My current and former clients with whom I correspond are my window into the Florida prison experience. A client of mine died this spring in a Florida prison from COVID-19. He is one of the 117 to have died of the virus while in a Florida prison. Another one of my clients recently recovered from the virus while in a Florida prison. Both were over the age of 65 and the client who lived to tell about it painted a worrisome picture about the prison's medical response to his symptoms.
The normal stresses of prison life now include the constant threat of contracting COVID-19 while housed in close quarters. Inmates also have the fear we all share of a loved one catching the virus and not recovering. With Florida prison visitation suspended due to COVID-19, inmates suffer the additional worry that they may not live to see their closest family members again. Delayed communication from outside the prison further isolates inmates and adds to their stress.
Fear of catching the virus themselves is far more than for the rest of us. Social distancing inside a jail or prison is not possible. Like so many of inmates' other daily choices, the choices that involve their health are made for them by someone else. My old client, who I consider a friend, survived COVID-19 last month during his Florida prison sentence. But he easily could have died from the unreasonable delay in getting him the treatment he needed. Those making his healthcare choices did not heed his complaints of difficulty breathing, fever, and lack of appetite for a week. He made it to a hospital and received what he described as excellent medical care for which is he grateful. Happily, he lived to write me again and continue exercising to keep himself in shape for his eventual release.
Florida prison conditions have historically included no air conditioning. Old buildings that predate air conditioning house most (at least two thirds) of Florida's nearly 100,000 inmates. Clients complain about the heat more than anything else and for good reason--it doesn't help with inmate aggression levels. Violent conditions are made worse by the natural human response to being constantly overheated. The lack of circulation also keeps the air stale and makes it easier for the virus to spread.
Especially for the elderly, lack of air conditioning exacerbates other health conditions. My client who died this past spring from the virus in prison suffered from a variety of health issues before arriving in prison. I have read that our prisons house the most vulnerable inmates in cell with air-conditioning. I wonder if my now-deceased client made that list. Diabetes and other common American ailments make it hard for the body to regulate its temperature even under normal circumstances. Exposure to the Florida heat day in and day out, without even a breeze, takes its toll and a person's organs. This no doubt limits their life expectancy and ability to fight COVID-19.
I am surprised that many prosecutors do not seem to view a prison sentence during a pandemic as an extraordinary measure that shouldn't be sought for the run-of-the-mill offender. I fight extra hard to avoid prison for all of my clients, but particularly now. I know even a short prison sentence may be a one-way trip.