Sick inmate sends panic through state transitional facility

Courtesy The Georgia Department of Corrections
Courtesy The Georgia Department of Corrections

Her face was beet red. She was wheezing, struggling to breathe.

The 38-year-old woman — an inmate at Metro Transitional Center — had been experiencing stomach discomfort since early last week, one of her cellmates said. But she had clearly taken a turn for the worse and registered a temperature of 101 when she returned from work at a Forest Park poultry processing plant Friday night.

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The woman, whose name is being withheld out of respect for her privacy, was moved to a holding cell later that night.

She's been there ever since, essentially pleading for her life, inmates told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Sunday in a series of phone interviews.

“Yesterday she kept yelling, ‘When are they going to take me to the hospital,’” said one of the sick woman’s two cellmates.

The woman’s cellmate, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation by prison officials, said she and the other cellmate have been quarantined since Saturday. She said they haven’t shown any symptoms. Neither woman has been tested.

It’s not known if the sick woman has been screened for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The Georgia Department of Corrections, as of Sunday afternoon, reported no cases inside Metro TC, a minimum security facility designed to help offenders prepare for a life outside prison. The sick woman was serving out a sentence for drug and assault charges.

“Her cries for help were being ignored and the only treatment she is getting is to be talked to by the nurse through the door,” said John Harris, a paralegal for attorney David Brisendine, who represents some of the roughly 230 woman housed at the facility.

Harris said he contacted Governor Brian Kemp’s office to alert them to the inmate’s condition. Victoria Arroyo, the sick woman’s niece, said she called Metro TC Sunday afternoon and was told to call back the next day.

“It’s terrifying,” Arroyo said. “Why can’t they tell us what’s wrong?”

A supervising guard at Metro TC told the AJC Saturday night she could not comment on the situation, citing privacy concerns. DOC officials have yet to respond a request for comment.

The uncertainty has rattled the 80 or so prisoners who share common space inside a dorm with the sick woman.

“They won’t tell us anything,” said the woman’s cellmate, who is five months shy of her release date. She was convicted of possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute.

“We’re all nervous,” the cellmate said. “Have we all been exposed?”

Because many of the inmates work at jobs outside of the facility, said Harris, they are at an even greater risk.

That’s assuming the sick woman transmitted the illness into Metro TC, most of whom are approaching release dates.

“I’m serving two-and-a-half years for a probation violation,” said another inmate, from Acworth. “Now it feels like a death sentence.”

Late Sunday afternoon, the inmates at Metro TC learned their cell phones were being confiscated.

“Because they talked to the press,” Harris said.