As the coronavirus pandemic continued to spread throughout the country, many activists pointed toward inmates of various correctional facilities as one of the most vulnerable populations. Prisons and jails across the country have been often criticized for their inhumane conditions and lack of care put into the people who live in them.
One of the most hard-hit locations is the Cook County Jail in Chicago. The location is host to 4,000 inmates and has 229 detainees infected, with 232 recovered and 17 hospitalized. Along with that 158 correctional officers and 35 sheriff’s employees had the virus, 170 have recovered and gone back to work. Unfortunately, six detainees and one guard at the facility dead due to coronavirus, NBC Chicago reports.
Of the six detainees was Nickolas Lee who passed away earlier this month from coronavirus while being held at Stroger Hospital for treatment. Lee was in jail beginning in February for a 2018 armed robbery, which he believed he had a chance of beating. In support of her husband, Cassandra Greer-Lee attempted to reach officials to alert them of the inability to practice social distancing, however, her requests for her husband went ignore.
In response, Cook County Sheriff would defend the facility before listing the charges against Lee, which appeared to belittle the fact he was a human.
“That is not even the point, what these men are charged with,” Mrs. Greer Lee said to the Sun-Times. “Yes, my husband made bad choices. A judge was going to take care of all that. Did he deserve to die?”
In a phone call with The Source, Mrs. Greer-Lee details her effort to reach out to state officials and how a lack of response led to the loss of her husband’s life.
How did you first hear about your husband’s condition?
He first told me about a symptom that he had on March 29th. I was telling him we got to stay prayerful, but at the same time, I’m going to try to remove him from the housing unit that he was in. He was housed with two inmates that were already sick and I was letting him know the symptoms were the same as expressed on TV. I told him to do his best to stay away. Use a t-shirt to cover your mouth and nose, cover the phone when you talk.
In an effort to try to have him moved were the conversations helpful from officials? Was there run-around?
I tried my best to contact anyone. I called 132 times. Not only did I call, but I also went, so when you say that they gave me the run-around, I probably would’ve felt better if they would’ve answered and did that. I received one answer.
One officer answered the phone one time on March 28th and she informed me that due to the pandemic they were short-staffed. She took my information to pass on to a Sergeant. she informed me there were no social workers. So from the start of March 29 to when my husband was taken to the hospital on April 6, there was no communication.
I also called Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office and no one answered and the voicemail was not set up. I eventually got someone at the hospital at the jail who said that she can’t give our information but would listen to me. She told me every division had a nurse and it was up to that person to decide if an inmate was sick enough to go to a hospital. After that, never again did they answer my phone calls. On April 6, my husband was admitted to the ICU but he was already in so severe a state of COVID taht he passed away on April 12.
After your husband’s death has anyone reached out to you?
Not one call, not one apology. Just a bunch of untrue statements in the news. Now I have other inmates that reach out to me and let me know of things. Inmates received masks on Easter Sunday, a week after my husband died. It took three men to die before masks were given out.
How often do you speak with people still inside and what are their conditions?
It’s the same system in place for using the phone. He has a close friend inside from elementary school who reached out to me often and keeps me abreast of what’s going on. I didn’t call only for my well-being but for everybody.
They are very upset. All of the sanitizing and details they stay they are doing to keep people safe is not true. I protest daily, with mothers of inmates. My husband’s death could have been prevented. Had one person just taken the time to just do their job my husband would have never been in a funeral home. You can ride by and see the signs on windows asking for help. That’s not right.