Former Marion County inmates on COVID-19: It ‘spread like wildfire’

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INDIANAPOLIS — Nearly 2 months ago, FOX59’s Beairshelle Edmé did an initial report about the spread of COVID-19 in jails.

In it, Captain Mitchell Gore of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said, “We are on the leading edge of a response to this pandemic in the correctional environment.”

Since then, FOX59 has received dozens of viewer emails and calls, and most describe Marion County Jail as anything but a crisis response leader.

Strict social distancing and cleaning are two vital protocols to fight COVID-19. One’s harder to do than the other in a jail, but two recently released inmates tell Edmé neither is happening in Marion County.

“It spread like wildfire,” Terrence Clark described.

Kyle Henderson added, “You’re (Marion County) condemning me to death!”

Henderson and Clark were both locked up in Marion County Jail II operated by Core Civic. Henderson was in jail for drug possession charges.

“I have no problem admitting that and doing my time,” Henderson said.

Clark was in jail for burglary, theft, and several more charges.

He says allegations aren’t convictions, but that as coronavirus spreads, he believes it could be—both men say there’s not enough personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Guards were walking around with the mask on like a month and half before we were,” Clark explained.

“A lot of times our masks were our shirts like this (pulled uniforms above their faces),” Henderson described.

The county confirms staff voluntarily wore masks around March and were available as needed for inmates. By April 5, the county mandated them for everyone.

“Core Civic, they’ve passed out masks to the inmate population,” detailed Deputy Chief Tanesha Crear.

Clark, however, says he spent all of March and most of April without a mask until about a week before his April 27 release.

Cleaning and isolation are other concerns.

“Generally, in all housing units, every day, twice a day—the staff go around with part bleach, part water solution and spray down all high use and high traffic units and the general area,” the deputy chief detailed.

“After three people were tested positive in our dorm, and our dorm was quarantined, they never bleached anything down,” Clark countered in his accounts of the jail’s conditions.

Another example, the men bring up is the one-time they allege a meal was prepped by COVID-19 positive inmates, the dorm assigned on kitchen staff duties.

“The kitchen dorm was being quarantined, and at that point we demanded a chief or some type of kind of rank to come speak to us because everyone else kind of waves us off,” Clark explained.

For those demands, the 30-year-old says a guard threatened him with segregation, at which point the men said the dorm considered getting physical.

The deputy chief has no record of Clark’s kitchen account, but says this: “Anyone who has been tested and has been tested positive, they would not work anywhere outside of the housing unit, particularly the kitchen, but they would remain in isolation, quarantine for the period of time deemed appropriate by the medical advice,” she said.

For this month, the jail administrators also say they’ve seen a big decrease in cases, pointing to their measures as recommended by county health experts.

In a June 5 report, Marion County Jail I reported two cases and has reported 121 positive cases. While Jail II, which housed Clark and Henderson, reported 21 coronavirus cases and has reported 106 positive cases.

If inmates have a problem, Marion County officials urge them or family members to contact any staff member. You can also email Edmé at Edme@fox59.com.

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