Report from Inside an IL Prison

Posted: April 8, 2020 by parchangelo in Greg Clark

In July of 1999, Barton McNeil was found guilty of first-degree murder of his three-year old daughter and sentenced to life in prison. He was convicted on circumstantial evidence alone. No physical evidence linked him to the crime. In 2013, his ex-girlfriend, Misook Nowlin (whom he suspected from the start had killed his daughter) was convicted of the 2011 killing of her mother-in-law. Misook Nowlin’s behavioral history shows her to be either a sociopath or psychopath and very capable of murder. Bart now has to fight to regain his freedom while facing a threat behind bars to his very existence.

In addition to the various means of inmate-to-inmate transmission which Bart relates below, Covid-19 permeates throughout the very atmosphere which he and other inmates breathe while locked down inside their cells and surrounded by recycled air. Tthe numerous items brought to them which they touch and receive have been subjected to the touch of many unknown persons. Even the few cleaning supplies they use may harbor the virus.

 

FROM:  Barton McNeil

Date:  April 3, 2020

Subject:  Coronavirus

April 4, 2020

From inside Illinois Pinckneyville medium security prison, inmate Barton McNeil shares his coronavirus concerns.

Wearing gloves for the last few weeks, on April 2nd all of the prison staff are now also wearing facemasks in an effort to prevent the introduction of the virus into the prison from the outside. To date we are not aware of any inmates or staff here who have tested positive for the coronavirus. Then again, we are not aware of any testing having been performed at all.

Under a coronavirus lockdown, inmates in any given cellhouse are strictly segregated from inmates in any of the other cellhouses. Visits and inmate transfers suspended statewide, denied access to the gym, library, barbershop, and the chow hall with all of our meals now being served to us in the cells, there is little chance of transmission of the virus from one cellhouse to another.

Similarly, within each cellhouse none of the four wings’ inmates are able to interact with inmates on the other wings. Moreover, each of the wings’ two floors are now segregated from each other to prevent inmates on one floor from infecting the inmates on the wing’s other floor via person-to- person contact.

Taken a step further, each wing floor in now bisected down the middle to prevent inmates on one half of the floor from mingling with inmates on the other half. Accordingly, should any inmate contract the coronavirus, possible further transmissions (after first infecting his cellmate) would be strictly limited to only half of the inmates only on one floor of one cellhouse wing in only one of the (five) cellhouses. In short, the prison has greatly reduced any chance of inmate-to-inmate transmission of the coronavirus beyond half of a cellhouse wing’s floor constituting only 30 or so inmates.

Nonetheless, major shortcomings remain. Virus or not, basic hygiene items are not provided to inmates by the prison. Instead it is upon the inmates ourselves to purchase hygiene needs from the prison’s commissary at our own expense, or rather, at the expense of our families’ contributions to our inmate trust fund accounts. Woefully inadequate, only if an inmate is destitute will the prison supply him a week’s worth of a few hygiene items only once a month. For some not quite meeting the state’s criteria designating him as destitute, the inmate might forego the purchase hygiene items and spend his meager funds on writing supplies or snacks instead. Not provided to all inmates as a matter of policy, the burden and responsibility of purchasing basic healthcare/hygiene items falls on inmates themselves, itself increasing the likelihood of inmate-to-inmate coronavirus transmission. It may come as a surprise to those on the outside just how few basic necessities are provided to Illinois inmates by the prisons, which the inmates instead are expected to purchase themselves, including clothing items, shoes, pillows, etc.

Contrary to public pronouncements, another major healthcare shortcoming is the unavailability of cleaning supplies such as sanitizer and disinfectant with which to regularly clean our tiny living quarters, as recommended by healthcare professionals.

Throughout most of the cellhouses, typically cleaning supplies have always been offered to each cell every Sunday, which includes the use of a toilet brush, broom & dust pan, mop and bucket of floor cleaner, and a separate bucket of cleaning solution from which inmates will fill our empty soda bottles, ensuring us a supply of disinfectant all week long for cell cleaning

For the 200 or so inmates in the non-disciplinary wings of cellhouse #5, cleaning supplies are simply never provided. During my ongoing 7-month presence in #5 house, not once have any of the above cleaning supplies been distributed to the inmates on these wings (the other two wings being the disciplinary segregation unit), not even prompted by the recent outbreak of the coronavirus. Instead, only for the third time in recent weeks have we been offered only to dip a rag in a bucket of cleaning solution, the lone rag-dipping our sole means of disinfecting our living quarters for the next several weeks. Despite our increasing requests for cleaning supplies since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, which the other cellhouses’ inmates are afforded weekly as a matter of routine, cleaning supplies have not been forthcoming for us here.

In my opinion, the biggest threat of coronavirus exposure is from cellmate to cellmate. Unable to social distance from one’s cellmate in such tiny confines, should one contract the coronavirus, no amount of precautionary measures would prevent the cellmate from becoming infected also, effectively doubling the number of sufferers and the rate of transmission to other inmates, who in turn will infect their own cellmates, and so on, increasing the number of infectees exponentially.

Setting aside the cruel inhumanity of forcing two strangers to occupy the same space the size of your bathroom for 22 hours a day as is the “norm”, this “double occupancy” now poses a major health hazard for inmates and staff alike. Should one inmate contract the virus and potentially infect others nearby, invariably promptly transmitted to his cellmate, you would now double the number of coronavirus carriers in contact with the rest of the inmate grouping and attendant staffers.

Though there has been some lip service paid to the idea of easing prison overcrowding to lessen the chance of a coronavirus outbreak in the prisons by releasing early the inmates with only a short amount of time remaining of their sentences, I am not aware of a single one released early from this prison. While I cannot cite specific numbers, most inmates here at Pinckneyville have remaining sentences of only a few years, many completing their sentences in only a matter of a few months. Additionally, many here are mere violators of parole or probation and are not here as a result of recent criminal charges. Likewise, many are nonviolent offenders, lacking even disciplinary issues while incarcerated. Only a minority of inmates here have MORE than five years remaining of their sentences, of who many also happen to fall within the high-risk category of folks most susceptible to coronavirus mortality.

In my not-so-humble opinion, little danger to the wider public would result were the shorter-sentence half of Pinckneyville’s inmate population promptly released early, ending the increasingly dangerous (and inhumane) 22-hour-a-day two-person occupancy of a single prison cell. This early prisoner release policy would eliminate the otherwise certain transmission of the coronavirus between cellmates, and effectively reduce by half the number of potential infectees, and thereby limiting the rate of potential transmission only to the lone infectee’s lesser contact with fellow inmates at greater distances than between two inmates sharing the same cell. In releasing early many inmates prior to completing the short remainder of their sentences thus freeing up much bunk space, and ending the perilous practice of confining two to a cell for 22 hours a day, the remaining prison population with genuinely lengthy remaining sentences would indeed finally be socially distanced from each other (now without cellmates), as recommended in combating the coronavirus.

The potential life and death consequences to inmates and staff alike should a coronavirus outbreak take hold in the prison, the rate of transmission to others greatly increased by certain cellmate-to-cellmate infections, surely would justify the largescale early release of “short-timers” no matter the (surely lesser) consequences of shaving a little time off of their already-short remaining sentences.

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