When you are sentenced to prison in South Carolina, you lose most of your rights.
You lose your right to do what you want, to eat what you want, to sleep when you want, and to visit with friends or family when you want.
You get the most basic necessary medical care, but you lose your right to effective medical care that can sometimes be life-saving. You can’t go to see a doctor when you want or choose the doctor that you see.
You also lose your freedom of movement – obviously, this is part if not most of the point of prison. But, what happens when a category four hurricane is predicted to smash your state, your state’s governor orders mandatory evacuations, and the people responsible for your life and safety refuse to evacuate the inmates?
Inmates and Prison Staff to Stay Put and Ride Out Hurricane Florence
As Hurricane Florence’s swiftly-changing predicted course now appears to be heading through South Carolina, with hurricane-force winds, guaranteed flooding, and the possibility that it will churn over the state dumping record amounts of water, SC’s governor ordered mandatory evacuations of the coastal areas.
But not for SC prisons, even those in the “red” zone.
“Right now, we’re not in the process of moving inmates,” [SCDC spokesman Dexter Lee] said. “In the past, it’s been safer to leave them there.”
I assume that he means in the past when they were lucky and did not get a direct hit from a category four hurricane. What experience do we have with inmates being left incarcerated during a direct hit from a hurricane?
Are Inmates at J. Reuben Long Detention Center Being Evacuated?
No. Inmates and staff at J. Reuben Long Detention Center, which is in Conway and appears to be in the path of Hurricane Florence, will not be evacuated, either.
That Time They Left Inmates to Die in Their Cells During Hurricane Katrina
Jails and prisons in New Orleans were not evacuated as Hurricane Katrina hit the city – in some cases, jailers forced inmates into their cells and then abandoned them there as the sewage-filled flood waters rose to chest-level:
“They left us like dogs,” one prisoner would later recount in the BBC documentary, Prisoners of Katrina. “Eight men in a two man cell with no food and no water, covered with mace you couldn’t wash off. It was an experience I wouldn’t wish on nobody.”
In some cases men broke out of their cells and rioted, viciously attacking each other. The official story from the Sheriff of Orleans Parish was that there was “no loss of life.” Those who were there claim to have seen dead bodies and furiously challenged the Sheriff’s account. Who do you believe when you later learn that 517 prisoners would eventually go “unaccounted for?“
You can read testimonials here from 400 inmates who were left in the Orleans Parish Prison during Hurricane Katrina.
We’re better than that, right?
Apparently not. I hope that massive tragedy does not strike SC’s inmates. I hope that SCDC officials guessed right and no damage will be done. I hope that, if tragedy strikes, prison and jail guards will not abandon inmates in their locked cells.
Most inmates in SC prisons are not terrible, inhuman monsters undeserving of respect or humane treatment. They are people like you and me, and most are waiting to finish their sentences, so they can return to their families, their wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, and their children.
Are they going to die in Hurricane Florence? Probably not, but SC’s lack of concern is shameful.