What happened to Cheryl Weimar? The routine torture of women in Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution. Shut it down!

Cheryl Weimar is 51 years old. She lives with mental illness as well as a physical disability, a hip condition that limits her mobility. Cheryl Weimar is also a `guest’ of Florida’s largest women’s prison, Lowell Correctional Institution. On August 21, a prison staff member directed Cheryl Weimar to clean the toilets. She explained that she could not, due to her hip condition, and asked for another assignment. Four `officers’ then threw Cheryl Weimar to the concrete floor and proceeded to beat her. Realizing they were in sight of a video camera, the four dragged Cheryl Weimar out of camera sight, and beat her to `within an inch of her life’. She is now in hospital, paralyzed from the neck down. Her neck is broken. She breathes through a tracheotomy and takes food in through a tube. This is Cheryl Weimar’s condition until the day she dies. While in hospital, Cheryl Weimar is `guarded’ by precisely the staff that put her in this condition. Cheryl Weimar is the embodiment of the phrase, “paying the price for one’s misdeeds”. Cheryl Weimar is the what justice looks like in Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution. Cheryl Weimar was set to leave Lowell Correctional, February 2021. Now, she’ll never leave. Justice is served.

Cheryl Weimar is suing Florida. Former residents of Lowell Correctional have rallied in her name and called on Florida to fix this hellhole. Jordyn Gilley-Nixon, also living with disabilities and a former Lowell Correctional inmate, released a video describing in detail the sexual violence she suffered at the hands of Lowell Correctional staff. Former Lowell Correctional prisoners and supporters demonstrated last week. They showed up with their mouths taped. Latangela McCall showed up with her six-year old daughter and a sign that read, “Change is now, tired of talking, no one listens”. Other signs showed photographs of hundreds of former prisoners with their mouths taped. Debra Bennett, former prisoner and organizer of the protest, explained, “Weimar’s beating is alarming but not surprising …  Silence got everybody’s attention – nobody ever listens to us convicts. We’re here to prove a point … We’ve been talking long enough. I’m tired of talking. We want action … It keeps getting worse. There’s going to be somebody else beaten.”

Cheryl Weimar’s story, Jordyn Gilley-Nixon’s story, and all the currently circulating stories were preceded by those of Michelle Tierney, 48; Latandra Ellington, 48; Regina A. Cooper, 50; Affricka G. Jean, 30, all four of whom `died’ under `mysterious circumstances’ in 2014. As we noted at the time, “they did not `die. They were killed.” Now, five years later, the world again `discovers’ the hellhole that is Lowell Correctional Institution. Yet again, the State, both Florida and federal, will `investigate’, and yet again worse than absolutely nothing will happen. This is our gulag, writ both large and small; our internal necro-colony, where not being able to clean a toilet is a death sentence. It’s too late to `fix’ Lowell Correctional Institution. Shut it down. Shut it down today. Shut it down now. There’s going to be somebody else beaten. It keeps getting worse.

(Photo Credit: Dana Cassidy / WUFT)

Florida’s special hell for women, the Lowell Correctional Institution, ran out of water

Florida built a special hell for women, the Lowell Correctional Institution. In 2015, Lowell housed, or better caged, 2696 women, surpassing the Central California Women’s Facility and thus becoming the largest women’s prison in the United States. From the start, in 1956, to today, the place has been a nightmare: overcrowded, rampant with staff abuse of prisoners and institutional abuse of staff, severely under resourced, violent, toxic and lethal. In 2014, Michelle Tierney, Latandra Ellington, Regina A. Cooper, and Affricka G. Jean died “under suspicious circumstances.” They did not die; they were killed by the institution. From the outset, death-in-life has been the everyday norm for Lowell. Last week, Lowell hit a new low, no water for days. The Lowell Correctional Institution, hellhole of inhumane practices, became the Lowell Correctional Institution, hellhole of `subhuman’ conditions.

Here’s the official version: Lightning struck a water pump on Saturday, July 8. It shut down water and a geothermal line, which meant no water and no `air conditioning’. On Monday, July 10, the Florida Department of Correction released a statement: “Storm damage over the weekend caused maintenance issues that effected the well pumps and geothermal line at Lowell Correctional Institution. Institution maintenance staff responded immediately and have been on scene trying to resolve the issues with assistance from the local fire department and contractors. The geothermal line has been repaired and a replacement pump for the well is expected to arrive today. All inmates have access to drinking water. Toilets and sinks are operational using non-potable water being brought in to the institution.”

On Thursday, July 13, The Miami Herald reported that drinking water was still unavailable, and would be unavailable for at least another three days.

Lowell Correctional Institution doesn’t have air conditioning. Instead it relies on geo-thermal cooling. The State admits that the system is faulty, at best. Prison staff say the system doesn’t work at all in a number of the dormitories. Now, it officially doesn’t work anywhere. Meanwhile, Lowell has been cited repeatedly for unhygienic conditions, including worms and mold in the showers and sinks. Last week, for at least three days, the showers and sinks were officially shut off. Toilets were also `inoperational’, which prisoners explained means toilets overflowing with feces.

One staff member said, “It’s a disgusting mess; the women are living in subhuman conditions.” Another added, “I don’t understand why the health department doesn’t get involved. There’s been a constant problem here with sanitation. Toilets that don’t work — sometimes only one works for 160 inmates.”

Florida maintains that the situation in Lowell Correctional Institution is under control and just fine. Florida can make that claim because the situation in Lowell Correctional Institution has been subhuman for years, and who complained? Prisoners, their families and friends, staff members, and the occasional activist. Where’s the hue and cry over the abysmal conditions in the nation’s largest women’s prison? Florida built a special hell for women, Lowell Correctional Institution, and really, who cares?

 

(Photo Credit: Miami Herald / Emily Michot)

Florida built a special hell for women, the Lowell Correctional Institution

 

Latandra Ellington’s aunt, Algarene Jennings (left), and sister, Kawana Walker.

On October 9, Michelle Tierney, 48, died. On October 1, Latandra Ellington, 48, died. On August 22, Regina A. Cooper, 50, died. On April 30, Affricka G. Jean, 30, died. All four women were inmates at Florida’s Lowell Correctional Institution, and they are not the tip of an iceberg. They are just another part of the special hell Florida runs for women, the Lowell Correctional Institution. And they did not “die”. They were killed.

Both Affricka Jean and Regina Cooper died under suspicious circumstances, and both of their deaths are under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of Inspector General. They are classified as “active death investigations.” Despite that, neither death raised much of a fuss in Florida or elsewhere, except among the usual suspects. Otherwise, it was just another season in hell, and women’s bodies continued to pile up.

Then Latandra Ellington died … or was killed. Ellington had written her aunt a letter in which she said a sergeant, known as Sergeant Q, had threatened to “beat me to death and mess me like a dog”. A few days later, Ellington was `discovered’ dead in a confinement cell.

Other inmates have written letters, anonymously, in which they describe, in detail, guards’ sexual exploitation, violence, and torture of inmates. They describe a culture of pure sadism, in which women are beaten for sport, and then intimidated into silence. At some level, none of this is surprising. It’s the story of Alabama’s special hell for women, Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, translated to Florida.

The twist at Lowell is that recent evidence suggests that Latandra Ellington’s death, or murder, was part of a power struggle … between two factions of corrections officers. Lowell Correctional Institution is being ripped apart by a gang war between gangs of guards.

Ellington’s autopsy shows blunt force trauma to her abdomen, consistent with having been beaten.

Michelle Tierney, who died last week, was killed slowly. Tierney was scheduled to be transferred to another prison on October 30, in preparation for her release from prison in January. She was so close to getting out. By all accounts, Tierney was a model inmate, a friend to all, a mentor, and a teacher of basic to advanced reading and writing. So, what happened?

For most of her fourteen years in prison, Tierney had been in good health. Recently she started complaining about leg pains. According to a friend of Tierney’s, she said she was suffering from so much pain in her legs that she couldn’t walk and was always crying. She went to the infirmary day and night, and, day and night, was turned away with a “diagnosis” of arthritis, get used to it.

When Michelle Tierney was finally taken to the hospital, her feet were blue, she had cysts all over her body, she was in septic shock, she had a fever and suffered from pneumonia.

That’s how it is in hell. Your choices are a quick tortured death or a slow tortured death, both accompanied by terror, horror and indignity. None of this is new. None of the violence, terror, horror or indignity against these women is new. Maybe, just maybe now, at last, someone, like the Department of Justice, will do something. What they won’t do is bring back the women who have been systematically murdered in the Lowell Correctional Institution in Florida.

 

(Photo credit: NPR / Greg Allen)