A Prison Cover-up During Hurricane Rita

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Enrico Diaz Hawkins is an inmate at the federal facility in Pollock, Louisiana. He was moved there from Beaumont after the hurricane. In a letter he mailed to Sirak, Hawkins detailed the hurdles he encountered.

"Immediately after the hurricane," Hawkins writes, "many of us inmates questioned the legality of our safety, sanitation, and environmental conditions. We were told that all of the administrations actions were legal and discouraged from pursuing the issue any further with the threat of 'Diesel Therapy'...and the implied threat of bodily harm."

"Diesel therapy," an inmate term, according to Sirak, is when an inmate is shipped to one facility after another, with his personal property never catching up to him. It is considered a severe ­punishment.

"I personally tried to file an administrative remedy form about a month after Hurricane Rita," writes Hawkins, "and was told by my counselor...and my unit manager...that they lost the form and that it was in my best interest not to pursue the matter any further...I was already stressed out from the inhumane conditions that I was forced to suffer through during the hurricane and its aftermath and I was put under further duress by the implied threat from those in authority over me so out of fear and prudence I decided to leave the issue alone until I was far away from USP Beaumont."

Sirak alleges in the lawsuit that prison officials punished inmates by taking them off a good prison job or transferring them to a cell with an inmate with an anger management problem to make their lives more difficult. Sirak also states that prison staff invaded cells and took inmates' legal papers as well as instituted lockdown during which time inmates could not mail letters.

"All of this was done under the radar screen," says Sirak. "For example, no one can argue the BOP has the right to take a person from one cell to another. On its face it's neutral. And all the record shows is the transfer, not that the person's new cellmate is an animal from hell. And that's what's so insidious. They're very adept at doing these things that leave no trace of prejudice."

When Deetz finally was able to submit his tort claim 21 months after the hurricane, he listed the Bureau's failure to evacuate, the dehydration, the accumulation of feces in his cell, the inability to bathe for weeks, the unbearable heat and the fear that he had been left, locked up in his cell, to die.

Three months later, he received a letter from Jason Sicler, Regional Counsel for the Bureau in Dallas. In his letter, Sicler denied all of Deetz's contentions.

"An investigation into your allegations could not substantiate your claim," Sicler wrote. "The review of this matter revealed FCC Beaumont (USP) staff took appropriate measures to alleviate the conditions caused by the natural disaster. All available supplies were issued to both staff and inmates as they became available...Therefore, there is no evidence you sustained any personal injury or property loss caused by the neglect or wrongful act or omission of any Bureau of Prison employee...."

Deetz couldn't believe it.

"I was like, 'That's crazy,'" says Deetz. "They denied everything. It makes you think, 'They screwed us and they're going to get away with it.' It makes you think, 'They're the federal government and you can't beat them.'"

"Thank God for Norman's lawsuit."

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Chris Vogel
Contact: Chris Vogel