The last time Ivette Killebrew spoke to her brother Dwayne Mitchell on the phone, he was complaining about having shortness of breath and fatigue.
The next phone call she got was about 40 days later from prison officials telling her that he was dead.
Killebrew said she is not hiding from anything when she tells those who will listen about her brother’s prison sentence. She said he was scheduled to be released this summer, and admits he was incarcerated at the Yazoo City Low Facility at the Federal Correctional Complex for a drug conviction.
But Killebrew said she is reaching out in the hopes of prison reform along the lines of COVID-19 when it comes to transparency and open communication. She also said she feels the local federal prison is not equipped to handle the recent pandemic.
Killebrew said it would have been easier to accept the fate of her brother had she known what was happening. For about 40 days, Dwayne Mitchell, 43 years old, was battling COVID. But Killebrew said she only received one phone call during that time, even after numerous attempts to find out what was going on with her brother’s medical condition. The second phone she said was to inform her of his death.
“I was shocked, confused, frustrated, angry and sad,” she said. “I spent weeks calling the prison and unit manager, and no one would provide me any information. But then I was expected to process this terrible news and begin funeral arrangements within 15 minutes.”
Killebrew said she last heard from Dwayne on April 26, when he told her that he would be visiting the prison medical personnel the next day because he felt his health was declining. It was two months prior to that phone call that Dwayne told his family that more and more inmates were beginning to get sick. COVID was not a subject of conversation at that time.
And then COVID hit.
“He tried to limit his interactions with these individuals, but after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, things in the prison got worse,” Killebrew said. “Inmates were unable to social distance. The prison's medical facility was overwhelmed. There was no personal protective equipment distributed to the inmates, and there was an influx in coronavirus cases.”
Killebrew said she never heard back from her brother, and she began calling the federal prison for an update. For over a week, she said she never received a phone call in return. But that call did come on May 19 when she was informed that Dwayne was transported to a hospital outside of the facility.
“Medical updates were supposed to come from the doctor, but I never heard from anyone at the jail or hospital,” Killebrew said.
A few weeks later, Killebrew did receive a phone call about her brother’s condition. Dwayne had died the previous night after going into cardiac arrest. She was also told to be available within the next 15 minutes to determine where to send his body.
Killebrew said she was completely unaware that Dwayne had tested positive for COVID until she read an online press release from the Federal Bureau of Prisons eight days after his death.
The press release from the Federal Bureau Prison states that Dwayne did test positive for COVID on April 28 and was placed on a ventilator.
“On June 4, Mr. Mitchell, who had a pre-existing condition, which the CDC lists as a risk factor for developing more severe COVID-19 disease, was pronounced dead by hospital staff,” the prison press release states.
Killebrew said the federal prison was not prepared to handle COVID.
“However, the lack of transparency, effective and efficient communication, and customer service are appalling,” she said. “Regrettably, Dwayne lost his life because the Yazoo City Low Facility Federal prison failed to render proper and timely medical care and treatment. My family and I endured weeks of anxiety and stress, and we are devastated that Dwayne had to die alone, but he will not die in vain.”
The Yazoo Herald sent communication to the local prison for a response. None was provided as of press time.
Within the Yazoo City Low FCI, there are no inmates and one staff member with active COVID cases, with two reported deaths. Within the Yazoo City Medium FCI, there is one inmate and five staff members with active COVID cases, with no reported deaths. And within the Yazoo City USP, there are 21 inmates and six staff members with active COVID cases, with one death.
Along the lines of recovery, Yazoo City Low FCI reports 96 inmates and nine staff members; at Yazoo City Medium, seven inmates and 10 staff members; and at Yazoo City USP, 54 inmates and 12 staff members.