October 13, 2020
Contact: FDC Communications
FIND THE GOOD
This summer has not been easy. The southern tier of the United States, to include Florida, experienced a very difficult period in the COVID-19 pandemic. So did we in FDC. In just those two months, over 2000 of our staff contracted the virus, to include Deputy Secretary Dixon and myself. The virus entered all but five of our major facilities, infecting nearly 20% of you. And even though most of you that contracted the virus had minor or no symptoms, those with “moderate” symptoms like me, had a miserable, miserable few weeks. Some with underlying medical conditions and severe symptoms went to the hospital. COVID-19 is such a terrible disease, and as our Nation has had fatalities attributed to the virus, we too lost men and women from our ranks, both incarcerated individuals and staff. Those on supervision, as you lived and worked in our communities, you were subject to the same risks and infection rates as our staff.
Personally, I hope to never see another two months like this past July and August. I saw a meme that said the first rule of 2021 will be to never talk about 2020. But as August ended, we saw a significant reduction in new COVID-19 positive cases. In the last week of August through the first week of September, we had less than 300 new cases among our entire incarcerated population. And by the end of that first week of September, most of you that had contracted the virus were out of medical isolation; 97% of you, in fact. We now have less than 350 men and women in medical isolation pending test results or running their course with the virus. Medical quarantine numbers are less than one-fourth of our peak month and dropping steadily. These numbers are encouraging and contributed to my decision to resume modified visitation and volunteer activities.
Am I trying to say the pandemic is over and paint you a rosy picture? No, quite the opposite. We are still in a serious pandemic, and we cannot let down our guard. The risk is still real. The potential for a second outbreak and serious consequences for those with underlying medical conditions remain. But if we can manage infection rates more in line with September, until the arrival of a successful vaccine, I consider that a realistic expectation and satisfactory. If we see indications of rising infection rates like July, we will have to again suspend visitation and volunteer programs.
I am optimistic that we can all show the discipline and patience necessary to fight and ride out this pandemic, the worst pandemic in 100 years. We must follow our established pandemic control procedures and new modified visitation and volunteer procedures. On balance, you have cooperated very well with our joint efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus. One added effort you can do soon is accept the flu vaccine, when offered. Flu has almost all the same symptoms as COVID-19, except loss of taste and smell. If we can keep flu out of our institutions this winter, we can keep our medical resources focused on the pandemic and better manage the identification and treatment needs of those that may still get COVID-19. I personally hate needles, but I will get the flu shot too.
Often in hardship, we see the best in people, and this is no exception. Thank you for the part you have played in protecting yourself and those around you, both fellow inmates, offenders, and staff. Had you not, the dire predictions of the virus running through all our prisons like wildfire, resulting in several thousand deaths, could have come true.
But that is not the only good I have seen. During the height of the pandemic, I wrote you about finding a solution to violence in our system. Do you remember what I wrote?
TODAY, are there ten of you that will step forward to help design this program for short-sentenced inmates? TODAY, are there perhaps one hundred of you that will raise your hand to serve as mentors and share your life’s lessons to these young men and women, showing them a better future? TODAY, are there perhaps one thousand of you that have really thought about our challenges with violence and victimization, and will pull out pen and paper to forward ideas and solutions to me on how to disrupt and marginalize those still committed to criminal activity? Do you have solutions on how we can approach and bring change to those predators, that perhaps do not know how to change the present course in their lives? Can we build a realistic path for redemption and a second chance for all those willing to take the first step away from violence?
Well, the fact that I received over 750 letters and emails, and still have over 446 letters to read (and I will read them ALL), with more arriving every day, I sure got an answer…many answers! Thank you!!
Let me give you some initial insight into the letters I have read so far. At least eight out of ten letters have been thoughtful, clear, positive, with solid recommendations. Many authors want to personally be part of the solution, and that is commendable. Numerous writers have been so comprehensive and logical that if I were to share your letter with a criminal justice consultant company, they would hire you on the spot.
Your letters are a blend of theory, research, hopeful speculation and hard-gained experience. I saw that many of the programs we and our volunteers do offer (for example, Malachi Dads, Veterans dorms, thinking for a Change, GED prep, college and vocational education, substance use treatment, etc.) have had an impact in your lives, and have been missed during this pandemic. The call for more programming is resounding, and I hear you.
I am sensitive to your needs and desires for more options to make positive choices to better yourself and prepare for that day of restoration to your community. I recognize the amount of “wasted” time, the amount of time you are idle. Due to the pandemic and reduced state revenues, this will likely be a tough budget year for everyone with hard choices ahead for our state leaders. But we will work to continue enhancing program opportunities.
I assure you that even though you don’t get a reply, we have a process to quickly read and forward your letters to the most appropriate office for action, well before I block the hours necessary to personally read your letters. My staff and I value your observations, recommendations, and even criticisms. Many of you say this has been the most engaged level of communication between FDC leadership and you, in many years. We see that too, and it is encouraging for all of us. Hopefully you will see the results of your recommendations and continue to offer your perspective and insights.
One other theme was very clear to me in most letters. Many of you have learned that change cannot be forced upon you but comes from within by making positive choices and choosing a positive attitude. I sense that for those of you that have sent me letters so far, most of you have reached a point of maturity that you have found the good, even in your present situation. You set a good example worthy of notice and imitation. My job? Make it easier for others to follow your example to find the good.
As Florida's largest state agency, and the third largest state prison system in the country, FDC employs 24,000 members, incarcerates 80,000 inmates and supervises nearly 145,000 offenders in the community.