An evacuated Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison surrounded by floodwaters last year. (David J. Phillip / AP)
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The following interview was conducted over a week after Hurricane Harvey hit. Rachel’s husband has been an inmate in Beaumont Federal Prison, located about an hour outside of Houston and 40 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico. Although some local media has denounced the conditions in the prison, in general, the media has remained silent on the plight of inmates.
Left Voice: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you know about the conditions in Beaumont Federal Prison?
Rachel: My name is Rachel Villalobos, I’m married to my husband of 13+ years. We have two kids which are 9 years old and 11 years old. My husband has been locked up since July of 2014. I spoke with him on Saturday and he told me about the conditions in the prison after Hurricane Harvey. There have also been a lot of emails sent around by the wives of inmates- we share news with each other when we get it.
LV: What happened during Hurricane Harvey in the prison?
During Hurricane Harvey, Beaumont Federal Prison was put on lockdown. There are two people to a tank–it’s a small cell. There is flood water in their cells and they didn’t let them out. They were stuck in their cells for five days- cells that were flooded. They were on lockdown for five days. I spoke to my husband the very first time on September 2nd when he informed me of the conditions. August 27th was the last time I spoke to my husband before that.
During that time, I watched the hurricane on TV. I would call the jail and say “Hey, are you moving them? Hurricane Harvey is hitting” and they would tell me they can’t give me that information. I would ask why they couldn’t tell me and then they would hang up on me. They did that about five times.
On Saturday, they let out the inmates for an hour for the first time. After the guards found out that the inmates were contacting their families and loved ones to tell them about the conditions, they locked them all back up. When I spoke to my husband, he was angry and frustrated. There was still water in his cell. I don’t know some of the details because I didn’t want to frustrate him even more. I haven’t heard from him since.
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LV: What happened in the prison after the hurricane?
After Hurricane Harvey, I was told they are very low on food and water. They are getting two sandwiches a day. These are grown men. They need more than two sandwiches.
They are using the restroom in bags so they can save the toilet water. They all have been drinking the toilet water since they have been low on water supply. He said that even though the toilet water has bacteria, at this moment he didn’t care and the other prisoners didn’t care either. They are really thirsty. He said he would drink anything. He told me that if this water didn’t kill him, the conditions were going to kill him. That’s how bad it is.
They have no air conditioning and they barely got the power back on three days ago. These prisoners haven’t even taken showers or had a hot meal since Sunday, August 27th.
I have an email saying that two inmates in medium low have passed away because of this treatment. I found out because an inmate’s wife emailed me that. Her husband who is locked up told her. They need help.
I know at least one of the people who died has been drinking the water. That’s what got me. My husband has been drinking that water. I don’t know the health situation of the rest of the prisoners, but if two people already died, they need to make a change now. This was a couple days ago.
LV: What do you think about the lack of media coverage about the plight of inmates after Hurricane Harvey?
These prisoners are losing hope and think that nobody is going to help them. It’s important that these men get the right treatment. It’s unfair. We see animals evacuated before even thinking about the inmates. This is coming from their mouth. The inmates understand the situation.
These men have no voice in there. All they have is their family to depend on to get this story out so the suffering and mistreatment can stop. They feel forgotten about in there. They are giving up hope. I can tell by the way my husband sounded.
LV: What do you think needs to happen now?
I would like them to be evacuated ASAP to a clean, healthy, safe environment. They need to be given a hot meal, a lot of water, and medication (my husband is a diabetic, also has high cholesterol, and high blood pressure). My husband has gotten his medication, but he said they were low. Who knows how much longer they will have it?
I would also like the inmates to get treatment because they have all been drinking that bad, bacteria infested water. I wouldn’t want anybody to ever go through what these inmates are going through. Some of the guards there are covering up their corrupted prison and that is not right. In the high security prison, the guards were on stand-off mode. I got an email from the wife of one of the inmates telling me that. The guards are patrolling with huge guns.
I know that there is more going on in those prisons. Inmates like my husband don’t want to tell us because they don’t want us to worry, but I have the feeling there is more going on in there. They need help now.