Photo by Kayla Speid on Unsplash

With the delta variant wreaking havoc across the nation, and the omicron variant rearing its protein-spiked head around the globe, COVID-19 exploded once more within the walls of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) too. 

The trouble for Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) Ashland, located in Ashland, Kentucky, began just a few days prior to Thanksgiving 2021. I believe it can be traced back to one staff member.

On Monday, November 22, a staff member exhibiting COVID-19-like symptoms reported to work and had contact with inmates when conducting her weekly Non-Residential Drug Abuse Program (NRDAP) group. The facility had not conducted the requisite daily screening of incoming staff members, which consists of answering a temperature check and a brief questionnaire of medical symptoms.

The psychological services staff member said at the time that she was not feeling well when questioned by her students. She also revealed that her unvaccinated children were ill with COVID-19, but she did not take proper precautions. 

The staff member told the group of eight students that she had received both vaccine doses and had just taken her booster shot over the weekend. She did not wear a protective mask in the group session, nor did she require the inmates to wear one because all participants had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The following day, the staff member tested positive for COVID-19 and four of the eight NRDAP group members were placed in medical quarantine for 14 days. It was extended to 31 days when inmates from the same cohort began to fall ill. It’s unclear why only half of the NRDAP group had been placed in quarantine. 

As of March 2022, the facility holds 1,236 inmates in 11 housing units, the special housing units (SHU) and the medical quarantine unit at FCI Ashland. They are divided into three cohorts. As of January 18, 2022, positive cases in each of the three cohorts resulted in the entire facility being placed on full lockdown.

In G-Unit alone, which is one of the four housing units making up the north cohort, more than 30 inmates have tested positive in quarantine over the past two days alone.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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David W. McDaniel

David W. McDaniel was born and raised with ten sisters and two brothers in rural Appalachia. He enjoys writing poetry, short stories and faith-based works, and is currently working toward his degree in pastoral counseling with a minor in addictive behavior treatment. David is incarcerated in Kentucky.