My Continued Efforts To Expose and Resist The Contaminated Water Problem in Virginia Prisons. Part 2.

Part 2

In yet another incident at BKCC on August 26, 2016, at approximately 11:35 AM, the water in my cell turned a dark-brown color and had a foul taste and smell. I again developed severe nausea minutes after consuming about two cups of the water from the sink in my cell.

About ten minutes later, I filed an Emergency Grievance (Log # 013070), dated 8/26/16, demanding to be seen by a nurse as I believed the water was contaminated, and as a result of me drinking it, I had suffered a personal injury.


Building Lieutenant V. Hartwell responded in the Part B-Staff Response section of the Emergency Grievance advising me that “Maintenance is aware of this issue,” and had checked the box which states that “Your grievance does not meet the definition of an emergency.” This box is checked on nearly all responses to Emergency Grievances even when it is a life and death situation.

I was later seen by Registered Nurse Woolrige, who checked my vitals and sent me back to my housing unit without making an assessment as to my illness. I was still charged a $5.00 Co-Payment even though I was not treated.

Sussex II State Prison (SIISP):

The most recent incident concerning the drinking water occurred here at SIISP, on September 5, 2017, at approximately 4:45 PM. The water in Housing Unit 1 turned a dark reddish-brown color and had a strong metallic taste and smell. After drinking the water from the tap in my cell and becoming nauseated, I submitted an Informal Complaint (Tracking # SXII-17-INF-24426), dated 8/5/17, detailing the same.

George S. Callis, the Safety Man, responded at the bottom section of this Informal Complaint stating that “The water at [SIISP] is well water and will turn brown after the hydrants are flush [sic] and the sprinkler systems are shut off and turn [sic] back on. The Sussex County water authority testes [sic] this water regularly and the Virginia Health Dept of Safe Drinking Water states that it is safe to drink. The well water has minerals, and other metals which is normal.” Again, there was no mention of my illness and no initiative was taken to treat me.  No documents were provided by Callis from the Sussex County Water Authority or the Virginia Health Dept of Safe Drinking Water showing that the water is indeed safe to drink.

Unsatisfied with the response from Callis, I submitted a Level 1 Regular Grievance, dated 9/11/17, essentially restating the same – that the water was contaminated and that I became ill after consuming it. I also restated a list of recommendations as I had done on the Regular Grievance dated 7/18/16. In an attempt to hinder me from grieving this matter, the Grievance Coordinator, A. Critton, refused this grievance and returned it to me. The box indicating “Insufficient Information” was checked on this grievance with the question “Where did this happen?” scribbled on the line beside it. I satisfied Critton’s question by submitting an entirely different Regular Grievance, dated 9/18/17, indicating exactly where I ingested the contaminated water and became ill. Critton refused this Regular Grievance also, but for an entirely different reason; and that is because this was a matter “beyond the control of the Department of Corrections.” This is a typical rubber stamp response that is used by nearly all Grievance Coordinators to reject grievances, deflect accountability away from VADOC employees, and thus hinder us from accessing the grievance procedure and resolving our complaints.

I then filed an appeal of Critton’s decision to refuse both of my grievances, dated 9/25/17, to R. Woods, the Eastern Regional Administrator for the VADOC. In this appeal, I stated that Critton’s rejection of both of these grievances for different reasons is an attempt to hinder me from resolving the ongoing issue here at SIIS concerning the water. I also stated that because I became ill after drinking this water in a Virginia prison, and that the VADOC is responsible for providing all prisoners with access to safe and clean drinking water, then this is a matter within the control of the VADOC. On 9/29/17, Woods upheld Critton’s rejection of both of these Regular Grievance for bogus reasons. This is just another example among many of why the incarcerated cannot rely on VADOC employees to hold other VADOC accountable for their abuse and neglect, and why the Free Virginia Movement is demanding, and giving its rationalization for, the following demand:

“WE WANT the Enactment of a VADOc policy or state law which establishes an independent Ombudsman/Grievance Coordinator/Human Rights Advocate, wholly separate and independent from the VADOc, to receive, investigate, and resolve allegations of abuse, neglect, mistreatment, etc. made by people incarcerated in the VADOc in a fair and prompt manner. Currently, complaints and grievances made by incarcerated people are received and investigated by an Ombudsman/Grievance Coordinator/Human Rights Advocate who is employed by the VADOc. History and circumstances has shown that such a VADOc-employed Ombudsman/Grievance Coordinator/Human Rights Advocate is more loyal to other VADOc employees and biased against incarcerated people. Thus perfectly legitimate complaints and grievances made by incarcerated people are routinely rejected, ignored, overlooked, or swept under the rug in order maintain loyalty and a code of silence among VADOc employees.”

One of the problems here at SIISP is that there are frequent power outages which causes the shut down of the entire water system. When the power comes back on and the water system resumes function, the water is discolored and foul smelling/tasting. Since 9/5/17, there have been six other instances where the safety of our drinking water was compromised due to these power outages: 9/18/17 (2:00 PM); 9/19/17 (4:45 PM); 9/22/17 (10:17 AM); 9/25/17 (10:12 AM); 9/26/17 (2:25 PM); and 10/13/17 (8:15 PM). On 9/19/17 and 9/22/17, the power was off for one and one-half hours and two hours, respectively. And by the time you will have read this, it will have happened several more times!

Many of us have sent complaints about this possible contaminated water and the resulting physical illnesses and psychological trauma we experience after consuming it to the Environmental Protection Agency, the VA Dept of Environmental Quality, and the State Inspector General’s Office. We have sought legal assistance from the Rutherford Institute, the Legal Aid Justice Center, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Because none of these organizations/departments have responded to our pleas for help, it is safe to presume that none of them have an interest in securing safe and clean drinking water for incarcerated people at SIISP, or at any other prison across the U.$.

So how can you help? We ask that you obtain copies of all of the above Informal Complaints and Regular Grievances, and the responses to them as stated in this post, by making a Freedom Of Information Request/Public Records Request with VADOC Director Harold Clarke at 804-674-3000 or by e-mail at director.clarke@vadoc.virginia.gov. It is essential that you mention the Tracking Numbers, Grievance Numbers, and Log Numbers when making your request. Once you have obtained these documents, we ask you to disseminate them any attorney, paralegal, or legal organization which may be sympathetic to our pleas for help and will assist us in filing a class action lawsuit against the VADOC. Also share this post on social media and with as many online media outlets as possible to make the public aware of this water problem and our efforts to resolve it.

Because at the end of the day, having access to safe and clean drinking water is not a right that should only be enjoyed by the rich and denied to the poor, as was the case in Flint. This is not a right that should only be enjoyed by the people in the First World but denied to people in the Third World. Similarly, it is not a right that should only be enjoyed by the free and denied to the incarcerated. Having access to safe and clean drinking water is a FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHT that ALL people should enjoy regardless of one’s status or position in society. This is a right that the Free Virginia Movement, in collaboration with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee of the Industrial Workers of the World, is committed to forcing the VADOC to comply with.

Power to the People!

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