“They weren’t sentenced to death,” families fear for loved ones in prison with COVID-19 outbreak



SOUTHHAMPTON COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Coronavirus death toll is rising at a Virginia prison in Southampton putting relatives and inmates on edge.

Over the weekend, two more inmates died from COVID-19 at the Deerfield Correctional Center bringing the death toll there to 6.

Nearly 500 offenders of the 925 inmates have or have had the virus like Aerrie Sammon’s husband Richard Pontani. Pontani, who is doing time for a drug charge, also has CPOD.

“It’s not just my husband. There’s peoples fathers and brothers, uncles, sons, friends and they don’t deserve this,” said Sammon. “Everyone is packed in there.”

Sammon added there is no social distancing happening inside the prison.

“You can’t just stack them in there like cattle,” Sammon said.

The state prison normally houses many of Virginia’s elderly or medically impaired inmates. Tyrone Matthews, who is serving time in the prison for drugs, is scared.

“The whole pod in here was positive,” he told 8News.

Matthews is 33-years-old and a diabetic. While he was tested for the virus, he was never told his results. Matthews said he is feeling okay now but he’s been living in a pod with 99 other COVID positive prisoners.

“I am worried about being able to get back home to my family,” he said.

Matthews and others added the medical response to those with the virus has been slow.

“One guy they brought back into to the pod, he’s incoherent, not able to, you know, sit up for count or anything like that,” said Matthews.

Sammon hears similar reports from her husband and others with loved ones inside.

“They are not keeping track of who is eating, who’s drinking who is not getting out of beds,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Virginia Department Of Corrections said Deerfield has an infirmary and doctors, nurses, and medical staff at the doc are working around the clock to test and provide care to offenders during this pandemic.

Yet, Sammon, Matthews and half a dozen others tell 8News Deerfield is short-staffed.  26 employees as of Monday were battling the virus. 

8News has been told even getting basic medication to relieve symptoms is a challenge.

“You have to be on the list to get the Tylenol,” Matthews said. “That can take probably, a couple days.”

Sammon says the men inside made a mistake but this isn’t right. 

“The inmates are doing their time and they weren’t sentenced to death,” she said.

8News reached out to VADOC to ask about delays in care and problems getting basic medication. Our calls and emails were not returned. 8News will continue to reach out.

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