Eddie Conway talks with reporter Katie Kull in Missouri about poor conditions and the no-mask mandate that led to over 100 prisoners contracting Covid-19.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
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Eddie Conway: Recently, Green County, Missouri broke its COVID-19 daily record when a jail, a trailer in one of their jails reported that every prisoner in that trailer tested positive. We’re going to talk today with Katie Cole. She has been talking directly to prisoners inside, and prisoners inside report that officials didn’t do the things they needed to do to keep them safe. Katie, welcome. Thanks for joining me.
Katie Cole: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Eddie Conway: Okay. First, can you give us an understanding of how many people, prisoners and guards, tested positive?
Katie Cole: Yeah, it’s actually hard to know, to be perfectly honest with you. Originally there were 108, I believe, inmates in the trailer at one time. Initially around 70 some tested positive, and they were taken out of the trailer and put into a pod in the regular jail building. And then about 30 inmates were left in the regular trailer to quarantine, and then they retested everybody and everybody tested positive. So they moved the rest of the people back into the trailer.
As of Friday, the jail was reporting 78 people had tested positive. However, they are only reporting active cases and people who are still incarcerated. So that number is likely cumulatively a lot higher, and they were still awaiting test results on I think, 10 people. And then guards, there were 34 people as of Friday who tested positive, of roughly I think 70 some tests. So a very good portion of staff had tested positive as well.
Eddie Conway: Okay. So, you talked to prisoners inside the jail. What are they reporting to you in terms of how the conditions was before the pandemic and during the pandemic and now? Can you give us an overview of what it was like in there?
Katie Cole: Yeah. As much as I can, as much as I’ve been told. I’ve talked to roughly a dozen inmates now, and they’ve reported that the trailer overall was probably one of their least, if you can say favorite, but one of the worst places to be, I guess, is probably the best way to say that, one of the worst places that most of them have been. And because of overcrowding in the jail, our inmates are shipped around a lot to other counties. So that’s saying something, to say that this is one of the worst places that they’ve reported being. But now that the pandemic has hit, they’re scared and they’re all really worried. They report people being sick. They sleep in bunks. It’s a bunk style. So they’re stacked on top of each other essentially for sleeping. It’s just one big room. So in an environment like that, the virus can spread really quickly, which contributed to their fear before they even tested positive.
Eddie Conway: So, what’s the protocol? I mean, obviously there’s supposed to be a mass protocol, social distances. Is that possible inside the trailer jail?
Katie Cole: I mean physical distancing, definitely not. It’s a small area. I mean, they say that if you spread your arms out, you can touch both ends of the trailer. And it’s just, I mean, it’s a trailer. It’s just a long … but I think it’s three of them smushed together kind of. There’s a day room on one side basically, and then bathrooms and everything on the other side. And that’s not possible. Our county actually here did not implement a mask requirement. They did not have any kind of mask mandate ever. Our city proper did, but not the county. So masks actually weren’t required, and the inmates were not given masks until after the first case was already recorded inside that facility.
Eddie Conway: Okay. So I was going to ask you what the trailer jail thing is in itself, but I think you just explained it. What’s the official response toward this total outbreak in the trailers, or have you talked to the officials about it?
Katie Cole: Yeah. They’re not answering a lot of my questions, quite frankly. So most of my information has been based on what people inside and their family members have told me, and obviously I do my due diligence. I cross check with the Sheriff’s Office and they answer the questions that they decide to answer. But they’ve maintained that they are providing as safe of an environment as they can. And of course it is difficult. Once it gets inside an environment like that, it is difficult to keep it under wraps just by the nature of how close people are together. It’s very difficult.
Eddie Conway: Well, what should friends, family, loved ones be doing right now? If everybody that’s in that trailer is positive, what needs to happen, and what can people outside do about it?
Katie Cole: Quite frankly, I don’t know. I wish I did, but there have been protests in recent weeks to give people masks more frequently. They’ve only been changed out every few days, and that’s a supply issue. However, they’ve been pushing to get them to change those out more frequently. There have also been pushes just to get people quicker medical care. That’s something that the family members have been pushing for as well. So these people are advocating for those folks quite a bit, but other jails across the country obviously have released more people in response, people with lower level offenses. So that’s certainly something. And our prosecutor told me that they have been doing that over time, but he indicated to me that they might consider doing a little bit more and releasing more people just in order to keep it as under wraps as they possibly can.
Eddie Conway: Well, Katie, can you keep us updated if there’s any changes or if this spreads into the larger jail?
Katie Cole: Yeah. I actually reported yesterday, or this morning, the story published, that it did spread to the regular … I’m getting reports that it has spread to the regular, the larger building. Now, I cannot possibly get that confirmed because when I asked, the jail officials did not confirm it. But that’s something that I’m hearing from the people inside. And they have been telling me that folks from other pods have been transferred into the jail, or into the trailer for quarantine. So I’m trying to keep on top of that and I will definitely keep you guys posted as I find out more.
Eddie Conway: Okay. Thank you for joining me then.
Katie Cole: Yeah. Well thank you guys for having me. I appreciate it.
Eddie Conway: And thank you for joining this episode of Rattling the Bars.
Rattling the Bars, hosted by former Black Panther and political prisoner Marshall “Eddie” Conway, puts the voices of the people most harmed by our system of mass incarceration at the center of our reporting on the fight to end it.