Coronavirus in Prison
It is well known that COVID-19 pandemic has affected lower-income families disproportionately. This affect, unfortuantely, has also extended to inmates, where basic safety precautions are often ignored.
The following was an interview of Rickie Slaughter, designated by "R" below.
N: Do you believe that Core Civic has taken the necessary Covid-19 precautions to prevent the ongoing outbreak at the facility?
R: At the moment, I think they're still missing a few steps but if we go back to when the spring began, I don't think they took any of the necessary precautions that they should have been taking despite the fact that they were put on notice and made aware of what was going on in the facility. As early as May 11th of 2020, me and the federal Public Defender's Office, through my attorney Jeremy Baron at the time, had alerted the state of Nevada, in a motion asking for my release, to the circumstances here is at Saguaro Correctional Facility in which Covid-19 was spreading through the facility and inmates were not being treated appropriately.
At the time there were many specific allegations, they had an entire unit such as L unit, they call that unit Lima, that was put on complete lockdown in addition to that in the specific unit where I was in, there were at least six inmates that were presenting with symptoms consistent with Covid-19. Those symptoms included one inmate had lost his sense of taste and smell, several other inmates had dry coughs and sore throats, a few had fevers.
Each one of them had submitted request for help from medical here and the nurses informed them that they were only probably suffering from allergies and it got so bad to where what I believe is they begin telling everyone in the facility the same thing that presented those type of symptoms because they handed out so much allergy medication, they ran out. And I seen this with my own eyes when they came to get my neighbor who was suffering from COVID-like symptoms his medication, they ended up telling they were out because they had handed out so much to so many inmates they had to wait to restock. So at that point, on May 11th we filed a motion requesting that I be released.
By May 18th Warden Frank responded with an eighty-page document that he signed as a declaration he also wrote a letter to the Hawaii oversight commission each of those things can be located on my website JusticeForRickieSlaughter.com. And he ended up saying basically that I was lying and all the allegations that there was no COVID-19 in the facility, but the worst part about it I don't think he took the precaution since because he didn't come into our unit to check on the six inmates that I had explained were presenting COVID like symptoms. They just left them there to deal with it on their own. And not only that, we share showers, we share telephones, we are moved by the same officers who touched them then touch us because we have to be escorted. So, each of those things contributed to the spread. The showers are not disinfected for days sometimes, days on end, without them disinfecting the showers. So I believe that helped promulgate and facilitate the spread of COVID-19 in the facility.
Frank, on the other hand, just said that it was all false and nothing was going on. Well lo and behold, about two months later on July 8th we all get tested because in Nevada at the time, Saguaro still had not conducted a single test for staff nor inmates of COVID-19. So many staff were in here presenting symptoms that were consistent with COVID-19 and so were inmates. So, no I don't think they took the necessary precautions.
Once those tests came back on July 8th, I mean the test that we took on July 8th, I believe the test came back the following week after that. When those test results came back it turned out that out of the 99 inmates who were tested, which were all Nevada inmates, we were only tested because Nevada asked we be tested, over 60 inmates tested positive. So that was over 60% were positive for COVID-19 indicative and kind of going right with what I said was occurring in the facility back in May. So, I hope that answers your question.
N: Yes, thanks for sharing. Nevada has said all inmates with COVID are asymptomatic do you agree with that description or have you seen evidence of symptoms?
R: It's definitely..., that description that all inmates are asymptomatic is false. In fact, just about four days ago there was an inmate up here who specifically was throwing up blood and even in May inmates were coughing up blood and going through stuff. But now just recently four days ago there was an inmates throwing up blood and he actually had a cup of the blood which he was spewing out in his vomit in his hand as he approached a nurde to try to ask for help. Well they waved him off and they said go fill out a request form, fill out a medical request form and send it to us in the mail. So, they didn't give him any help there. He ended He ended up calling his mother, his mother called the facility and put some pressure on the facility to make sure they treated her son. The nurses came back around the next day and decided to then see him and try to tend to what was going on with him. There are few inmates who have complained that it feels like there's fluid on their lungs and they’re having trouble breathing there are quite a few inmates suffering from fatigue and different spine aches or abdominal tenderness in their stomach so no I would disagree with the statement that all the inmates were asymptomatic.
N: What was the reaction among inmates when they were told that they were tested positive?
R: Pretty much it was the rhetorical, “damn I knew it,” you know? Everybody knew it was spreading through the facility, the running joke amongst CO’s and inmates was that, “well everybody just about everybody's got it now as long as nobody dies were alright.” So there was a running joke, long before the test, that it was spreading through the facility. My concern was given the fact that it was so prevalent and common knowledge that people were sick with symptoms that appear to be consistent with the disease that characterizes the global pandemic that is surrounding us, is that Saguaro was still steadfast in their refusal to test a single person for COVID-19. And I believe their goal was to keep this prison as one of the few Core Civic prisons in Arizona as being characterized as having zero COVID cases so that they can continue to take in more contracts and money from other states. Because obviously no state really wants to send inmates to a prison that has COVID cases. And in this particular situation, they actually tried to move us to a prison called Florence Central, a Core Civic prison in Florence Arizona, in June right before the tests came. I’m saying, in late June they came and made an announcement around June Twenty-Six or Seven telling us we all had to be out in four days, so pack our stuff up. Well that ended up getting cancelled when the test arrived, but I believe they were trying to send us down to the Central facility so that we would take the test down there and it would appear that we caught COVID down there. Because Florence Central had been suffering from an outbreak as early as May 9th for public knowledge because the ACLU had filed a class-action lawsuit on May 9th against that facility out here in Arizona. So, I believe they were trying to deliberately cover up the fact COVID was in this facility so they could at least still have one prison to pull in cash from other states because they were trying to move the Idaho state prisoners in our place after they moved us out to Florence. That was their plan.
N: Do there appear to be enough staff members to address the needs of inmates with COVID?
R: No, there is not. In fact, they are short-staffed. Many staff have quit, many staff are taking off because of spread. They are actually very very short-staffed. Most of these staff are working an enormous amount of overtime every week, just to man the facility here. I mean you see the same officers here, it is almost like they are sleeping here.
N: Has there been testing of inmates every two or three weeks as planned?
R: No, to my knowledge the only testing they did there was two Hawaiian prisoners who had the protest for two days and that protest consisted of them blocking their windows so that the guards could not do count properly because they couldn’t see into the room to count if the inmate was alive in the cell or do a welfare check. So they protested for about 24 hours before the facility met their demands and that's because these Hawaiian inmates were housed in the facility with us and they were housed in that unit as well, the particular unit I was in where this happened there was eight guys who had came back positive for COVID-19. And you have these Hawwaiian guys and a couple Kansas guys in their same unit. So two of the Hawaiian guys took it upon themselves after they asked for testing and were refused a test, they protested. And then a negotiation process began and they negotiated to unblock their windows and end their protest if they were allowed to be tested for COVID-19. Those are the only two in the unit I was in and to my knowledge that have been tested with Core Civic’s personal testing apparatus or supplies.
N: Has anything changed about the prison’s response to the situation after the positive results came back?
R: Yes, there has been some changes. Those changes have been more they’re *angry at Nevada and Nevada prisoners. They feel like they’ve been set up and they have been saying that they don’t believe the tests are reliable and Nevada was making it up. One thing they have done is they stepped up the gear that the officers now wear. The officers now wear a full body hazmat suit with a face shield and a mask. Whereas before they were wearing nothing and sometimes a mask if they chose to and sometimes not.
N: Has there been any separation between the Nevada inmates and the other out of state prisoners that Saguaro houses; the ones from Hawaii and Kansas?
R: There has been a separation since the return of the test. That day that they got notice officially here, I wouldn't say officially, but the day notice trickled down to the facility here from Nevada that so many inmates had tested positive. They then suspended the work privileges and the movement privileges beyond our unit for the Nevada inmates. So we’re still in housed in all the unit, but there is one wing that houses, and that would be the segregation wing, which houses still Hawaiii prisoners are still over there, the two guys who have been tested plus a few others, there is a Kansas guy over there. And there’s Nevada inmates in that same unit. They’re not disinfecting those showers. They’re not cleaning the phones before they give it to them. They only have one phone which they bring to those guys cell to cell. So, there is some intermingling still going on, if that answers the question.
N: Based on those circumstances, do you think it would be likely that a Nevada inmate got COVID from a Hawaii inmate or visa versa?
R: It's definitely possible, I mean the Nevada inmates, we worked in the kitchen amongst the Hawaiian and Kansas population. We also worked yard labor, we worked a number of jobs. So it's possible it could have been given from us to them, from them to us, or from, more likely, an officer or staff member to us because the disease doesn't just grow legs and walk into the prison on its own. It has to come through the staff. Whether it’s on their clothes or whether some of them have snuck in here even though they’re presenting symptoms. And there were quite a few people who presented symptoms at the time that were still working. So, it had to be brought in by some staff member and then infect an inmate or spread from there on. But it could have happened any number of ways. My guess or estimate, the best one I can give you, is that a large portion of the facility is infected. You have over 1,300 prisoners here, only 99 were tested and out of those 99 over 60 something prisoners were positive. So you imagine if you test this whole facility. But they are still refusing to test the Hawaiian population or the Kansas population. So whatever their purposes are, those could be nefarious purposes or they could be budgetary purposes. Regardless it’s not legitimate purposes. But I believe it has more to do with trying to allow the clock to reset so to speak so the number of COIVD cases goes back to zero. And now they can take in that Idaho contract which they done already signed and received the millions of dollars that that contract provides.
N: The last question I have is, what response would you like to see from the Nevada Governor or legislature in response to the many positive tests among Nevada inmates?
R: R: I would like to see, my hope would be that the governor, Mr. Steve Sisolack, and the government of Nevada would at least place us somewhere where people cared more about our lives. That would be the best case scenario in my mind. Whether that be bringing us back to Nevada, which is probably not likely or feasible given the pandemic and all there lockdown orders. Or whether it is Core Civic moving us to a safer facility or a facility that is more mindful and caring about what is happening to us. Here they don’t really care. So, we are just left to survive this the best way we can. Which is a very crazy scenario. The best they do here is walk around with a surface thermometer, one of those ones that you point the laser at your head to see what the temperature is, twice a day. Which really means nothing in the large scheme of COVID-19 because you could have any number of symptoms that can be associated with COVID-19. And a thermometer that only reads the surface temperature of your skin is not really giving you the core temperature anyways. So, that’s the best they’re doing. My best hope would be that they take us somewhere where they actually cared whether we live or die in this place.
N: Great, thanks. Is there anything else you’d like to say Rickie?
R: No, I want to thank the Nevada Independent for taking the time to submit those questions. I hope it adds to the public discourse and the debate and conversation about what is going on here. And that it is fruitful and helpful for the prisoners. People need to remember that we are also someone’s brother, father, uncle, cousin, friend. We have families and those taxpayers who pay for the prison system and the services that Nevada provides are relatives of many of ours here. So, I would hope that Nevada cares enough to do something that is in our benefit instead our detriment.
N: Thank you, Rickie.
R: Thank you.