttime, that’s all you heard was just coughing all night, all night.”

Shehee was kept in isolation following the death of his friend Jimmie Lee Houston, who died of COVID in the early months of May. However, he claimed that the isolation he was experiencing felt more like he was being punished with solitary confinement and without the medical attention he required, such as the catheter he requires or the meds he needs for spasms and asthma.

The teenager admitted that she was placed in a “They did put me in a nasty little cell all by myself,” “And over there in the hole, they don’t talk to you. Every time they come up to the door, they shove your food in. And if you ask a question, they don’t care.”

He claimed that at one point while washing, he lost his grip on his wheelchair and had to crawl back to his bunk to get back into it. The experiences of convicts like Shehee have inspired concern in other institutions as well, with tales of inmates not reporting symptoms because they did not want to be separated from their peers. After being questioned about Shehee’s treatment at Lompoc, the Bureau of Prisons stated that it would not comment on “anecdotal allegations.”

Carvajal Admits Prison is just about the worst place for COIVD

In June of 2020, Michael Carvajal, the head of the Bureau of Prisons, admitted that there was an issue before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Prisons, by design, are not made for social distancing,” Carvajal stated during his testimony. “They are, on the opposite, made to contain people.”

Michael Carvajal
Federal Prison

Assuring the committee that, despite the bureau’s “sound pandemic plan.” Carvajal, who announced his resignation in January of this year, the bureau maintained its social distance from the committee.

Obtaining a comprehensive picture of how the federal prison system has responded to the pandemic at each of its 122 prisons across the country is difficult, but NPR spoke with several current bureau employees who described issues that went against the plan, such as the movement of COVID-positive inmates between prisons and units.

“Our agency is reactive and not proactive. You know, they waited until it got out of hand and then tried to fix things, but by then it was too late,” said Aaron McGlothin, a warehouse worker foreman and local union president at the federal prison in Mendota, Calif.

In Miami, Eric Speirs, a senior correctional officer and local union president at the federal detention prison, said, “I don’t trust anything the Bureau of Prisons says,” “We’ve had places catch on fire with COVID.”

This story was declined for interview by the Bureau of Prisons, but a spokesperson wrote in a statement that it has collaborated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has “implemented a flexible and tiered approach,” and is “taking appropriate steps to normalize operations as safety and security permit.”

Ron Shehee’s Story

Ron Shehee
Ron Shehee

Ron Shehee, a former prisoner in the Lompoc detention center, was eventually granted compassionate release and currently lives in Kennewick, Washington, where he works as a used vehicle sales representative. He hasn’t been able to shake the feeling that he narrowly escaped death.

“I went there to do my time for the crime that I committed and I owned up to that. But I did not plan on going there to die and never see my kids and my family anymore,” Shehee said. “We all was lucky to make it through what we went through, and some of us didn’t.”

“We could have been releasing so many more people”

Some federal felons will almost certainly never be considered for any type of early release, but the pandemic has altered the calculus in their favor.

Ron Shehee
Ron Shehee

Home confinement, in which a person is watched at home while remaining in BOP custody, was requested as a top priority by then-Attorney General Bill Barr in a memo written to Carvajal, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, on March 26, 2020. Barr recognized that certain vulnerable inmates might be safer at home if they were allowed to do so “where appropriate.” But he went on to say that many prisoners would be safer in BOP facilities since the population is restricted and there is easy access to doctors and medical services.

A list of factors to take into consideration when releasing an inmate was provided by Barr, including the inmate’s age and medical conditions, the security level of the institution, the inmate’s behavior while in prison, the inmate’s perceived risk of re-offending, their reentry plan, and the nature of the crime. Some offences, such as sex offenses, would be ineligible for consideration.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, was signed into law the next day by then-President Donald Trump. It increased the number of inmates who could be released to home confinement by the Bureau of Prisons.

At the moment, the new authority was still considered to be a bit of a fantasy. After all was said and done, Alison Guernsey, who runs the Federal Criminal Defense Clinic at the University of Iowa College of Law, began receiving terrifying phone calls from federal prisons in April of this year.

“We started to see and hear things from our clients, fear in their voices,” Guernsey explained. “They called us to say, ‘People have been coughing. I’m really afraid that I’m going to get sick. We’ve been watching things on the news about the need to wear masks. There’s no one here with masks.'”

Guernsey, who has been keeping track of COVID-19 deaths in prison, says that she and other clinic workers had interacted with more than 50 inmates and even more family members during the pandemic, according to her estimations.

Cares Act and Home Confinement

Attorney General Barr
Attorney General Barr

On April 3, 2020, a little more than a week after sending his initial note to the BOP, Barr addressed another, more sharply worded communication to the agency.

In his letter, Barr stated that while the Bureau of Prisons had taken extensive precautions to prevent COVID-19 from entering its facilities and infecting inmates, “While BOP has taken extensive precautions to prevent COVID-19 from entering its facilities and infecting our inmates, those precautions, like any precautions, have not been perfectly successful at all institutions,” He also stated that there were already “significant levels of infections” at several facilities. That group of facilities, according to him, should work to “immediately maximize appropriate transfers to home confinement.”

“We have to move with dispatch in using home confinement, where appropriate, to move vulnerable individuals out of these institutions,”

Attorney General Barr

He stated that prison officials should take into account “all at-risk inmates — not only those who were previously eligible for transfer.” while making their decisions.

By the middle of November 2020, individual wardens took over as the final arbiter of who can or cannot be sent home. The Bureau of Prisons has sole power over who can be sent home and who cannot. Following Barr’s recommendation that home confinement be used, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) added its own criterion to the attorney general’s list.

There was already home confinement in place before to the pandemic, for offenders who were in their final six months or ten percent of their sentence, whichever was less. Those detainees continued to return home in this manner throughout the pandemic.

Over 38,000 people have been released to their homes throughout the pandemic as of early March this year, according to the most recent available data. Out of that total, around 9,000 people — or approximately 6% of the current federal prison population — were transferred directly as a result of the CARES Act.

That said, about 28,000 of them were already set to leave federal prison.

Exactly how many additional people may have been eligible for CARES Act home confinement but were not released is unknown at this time.

Dr. David Guernsey of the University of Iowa explained that “CARES Act home confinement is, frankly, a black box,” However, she is confident that “we could have been releasing so many more people during the pandemic and we just chose not to.”

There is evidence to suggest that this is indeed the case.

According to a report by the Office of the Inspector General, about 957 persons in low- and minimum-security custody at the Lompoc prison complex were potentially eligible for home confinement as of April 2020, according to the report. By the end of June, a total of 124 convicts had been released from the facility.

The Office of Inspector General assessed that 1,070 persons were possibly eligible for home confinement at the site in Butner, North Carolina, as of April 2020. By July of that year, Butner had freed a total of 68 individuals as a result of the CARES Act. Another 16 had been approved but were still awaiting their real release, and three of those who had been approved died while they were still awaiting their release.

Earlier this year, the Bureau of Prisons stated that “Case management staff are urgently reviewing all inmates to determine which ones meet the criteria established by the Attorney General,”

Some federal judges, however, had a different point of view. In May 2020, one judge ordered the Danbury Correctional Facility in Connecticut to release detainees more quickly, claiming that the current pace constituted “deliberate indifference.”

Lompoc Federal Prison
Lompoc federal prison

After another judge ordered Lompoc to transfer its most vulnerable inmates to home confinement, claiming that the bureau had “likely been deliberately indifferent to the known urgency to consider inmates for home confinement.” another judge ordered Lompoc to transfer its most vulnerable inmates to home confinement in July 2020.

Home confinement, according to Maureen Baird, a former warden of Danbury Correctional Facility, is simply too high a threshold. For example, the Bureau of Prisons initially said that offenders with any wrongdoing on their jail record within the previous year would not be accepted. In addition, offenders who had spent at least half of their term, or a fourth of their sentence if they had 18 months or less left to serve, were given higher priority by the agency.

CARES was founded, and then the Bureau of Prisons came in and added these additional regulations, which, in Baird’s opinion, went beyond the confines of what was allowed. Men in their late 70s, early 80s, and mid-80s are currently incarcerated and pose no threat to the general public, says the author.

As time proceeded, the bureau began to relax some of its requirements. Even inmates with a history of misconduct might be considered for release at some point, as long as it was determined that they were still a safe release candidate. It was also possible for wardens to notify the Bureau’s headquarters office in Washington, D.C., if they believed a convict should be released to home confinement but did not meet the other requirements.

Many people on the outside, as well as some bureau personnel, thought the procedure was haphazard, and the release of certain high-profile offenders who didn’t appear to meet the requirements raised questions.

Corrine Brown
Corrine Brown

Corrine Brown, a former member of Congress, was freed from the Coleman Correctional Facility in Florida after completing less than half of her sentence. After a period of time, her conviction was overturned. Also released in 2020 were Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, the former attorneys for President Trump and head of his presidential campaign, respectively. Both had served less than half of their terms when they were released.

According to Joe Rojas, a former southeast regional vice president for the AFGE Council of Prison Locals who is now a teacher at Coleman, “There was a list of people that were qualified and there was a list of the people who left,” “If you’re an inmate that has political influence and has money, you will probably get released rather than somebody who probably really should have gotten released.”

In an interview with NPR, several BOP staffers stated that a lack of staff made it impossible to quickly examine detainees for home confinement.

As a case manager at the federal detention center in Miami, Mary Melek explained that part of her job entails screening inmates for the possibility of being released into their communities. However, she is frequently required to cover additional shifts. Reviewing the lists of inmates who could be eligible to go home can be difficult if she needs to finish an inmate’s paperwork but is instead patrolling the halls as a correctional officer.

“They pile up where you have a list and you can’t get to it because the next day you’ll have to work a custody shift,” Melek explained. “It takes, on average, one to two months to get everything processed for somebody that could have probably left in a week.” says the author.

One current administrator, who wished to remain unnamed for fear of retaliation, told NPR that paperwork for home confinement at their facility was frequently left unprocessed for several months.

“Think about it. Everyone is already overworked and stressed. Who’s going to start an inmate’s paperwork?” According to the administrator

According to a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Prisons, “all inmates are reviewed appropriately” for possible CARES Act home confinement. Total blanket statement if, ever one has been said. How would she know? Has she oversaw all of these reviews? The BOP spokeswoman also stated that “Despite challenges posed by the pandemic, we have managed our staffing levels to maintain the safety and security of our staff and inmates.” They are doing a really outstanding job too with the over 300+ dead federal inmates.

In addition, more than 2,000 new staff have been hired since March 2021, according to the spokeswoman.

“Leadership played down the danger and played up their capacity to deal with it”

Waylon Young Bird
Waylon Young Bird

Waylon Young Bird had already been rejected home confinement by the summer of 2020, when the case was brought to court.

He resumed his correspondence with Judge Lange. Bird, who was raised in the Dakotas by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, wrote about his family, his struggles with addiction, and the prayer group he founded while incarcerated in the Dakotas.

Lange, on the other hand, had been reading Young Bird’s letters from the beginning.

“I read them close in time to when they were received,” Lange said on NPR. “I had very mixed feelings.”

He has a “extensive” criminal history in tribal court, according to the government, which argued against his release in their argument. “Defendant only becomes susceptible to increased risk if he contracts COVID-19.” the U.S. attorney noted in regards to the pandemic.

Young Bird’s compassionate release motion was refused by Judge Lange in June.

“Researchers have found that ailments like diabetes and chronic kidney disease put individuals suffering from them, like Young Bird, at higher risk of complications if they contract COVlD-19,” Judge Lange ruled. “However, there is still much that is unknown about how this virus affects individuals, and this Court cannot say to what extent Young Bird’s life is threatened by the existence of COVlD-19.”

Furthermore, the judge noted that Young Bird got medical treatment while in jail, and that “the BOP has taken precautions to protect him and his fellow inmates.”

Lange told NPR that he believed he made the right decision in Young Bird’s case, despite the fact that Young Bird had only served a short fraction of his sentence. Furthermore, according to Lange, Young Bird had been abusing drugs during his pretrial freedom.

“I just felt that it probably was safest for him to be at a federal medical facility rather than outside,” the judge said, according to National Public Radio. Because I must make decisions based on the knowledge that I currently have, “Looking at things in retrospect is a difficult way to try to go about the job I have, because I have to judge with the information that I presently have.”

Given that Young Bird was being treated at a federal medical center in June 2020, Lange said he couldn’t say how seriously his life was in danger at the time.

In his capacity as a district judge in South Dakota, Lange admits that it’s difficult to know exactly what is going on inside a Bureau of Prisons facility. When I see a medical doctor from the Bureau of Prisons write, in essence, that the individual is receiving appropriate care, I am more inclined to believe him or her.

By the summer of 2020, Waylon Young Bird had already been refused the right to be kept at home. He resumed his correspondence with Judge Lange.

Jo Lynn Little is a victim of a car accident.

Young Bird wrote to Lange for the second time on June 10, just a few days after his parole had been denied.

“I know I just wrote to you but I’m writing again, because this morning around 10 am, an inmate next to me said ‘It’s finally here,'” Young Bird explained in his letter. “It’s official now, that the first case of the coronavirus is here at Springfield, Mo. Medical Center.”

Afterward, Young Bird said that he returned to his unit and put on a face mask, one that he claimed he had been wearing for a few weeks.

“Our beds are right next to each other. We don’t practice social distancing here,” Young Bird wrote. “I don’t know what to do. I’m scared like everyone else.”

And additional letter

He followed up with another letter a few days later.

“This coronavirus will start spreading soon, a lot of us will get it,” wrote Young Bird. “I don’t want to die here. I got family I miss, a handicap sister, kids who need me, grandkids too. Can you find it in your heart to reconsider?”

Young Bird was not alone in his decision-making; many other detainees were doing the same thing. When they were denied home confinement, they went to court to argue for their right to be released from their prison sentences sooner rather than later.

The power for a federal offender to petition a judge for compassionate release, in which case his or her jail sentence is really reduced, was just recently established. In the years before to passage of the First Step Act in 2018, the Bureau was entirely responsible for identifying inmates and bringing their cases to court on their behalf. The First Step Act granted inmates the authority to take care of their own affairs. In the first full year that the new statute was in force, 96 offenders brought their own motions to have their sentences reduced. In the year 2020, about 13,000 motions were filed in the United States Court of Federal Claims.

The journey to court, on the other hand, continues to begin in prison. In order to request that their warden file a compassionate release motion on their behalf, convicts must first request that their warden file a motion on their behalf. After that, they must wait 30 days for a response from the bureau, though some courts have relaxed this requirement in certain circumstances.

To date, almost 31,000 inmates have taken the first step of contacting their warden and waiting for an answer as of April 2021. While waiting for the Bureau of Prisons to consider their case, at least 35 people died. In the end, only 36 of the initial 31,000 applications were approved by the bureau.

Once an inmate is given the opportunity to file their own motion in court, the likelihood of their success is heavily influenced by the district in which their case is heard. During a three-month period between January 2020 and June 2021, federal judges in the Southern District of Georgia denied 98 percent of the compassionate release motions that came before them.

In the District of Oregon, they only refused 35% of the motions that were brought before them. According to data from the United States Sentencing Commission, federal judges nationwide refused more than 80 percent of compassionate release motions over that period.

Miriam Krinsky
Miriam Krinsky

According to Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor and the executive director of the organization Fair and Just Prosecution, this inclination to deny is the product of a mentality in the criminal justice system that encourages people to simply “just say no,”

“That mindset of ‘We are going to punish as harshly as possible. We will charge everything imaginable, and we will seek everything that is within our power. And when people want relief from that, we will just say no,'” Krinsky said.

The United States is restricting compassionate release in plea bargains. Many people think that’s cruel.

“People just don’t want to be the ones with their name, their neck, on the line on decisions they view as risky, namely letting people out before their date,” Krinsky explained. It is the one case in a thousand when things go wrong that is being highlighted, rather than the 999 cases where things go smoothly, where people are released or given a second chance and do perfectly well.

The outcome of a compassionate release motion is ultimately determined by whether or not a judge judges a prisoner to be deserving of release in the first place. A court will evaluate the variables that came into play when the convict was sentenced, such as the nature of the offence, in order to make that determination.

Also considered will be the existence of “extraordinary and compelling reasons” that might justify the release of an individual. And whether or not the COVID conditions at a jail appear to be grave can have an impact on this, according to Colin Prince, the top appellate counsel for the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho.

“My biggest frustration was that the leadership played down the danger and played up their capacity to deal with it,” Prince said of the agency’s leadership. “Publicly and to the judiciary in briefings, they were just writing ‘We’ve got this. We’re experts in infectious disease. Here are the many policies we’ve put in place.'”

Once the papers linked to COVID began to arrive, prosecutors argued in court against the release of detainees on a number of occasions. They claimed that the Bureau of Prisons had taken substantial steps to safeguard convicts and that it was already prioritizing the release of detainees through a different route: home confinement.

“It would have been much more honest and, frankly, helpful had the leadership of BOP simply come out and said, ‘There’s only so much we can do,” Prince said. “And what they should have done is gone to the judiciary and said, ‘This is a big problem. We can’t protect these people. You need to help us.'”

According to Krinsky, this may have made a difference.

There is a lot of respect for the Bureau of Prisons, according to the spokewoman. “Their mindset can hold great sway in terms of how these cases play out.”

Instead, many inmates were forced to go through a judicial process that was often time-consuming and futile. According to NPR’s analysis, at least one in every four of the prisoners who died as a result of COVID-19 filed a motion in court seeking compassionate release.

Even though at least three persons had their requests granted, they contracted COVID-19 and died before they could be removed from the facility.

James Oscar Jones, a prisoner in Kentucky, died on the same day that his freedom was granted. Despite the fact that Andre Williams in North Carolina was granted compassionate release on April 1, 2020, the decision was delayed by a court of law. In April, Williams tested positive for COVID for the first time, and he died on April 12, just two days after the quarantine was lifted.

Steven Brayfield, a prisoner in Kansas, first requested compassionate release from his warden in July 2020, but was denied about a month later by the same officer. In early December, he asked for it again, this time in court, and a judge granted it a month later, after a lengthy hearing. Brayfield, on the other hand, had already been admitted to the hospital with the illness.

According to Brayfield’s attorney, his family would be unable to cover the cost of his medical treatment if he were released at that point. They requested that he instead be held in BOP custody so that he may continue to be ventilated as long as possible. He passed away on January 19, 2021, at the age of 63.

Many others passed away while their motion was still in the process of being heard by the courts, and some had been waiting months for a response. At least four requests were denied as moot due to the fact that the individuals had already passed away.

Waiting to Die

78-year-old James Lee Wheeler of Indiana, who suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, among other medical concerns, told his lawyer that he was extremely concerned about what would happen to him if he became infected with COVID-19.

According to a release motion submitted by Wheeler’s attorney, in the late summer of 2020, Wheeler awoke to discover that one of his cellmates, who had been having problems breathing, had died during the night. When Wheeler passed away in December of that year, the motion had been pending for three months.

Abdul-Aziz Rashid Muhammad
Abdul-Aziz Rashid Muhammad

Many others, however, were denied not necessarily because they were unqualified, but for a variety of other, more administrative reasons: some were denied because they did not exhaust all options with their wardens before applying. At times, it appeared as though the courts made an error, like in the instance of Abdul-Aziz Rashid Muhammad, who was convicted in absentia.

In the fall of 2020, his daughter Marie Holiday was beginning to make plans to spend time with her father without the presence of a security guard watching over her and her father. Muhammad had spent nearly all of Holiday’s life in jail, on charges linked to armed robbery. He had been there for virtually his entire life.

Holiday had a ray of hope in the fall of that year: one of her father’s convictions had been ruled unconstitutional, and he had a resentencing hearing scheduled for early 2021, which she was looking forward to.

Muhammad
Muhammad tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 13, 2021. Five days later, he was sent to a hospital, where his daughter Marie Holiday saw him over a video call.

“He said he was coming home. He was confident,” Holiday said. “He’s been fighting a long fight, a long battle.”

He requested compassionate release in April 2020, even before his resentencing hearing was scheduled, citing a number of medical issues that put him at a higher risk of death from COVID-19. He was granted compassionate release in May 2020.

It was reported in May that there were no proven cases of COVID-19 at the federal medical center in Rochester, Minn., where Muhammad was being held. The U.S. attorney made this claim in his argument against Muhammad’s release.

Despite the fact that only 0.01 percent of convicts at Muhammad’s institution had the virus by the fall of that year, the court refused Muhammad’s motion in September, noting that “speculative concern about catching COVID is not enough”

Muhammad, on the other hand, had not yet arrived in Rochester. He had written to the court three months earlier, in June, to inform the judge that he had been sent to Butner Correctional Facility, where more than half of the convicts had tested positive for drugs.

Muhammad tested positive for COVID-19 on January 13, 2021, according to the results of his test. Five days later, he was admitted to a hospital, where he was able to communicate with his daughter Marie Holiday via video call.

Marie Holiday is a well-known actress and singer from the United States.

Muhammad, too, eventually tested positive on Jan. 13, 2021, according to the FBI.

Five days later, he was transported to a hospital, where Holiday was able to communicate with him via video call while he was recovering.

“I was speechless when I saw him. There was nothing. He was just hooked up to all these different machines and he was not responding.” Holiday is a time for remembering. “I just kept repeating that I love him and I’m so sorry.” says the author.

Muhammad passed away on February 9, less than a month before the hearing that he believed would secure his release.

No one dies at the BOP, or so they say

Every time a COVID-19 inmate dies in federal prison, the Bureau of Prisons issues a press release about it. Every letter has the same basic structure: There’s a timeline that shows how the sickness devastated their body in the first place. After that, it identifies their crime. Muhammad received a notice that was similar to the others.

Holiday claimed he had a family who cared about him, and he was confident that all of the other convicts had families who cared about them as well. “I’m not saying that everybody is a nice guy that’s in prison, but there are some good people and even those that are bad, they still deserve to be treated like humans.” says the author.

“It’s far from over” says the author.

Rasheem Hicks
Rasheem Hicks

People are still catching COVID-19 and dying as a result of it in federal prisons on a regular basis. A minimum of one prisoner, Rasheem Hicks, has been denied parole in part due to his decision to get vaccinated, which reduced his medical risk of contracting the virus.

Another applicant, Rebecca Marie Adams, was turned down in part because she refused to receive a vaccine that would have reduced her risk. Both perished as a result of the infection.

It is far from done, according to McGlothin, an employee and union president at the Mendota Correctional Facility. “You know, people are dying, people are getting sick. And the protocols seem to be a lot more lackadaisical than they were two years ago.”

Dr. Homer Venters
Dr. Homer Venters

The former chief medical officer of the New York City jail system, Dr. Homer Venters, is now a member of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, and during the pandemic, he has conducted a slew of inspections of jails, prisons, and immigration detention facilities. He stated that he has observed positive developments in the federal prison response to COVID-19 in a number of locations across the country.

“But I have also encountered significant deficiencies in how or whether basic CDC guidelines and BOP policies were being implemented,” Venters testified to the House Judiciary Committee in late January of this year. “There is no doubt that many of these strengths saved lives and, conversely, that many of these deficiencies led to preventable illness and death.” says the report.

Venters stressed the need for an independent investigation into all COVID-19 deaths that occurred in federal custody.

In his interview with NPR, Venters stated that “The total story is that people were in places where they were more likely to get COVID and more likely to die from COVID,” “We need to fully understand how the inadequacy of care for them contributed to these deaths.” said the investigator.
By the fall of 2020, the letters from Waylon Young Bird were becoming increasingly desperate.

“Nobody cares if you die or not here,” he wrote in an email on Sept. 20.

He followed up with another letter a little more than a month later. He informed Judge Lange that he met the requirements for home confinement and compassionate release and that he should be allowed a second opportunity at a better life.

As he put it, “We feel like sitting ducks, waiting for the virus to come and infect us,” “I can prove I’m going to be a law-abiding citizen and do good for myself. I’m no danger to others or the community. I’m not a terrible person.”

Young Bird wrote to the judge once more on October 27, this time to inform him of a serious epidemic at the prison. At least 200 inmates and staff members were infected with the virus. Despite the fact that he had been separated from the COVID-positive convicts, according to his letter, he did not believe that the personnel had a policy in place. He wrote that detainees who tested positive for COVID were still serving the food. He said that some of his employees had ceased showing up to work.

In his letter, he expressed his concern that he would be infected by the time you read it and would therefore not be able to contact his family at that time. He concluded by saying, simply, “I don’t feel good about this at all.”

Young Bird tested positive the following day and died a week later as a result of his infection. He was 52 years old.

He received a phone call from a prison employee the following morning, according to his aunt, Jo Lynn Little Wounded. He was on the lookout for Young Bird’s mother, who was asleep in the adjacent room with his sister at the time of the incident.
He had passed away, but she couldn’t bring herself to inform her and her niece. “I just couldn’t even bring myself to tell her and my niece that he passed away,” she said.

Little Wounded sat in the other room for a few hours before she roused the others from their sleep.

“He didn’t have to die like that,” Little Wounded expressed regret. “He died a horrible death in there by himself. And that’s the hardest part, was that he died by himself.”

Little Wounded was all set to greet him when he returned home. His truck remained parked in front of her house for more than a year after he died, until the city arrived and towed it away in the end.

Source: NPR