by Cindy Knoebel
Letters and videos have pouring in from detained people in the last several weeks. The common thread: fear for their lives if the COVID-19 virus erupts in their facility.
On April 9, a YouTube video by HuffPost's Seth Freed Wessler featured comments by Neysi Salvador-Aguiar, a doctor from Cuba who, at the time the video was produced, had been detained at Irwin County Correctional Center in Georgia for six months. Titled "Detained in a Pandemic," the video features a series of short interviews with Salvador-Aguiar speaking from Irwin, the first on March 19 and the last on March 30. The video was highlighted in two HuffPost articles by Wessler in partnership with Type Investigations; the latest, on April 14, also included a transcript of a letter written by detained people at Irwin (see below).
"There are people here, over 50, lots of them ... there are people with asthma, allergies different health issues," Salvador-Aguiar said on March 23. (The interviews were in Spanish; the video includes English subtitles.) On March 24 she said, "We can't handle the virus here. If there really are cases here, it's going to be like an atomic bomb for us."
Two days later, on March 26, she noted, "The handsoap they put by the sink has run out ... The problem is we can't do anything. We are literally prisoners and there's nothing we can do. Just wash our hands and try to keep things clean."
Salvador-Aguiar was lucky. She had a lawyer, and applied for parole - which was granted. Now she is back home in Nebraska with her husband.
The video ends with a statement that mostly all the other women she knew at Irwin are still there.
Wessler's article included this transcript of a letter read over the phone by a detained person at Irwin:
From: Detainees at Irwin County prison
To: DHS and Warden of Irwin County prison, Mr. Paulk
1) We demand:
Immediate release of all:
- High risk group of detainees in regards to coronavirus (who have health conditions like asthma, hypertension, elderly, disabled, etc.) because of unsafe health conditions at Irwin County prison and extremely high health risk for non-compliance with inspection disease control procedures.
- Detainees who cannot be deported in the next 10 days, including those who are not under deportation orders
- Females who have kids outside Irwin County prison.
(This release can be done with a supervision order, bail bond, parole or GPS tracking device.)
2) In the meantime we request:
- Protective masks for every detainees every 24 hours
- Hand sanitizer in every dorm
- [inaudible] trashcan
- Proper lab tests for coronavirus for everyone detained
- Reduction detainee density for dorms to not exceed more than 10 detainees per dorm. (Now it is 20-30 detainees per dorm, which is unlawful and makes social distance impossible in accordance with the guidelines from the White House and the World Health Organizations.)
- No new detainees in the forms coming from other facilities and/or the streets without proper lab testing for Coronavirus.
- Lab testing ... of all employees (ICE officers, security [inaudible]) in Irwin County Prison for coronavirus (see guidelines for White House and World Health Organization.)