Dire Conditions Described at Federal Prison With 234 Inmates Sick, Three Dead

Coronavirus continues to spread at Federal Medical Center Fort Worth

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Federal Medical Center Fort Worth on Monday reported 234 inmates and one staff member have tested positive for coronavirus and three prisoners have died.

The number of sick prisoners is the highest of any federal prison in the country and appears to be the largest single cluster of cases in Texas.

Coty Franks, who was convicted of trafficking methamphetamine three years ago, described dire conditions in the prison in emails to NBC DFW.

Franks said he has been “crammed” in the one unit with other healthy inmates in a lockdown that started April 1.

“We live shoulder to shoulder,” he said. “Literally only time I’m not standing or sitting next to someone is in the shower.”

Their meals consist of cereal for breakfast and bologna sandwiches delivered in paper bags for lunch and dinner, he said.

He said there are only three bathrooms and nine sinks and toilets for more than 335 inmates.

Franks, 30, of Fort Worth, said he fears it’s “only a matter of time” before he and other inmates become infected.

“We do not have control of how we live,” he said. “We do our best to sanitize every day and I guess it’s working since we haven’t seen any cases in my living quarters.”

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which runs the facility, said it is working to release some nonviolent inmates to home confinement as ordered by Attorney General William Barr.

But it appears to be a slow process.

Franks said he was told days ago he would be released soon.

"I was ecstatic,” he said. “I knew the BOP never allows anything like this to happen so I considered it to be a miracle."

His family got excited.

"When we found out he was coming home, we washed all of his clothes, we were getting ready,” his sister Kelsey Franks said.

But then his request was denied after all.

“I felt my heart drop,” he said.

"It was devastating,” his sister said. "Him as well as a lot of other prisoners, they signed for a sentence but they didn't sign for a death sentence."

About 1,500 inmates have been released early nationwide, according to the bureau of prisons.

Experts say it's a slow process but may pick up pace.

"It could be a considerable amount of people that would relieve some of the pressure, allow social distancing,” said Walt Pavlo, co-founder of Prisonology, a consulting firm that focuses on federal prisons. "They're going to look primarily at people who are low security. And I mean people who don't have a prior record, aren't going to pose any harm to society."

Nearly two dozen inmates from FMC Fort Worth were sick enough to be admitted to John Peter Smith Hospital, administrators said.

The names of two inmates who died were released Monday.

Donnie Grabener, 65, of Louisiana, died Saturday.

Oscar Ortiz, 78, of Idaho, died Friday.

Both were serving sentences for drug convictions and both had pre-existing medical conditions, the BOP said.

It was previously announced that inmate Arnoldo Almeida, 61, of Crystal City, Texas, also died after getting the virus at the prison.

Pavlo said inmates at the federal medical center are aging and already medically at-risk.

“There's a vulnerable population,” Pavlo said. “There's an inability to social distance just like there is in a nursing home. These are elderly people so they're going to have problems.”

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