Atlanta federal prison workers say morale is low amid shutdown, other impacts

After 21 years with the Atlanta Federal Prison, Kelvin Williams says the last two and half weeks have proven to be his greatest test of patience and faith.

“Right now, we’re being forced to come work in this prison,” Williams said. “Right now, people are concerned about getting paid, about risking our lives everyday and not getting paid for it.”

Williams, who doubles as a union president, is among 400 or so people who work at the prison in Southeast Atlanta.

Williams told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr that morale is low behind the gates of the facility, where workers are hoping the partial government shutdown ends sooner than later.

While the shutdown began before the holidays, this Friday will mark 800,000 federal workers’ first missed paycheck, unless something drastically changes in Washington.

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“You still have to deal with inmates,” said Ramona Rembert, a federal prison retiree. ”Those aren’t the choir children.”


Rembert says while her retiree benefits are not affected by the shutdown, it hurts to see what’s happening to her former colleagues with whom she shares union membership.

She also told Carr that one missed bill can impact prison workers’ employee records and job retainment eligibility.

“As employees here at the United States Penitentiary, we have what we call a background investigation,” she said. “We have to do five-year investigations. Every five years. So if you’re not bringing home a paycheck, you can’t pay your creditors, (and) that poses a problem when it comes time for you to go for that background check.”

“We try to take it day-by-day, but we’re all human,” Williams said. “Some people reach their breaking point sooner than others. Some last a little bit longer, so it just always depends on the individual.”


Michael Rishel made sure his South Georgia client’s dream home would still become a reality amid the government shutdown, even if it meant going from a zero-down payment loan to a 3.5 percent deal.

“This client right now, she can’t do the USDA loan so we’re having to go through FHA,” the Sandy Springs mortgage loan officer explained.

U.S. Department of Agriculture loans require a federal underwriter. Those underwriters are among the government employees furloughed during the shutdown. 

“So that final step can’t be done,” Rishel said. “But she didn’t want to wait. Maybe the government might open back up? Maybe they might not … So she didn’t want to miss this opportunity to buy her dream house. She said, ‘You know what? Let’s tap into my savings.'”

Rishel, who works with First Fidelity Funding and Mortgage Corporation, says are some good developments tied to the shutdown.

Guidance forwarded to banks this week notes tax transcripts and Social Security validation will be back up and running Monday, as the IRS begins slowly beefing up its workforce without pay. It’s an attempt to soften the tax season impact, and that’s good news for all homebuyers in the loan approval process.

“It should catch up pretty quick, and it should not prevent any loans from going forward,” Rishel said, noting the possibility for slight processing delays amid the backlog.

But local federal workers won’t be able to close on home loans at all during the shutdown period, because they can’t verify their income.

“Everybody (bank) does it, no matter who you work for, but if you’re furloughed from the government … there’s no one to call,” Rishel said. “You have to have that (verification) to close.”

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