Mother imprisoned for non-violent offense dies from COVID-19 after early release was denied

Image via Miami Herald

A woman has died from COVID-19 complications in a Florida prison after her request for an early release to finish her sentence on home confinement was denied.

READ MORE: Inmate details poor COVID-19 prison conditions in striking video

Saferia Johnson was an inmate at the women’s work camp at Coleman Federal Correctional Complex, serving 46 months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to embezzle public money and aggravated identity theft, The Miami Herald reports.

Although she is the first inmate at the facility to die of the highly contagious virus, 182 inmates and 21 staffers in total have tested positive for COVID-19. The coronavirus is just one of the issues at the facility, including sexual abuse allegations and an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease.

A press release issued by the U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Prisons to confirm Johnson’s death details their account of her experience.

“On Wednesday, July 15, 2020, inmate Saferia Johnson was evaluated by
health services staff at the Satellite Prison Camp (SPC) adjacent to the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Coleman Low for shortness of breath. She was subsequently tested, and on July 19, 2020 determined to be positive for COVID-19. On the same day, Ms. Johnson was transported to a local hospital for treatment and further evaluation,” the statement reads.

While in the hospital, Ms.Johnson’s health condition deteriorated, and she was placed on a ventilator. On Monday, August 3, 2020, Ms. Johnson, who had long-term, pre-existing medical conditions, which the CDC lists as risk factors for developing more severe COVID-19 disease, was pronounced dead by hospital staff.”

Her family told the Miami Herald the news release was their first confirmation that Johnson, 36, had COVID-19.

“They’ve told me nothing,” Johnson’s mother Tressa Clements said to the news outlet. “This has been horrible.”

Clement shares that her only daughter was well-loved, had acknowledged her mistake and was fully prepared to serve her time and return home.

“She was a sweet girl. She didn’t deserve to die there,” she told Miami Herald. “She was not given a death sentence.”

Johnson had suffered from asthma since childhood, oftentimes using breathing treatments. In recent years, she received a diabetes diagnosis. In the beginning of her sentence, she was in custody at FCI Marianna but was transferred to Coleman in 2019 after the Marianna facility sustained hurricane damage.

Her mother said that while behind bars it was already a struggle for Johnson to get her necessary breathing treatments, even before COVID-19.

Due to her preexisting conditions, Johnson applied to be released to home confinement once the pandemic set in. Her initial request was denied and she was in the process of filing a court motion for compassionate release when she got sick.

Clements says that on July 21, she received a call saying her daughter was experiencing shortness of breath but was never told about the COVID-19 results. The following week, Clements’ sister was informed they should visit Johnson in the hospital but her mother says she was still not informed of her daughter’s diagnosis.

On their first trip to the hospital on Friday, July 30, the pair were not cleared to visit. They returned that Sunday, August 1, at the direction of the Bureau of Prisons. The sisters arrived at Leesburg Regional Medical Center at around 4:30 p.m. and were checked in by a guard to see Johnson through a window.

“I told her to fight as hard as she could,” Clements told the Herald. “She couldn’t talk, but tears were coming from her eyes. She knew I was there.”

The family was allowed to visit Johnson until they were required to leave around 6:30 p.m. Clements says she called at around 1:00 a.m. and again and 8:00 a.m. to check on her daughter’s status. At 10:30 a.m. the family was notified of Johnson’s death.

READ MORE: Half of San Quentin prisoners infected with COVID-19

Johnson is survived by two sons, Kyrei, 7, and Josiah, 4, who were given the news by their grandmother that their mom would not be returning home.

“We told them that God wanted her as an angel with him,” she said. “But she will always be in their lives and be their guardian angel.

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