“Hunkered Down in Hell-Weathering the Storm in Prison
Most people have never thought about a loved one being stuck in a prison with an impending catastrophic storm coming. Quite frankly, I hadn’t thought about it either until now.
The weekend of Labor Day I wasn’t scheduled to visit my daughter, but I did. I knew the following weekend the Florida prisons would be on lockdown and who knows for how long. There was an impending Category 5 storm with winds of 185 MPH out there heading for the Caribbean Islands and Florida. Her name was Irma.
She was approximately 500 miles wide. To put that in perspective, Florida’s peninsula is only about 180 miles wide. I’m a native Floridian originally from south Florida where I spent most of my life until moving to central Florida three years ago, so I’m no stranger to hurricanes. I’ve experienced Hurricane Wilma and the outskirts of Hurricane Andrew and many close calls. The difference with Irma was her enormous size and the amount of time she stood strong as a Cat 5. She was coming to the Caribbean Islands and Florida with a vengeance. To look at her as a satellite image, she was perfect looking. Not perfect in a good way, but she was a perfect storm. She was an array of beautiful colors…red, yellow, green, black and purple. Her eye was strong and her bands resembled a beautiful Indian headdress. I’ve always found hurricanes scary, yet fascinating. She kept all of Florida waiting in apprehension of which path she’d take, and the reality is that she was so large she put the whole state in danger.
With all the past storms I’ve faced, I’ve always prepared for my family. This one I was preparing for was without my daughter. I did know that she would be fine because of her location and that the storm would die down by the time it reached her. There are approximately 97,000 people incarcerated in the state of Florida, and with the impending doom, approximately 12,000 inmates were successfully evacuated according to the FDC. My daughter was moved out of her dorm to make room for transferees. All prisons went into lockdown mode. Some were moved to locations the authorities thought best. One of the facilities in the very southern area of Florida was not. Perhaps they thought it was a strongly built facility? Whatever the case, there is no say so for your family’s safety. It was a feeling of helplessness from the family members with loved ones in that facility. They would be left to worry about each other separated by a world of its own, prison. Evacuations and disaster preparedness is not in your hands, and when you think about it, there’s only so many places they can shelter prisoners. We would like to think prisons are fortresses. They are not. They are old and dilapidated, and their upkeep is not treated as a priority.
The hurricane came through Cudjoe Key and then through Marco Island taking a westward track up through Florida. Us Floridians know that the NE side of the hurricane is the “dirty side”. This means tornadoes and flash floods. Would it flood into the prison and they get trapped? There would be nowhere to go. I couldn’t help but to wonder what they’d do in that case. I mean where would they go? I can’t say exactly what time it was, but in my area, it started Sunday night into Monday morning, September 10th and 11th, 2017. The lights went out followed by howling winds that rattled your roof and doors. Not many were sleeping in the state of Florida that night.
The next couple of days consisted of clean up, no electricity, and running water was on and off and on again. I figured I wouldn’t hear from my daughter right away, but that turned into four days. Then she finally called! I was glad to hear her voice and she was worried about us, so she was relieved too. Her facility was overcrowded but she was okay, and the rest of the transferees were transferring back to their prisons that day. I was grateful.
I checked in with my network of families who have loved ones in prison, and many had not heard from the southern-most women’s prison. We knew it was hit hard there, and it became very concerning. Then finally six days later they heard from them. Their loved ones were crying on the other end. They had part of the roof fly off while stuck in their dorms as they were flooding. Then no electricity, a/c or fans, and no windows to let a breeze come in. Some inmates were stealing food while in total darkness causing fights to break out. There were some in solitary confinement left in temperatures of over 100 degrees. They began to wonder if they were going to die from this storm. Even before the storm I could not believe that with such a major evacuation, this prison was left behind. They described this past week as a living Hell.
We are still in hurricane season. We will keep our fingers crossed.