Prison Reports are dispatches about news, events, occurrences and situations that took place in and around prisons. Prison Journalism Project has not sought an official comment from prison administration because of possible risks to the writer. This story was carefully vetted, and we worked with the writer to be as clear as possible about what he saw firsthand and where he got each piece of information. PJP editors added contextual reporting. The following story was sent on Sept. 28 and 29 as Hurricane Ian moved through Florida. We kept the story in present tense to convey what the moment was like from the perspective of people inside.
In recent days, southwestern Florida has been battered by Hurricane Ian, one of the strongest storms ever to hit the United States.
From my prison window, I see the razor wire on a nearby fence vibrating violently in the wind. Water has made its way inside through a roof vent, a door and a few windows. We are surrounded by concrete but can still sense the strong winds outside. Power has flickered on and off all day, the water has been turned off and fire alarms have sounded constantly.
Some prisoners are playing poker in the day room while others have been battling sporadic phone service as they attempt to reach loved ones.
Prisoner movement has been curtailed. U.S. postal mail has been suspended until further notice. Staff levels here are minimal, and all meals have been delivered to our unit.
On Sept. 29, prison guards — the same ones who worked the previous day — provided each prisoner with two pints of bottled water to drink. They also delivered a large trash can full of water to be used for flushing toilets. As of this writing, the water was still off; dozens of men have been using six toilets.
Several men who live in my dorm here in Moore Haven Correctional Facility have homes or relatives directly in the path of devastation. As the eye of the storm passes just to the west of us, we are listening closely to WINK News broadcasts on our radios.
When I spoke to Christian Heath, he had been trying all day to reach his parents in Sebring, with no luck. “That’s really unusual,” he said. “I’m getting more and more worried.”
Matthew Hey had just recently connected with his mother, who lives in Plant City. Her backyard was already flooded.
“I want to be with my mom,” Hey said, as a fire alarm sounded in the background. “But I’m not because of the stupid decisions I’ve made in my life, and I feel bad about that.”
Ryan Paulsen, who has been incarcerated here since 2013, said he had never seen anything like this before. His family recently evacuated from Sanibel Island to the mainland, and he was worried about losing his home. “They left a few days ago, so I’m glad they’re safe,” he said, as reports came in of winds approaching 150 mph on the island. “I just hope the house is there.”
Thomas Remland owns a home in Naples, and he too is worried. “I just hope it’s not under water,” he said. “It’s all I have.”
Daniel Jahnke was supposed to be released on Oct. 1. He had plans to go to a halfway house located near the beach in Cape Coral, but he was concerned because the current conditions for that area have been described as catastrophic with heavy winds and storm surges as high as 12 feet.
“I’m in my mid-60s and I’m disabled. What am I gonna do?” he said.
As I write, we have just lost power. The local radio stations have stopped transmitting. The emergency generators are firing up.
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.