On December 4, 2020, I received an email from the City of Faith Half-Way House in Little Rock, Arkansas. The email stated it was a “directive from the Bureau of Prisons (BOP).” The email appears to be a copy and paste of the original email.
The email reads, “As per our phone conversation on 12/03/2020 referencing the directive from the Bureau of Prisons: All CARES Act (Direct Home Confinement) inmates who receive an incident report at any level (100, 200, 300 and 400 series level), the incident reports shall be sent to the Discipline Mailbox for processing. Once we receive the incident report at that time, we will coordinate with you and the US Marshal Service for the inmate to report back to the facility for pick up.”
This email highlights the BOP’s war on inmates released under the Cares Act. City of Faith is located in the South-Central Region of the BOP. The South-Central Region includes the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. This region has seen a rise in the number of inmates released under the Cares Act, that have been violated for minor infractions and taken back to prison.
I was released under the Cares Act on May 27, 2020. I followed all the rules of my release. I was working two jobs, and was scheduled to begin my last semester of graduate school on January 13, 2021. However, on January 12, 2021, I was called to the City of Faith half-way house, where I was picked up by US Marshal Service at the direction of the BOP. I was taken to the Pulaski County Detention Facility, to await my transfer back to prison.
My infraction—emailing through Corrlinks (the BOP’s monitored email system), with inmates I met while incarcerated at FPC Bryan prison camp. The incident report I was given was a low-level series 309 infraction for “violating a condition of a community program.”
A 300 or 400 series infraction is normally handled at the institution level, which in this case should have been the half-way house. And the BOP’s policy on inmate discipline (https://www.bop.gov/policy/progstat/5270_009.pdf) requires that certain procedures are followed before an inmate is found guilty of a violation. Normally, a 300 series infraction would result in a loss of privilege or a verbal warning. However, because of the December 2020, email, the policy was not followed.
The City of Faith’s Resident Manual states that first time infractions would result in a verbal warning. But because of the BOP’s email directive that is not what happen. And nowhere in the manual was I advised that I could not talk to other inmates via email or that doing so would result in a violation.
Several staff members at the City of Faith, told my husband and myself, that they received direct orders from the Residential Reentry Management (RRM) Dallas field office, located in Grand Prairie, Texas, to have me taken back to prison.
While most likely my violation had more to do with my continued speaking out against the BOP on podcasts and in my blog Inside The Walls, than the actual emailing to other inmates, the December email was the catalyst to my return to prison.
I was held at the county jail for 15 days before a federal Judge granted my Compassionate Release motion that had been pending before the court since December 2020. The Judge ordered the BOP to release me by 3:00 p.m., on January 27, 2021.
On March 1, 2021, the BOP struck again. Melanie Brandt was released under the Cares Act in May 2020. Upon her release, she was placed on home confinement, wore a GPS ankle monitor, worked full time, and lived with her brother–paying her share of the bills.
Melanie was following all the rules she was advised to follow by the Reality House Half Way House in Brownsville, Texas, and by all accounts was a productive citizen. Unlike me, Melanie was never informed of the BOP’s email that occurred in December 2020, even though she too lives in the South-Central Region.
Melanie maintained contact with women she left behind in the prison system, and with whom she had become friends during her incarceration. It is not uncommon for woman to make bonds while incarcerated in the horrific situations they are placed in prison. Many of us wish to encourage those we leave behind upon our release.
It is therapeutic in many ways, as the women we served time with are the only people who can fully understand what we go through while incarcerated. Upon release, many of us deal with PTSD, anxiety, and other mental health issues that develop during incarceration.
Melanie’s infraction–using Western Union to place money on the commissary accounts of inmates still serving time at FPC Bryan. Melanie was charged with a 328 low level infraction “giving money or anything of value to, or accepting money or anything of value, from another inmate or any other person without staff authorization.”
Melanie was returned to prison at the direction of the RRM in San Antonio, Texas. And the BOP once again failed to follow its own policies on inmate discipline. The December email appears to be the reason for the expedited rush to judgment. Melanie was sanctioned to a loss of 30 days of good time credit. She is no longer eligible for half-way house or home confinement. Melanie will be released from FPC Bryan on November 4, 2023.
Raquel Esquivel was violated on May 13, 2021, for what the BOP charges was escape—a 200 series incident report—that requires the inmate to appear before a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) to be resolved.
Raquel’s infraction—not calling the Dismas Charities half-way in Del Rio, Texas, while she was moving from job site to job site.
After she received the incident report, Raquel provided the BOP with proof of her calls and witness statements verifying that she did in fact call the half-way house as required on the date in question. The BOP ignored the evidence and found her guilty anyway.
Raquel was not aware of the December email. And once again, the BOP failed to follow its own inmate discipline policy. Raquel was denied her rights to a DHO hearing. Raquel was sanctioned to a loss of 180 days of good time credit and an additional loss of 27 days of good time credit.
Raquel will be released on March 1, 2022. She is currently being held at the Val Verde Correctional Facility in Del Rio, Texas, and awaits transfer back to prison. Raquel is six months pregnant. Raquel and her family report being told by Dismas Charities staff that the orders to send Raquel back to prison came directly from BOP staff at the RRM in San Antonio, Texas.
I have received information from sources who requested anonymity. These sources report that many other women have been violated for minor infractions in the South-Central Region of the BOP.
Inmates who were violated, were released from prison under the Cares Act, had good time credits taken from them, and were quickly sent back to prison. I am personally aware of several women who have been violated for minor infractions and are back in prison in the region.
The BOP’s war on those released under the Cares Act is causing additional stress and concern for inmates who are already dealing with trying to get their lives back on track–many after long prison sentences. Families risk being torn apart again, which creates stress on spouses and children.
None of these inmates were told that they would have to return to prison when they were released. Many have spent more than a year rebuilding their lives.
There is also concern in the region regarding the differences in the handling of minor infractions by half-way houses across the South-Central region—with nobody being clear on how minor infractions will be handled.
Not all half-way houses are following the BOP’s December email directive. Many half-way houses are following their resident handbooks and handing out their own punishment for inmates who receive minor infractions. Inmates lucky enough to fall into this category have not been sent back to prison.
And nobody is clear on how these decisions are being made. One thing that is clear, the December email deemed “a directive from the BOP”, is a war on those released under the Cares Act. Many believe that it is the BOP’s way to circumvent Congress, and to regain head count of inmates in the region.
I reached out to the Federal Bureau of Prisons for a comment but I did not receive a response before this article went to press.