The men at Fort Dix talk about COVID-19 like they’re in a combat zone. And in the war against the coronavirus, this former U.S. Army outpost in New Jersey is losing—badly.
Converted into a federal prison in the early 1990s,
Fort Dix is now ground zero of a COVID-19 outbreak that has raged across the
federal prison system since March, reported Vice. The 2,800 low-security prisoners currently
housed in the compound’s old military barracks are sitting ducks.
With at least 229 prisoners and 12 staffers
currently infected, Fort Dix has the most severe outbreak in the federal Bureau
of Prisons. The BOP has not reported any deaths, but the prisoners fear it’s
only a matter of time.
“This building is a war zone,” said Troy Wragg, a
39-year-old epileptic who uses a wheelchair. Wragg was the lead plaintiff in a
class-action lawsuit filed in May against the BOP, alleging dangerous
conditions for medically-vulnerable Fort Dix prisoners. He made it through an
earlier outbreak, only to test positive November 2.
“It is filthy, people are ill, everyone is
depressed, everyone looks like death,” Wragg said. “They are not giving us any
medicine or treatments, and we were told that they were just going to ‘let this
ride out, like they do on the street’ by the staff here.”
Other prisoners at Fort Dix also alleged a lack of
adequate medical care, with staff only offering Tylenol for all but the most
severe symptoms. Many described being housed in decrepit buildings plagued by
mold, leaking pipes, and frigid temperatures.
“Right now, it's like living in a crack house in
here,” one prisoner wrote to VICE News. “That’s how it feels, and I am from the
streets of Dallas, Texas; I know how they look.”
Nine months into the pandemic, the coronavirus
continues to spread unchecked across the federal prison system. At least 135
prisoners and two staffers have died, and the BOP has officially recorded more
than 21,000 total infections, including over 3,000 “active” cases.
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