More than a month ago, former NSA contractor Reality Winner was sentenced to federal prison. Yet, instead of directly transferring Winner to the facility where she will serve her sentence, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has shuffled her around from county jail to county jail for the past weeks.
Winner was charged with violating the Espionage Act after she mailed a copy of a classified report from the NSA on alleged Russian hacking of voter registration systems to the Intercept. She accepted a plea deal on June 26 and was sentenced to five years and three months in prison on August 23, which was the longest sentence ever for a person accused of an unauthorized disclosure.
As of October 8, Winner is at Grady County Jail in Chickasha, Oklahoma, which is a facility the Bureau of Prisons uses for overflow when there are not enough beds. She has heard she could be at the facility for up to 30 days but hopes she will be on a bus to Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, on October 9, where she will serve the bulk of her sentence.
Winner said she tries “not to dwell on the negative,” but also declared, “We keep saying it can’t get any worse, and it seems like they’ve taken that as a challenge,” when referring to Grady County Jail.
“It’s one filthy warehouse, eighty-plus women. One shower. Couple toilets. There’s no services. No programs. No recreation. We’re just in here 24/7,” Winner shared.
She continued, “They finally got my medication straightened out after I missed a dose for a day, but luckily, this time it didn’t cause insane migraines that I had back in Baker County. There’s a kosher meal option that luckily they signed me up for as soon as I got there.”
Winner is diagnosed with bulimia and depression. Maintaining her diet is essential to coping with these diseases.
“It’s not ideal, but I’m making do,” Winner stated. “You know, I’m just going to try to get through this and try not to dwell on the fact that it’s been three weeks now since I’ve even been outside. There’s no room to exercise here. I do clean a lot. I try to do my best to help out. I just clean as much as possible.”
The cleaning is a way for Winner to somewhat manage the anxiety experienced in prison.
For over a year, Winner was detained in a county jail in Lincolnton County, Georgia. She was transferred a few weeks after she was sentenced in August to a facility in Baker County, Florida, where she was placed in isolation.
“I really wasn’t supposed to be there for more than 24 hours. I was supposed to leave the very next Tuesday morning, and the plane broke down,” Winner shared. “So, I [spent] a week in isolation and then they finally let me go to general population for a week.”
On October 2, she was taken to Jacksonville and put on a plane. She showed up at the federal processing center in Oklahoma City. There were no beds left. She was brought to Grady County Jail.
Upon arrival, prison guards asked, “Is this really your name?” She told them yes. They were confused. “Your first name is Winner?”
“I had to actually tell them which one was my first and last name. Like they had no idea I was coming through,” Winner recalled. “And since then, my mail has not been scanned or filtered through federal agencies since I left Lincolnton County. The jails here are just sending out—There is no visitation list. I have email. I have video. All the same restrictions that I had at Lincolnton County after I pled guilty, even after my sentencing, they maintained those strict restrictions on me and none of these other jails seem to have any idea.”
“That kind of makes me worried because I want to talk to everybody I can because they’re my friends and family, but then I’m just like—I feel like when the feds find out that it’s recorded but not monitored the way they [were], this is probably going to come back at me. Any time that they screw up, I’m the one that suffers.”
Like most individuals transferred from prison to prison, Winner must contend with the loss of property, which includes basic hygiene items.
Winner shared, “Upon leaving Lincolnton County, I actually had like travel size toothpaste, shampoo, an extra pair of panties, my Bible, my legal paperwork. The captain who was driving me said hon they’re not going to let you keep any of that. Do you just want to send it back to a friend?”
“I said okay. Can I at least take my Bible with my and my legal paperwork? I mean, those are mine. He said okay,” she recalled. “I took that to Baker County, and I’m working with Baker County right now in Florida to have that Bible and the legal paperwork shipped back to my mom. They’re going to work with her to do that. Let her send the shipping fee.”
“But as far as actually retaining any property, like hygiene supplies, nothing is allowed. I had to get all new soap and toothpaste at the new facility and then lose it all and then wait a day to get things like soap and toothpaste all over again.”
Previously, Shadowproof reported on a significant allegation from Winner—that the Bureau of Prisons mishandled classified information related to her case.
Winner noticed a document with no markings as she was processed at Grady County Jail that was laying out in the open. It had a security profile for her and contained details about the leak that the government would never be declassified for a jury and that played a role in her decision to accept a plea agreement.
She believes the description of her case shared with guards has opened her up to possible retaliation, as well as influenced whether guards grant her standard privileges or not (such as using the phone).
While awaiting transfer to Carswell, Winner sent this message to supporters:
I would like to extend gratitude to everyone who is supportive at this time. It’s incredibly difficult to not sink and feel that such degradation and neglect is deserved or that such degradation and neglect is deserved or that I must live in shame of this conviction.
But when people reach out and lend positive affirmation, it restores a little piece of me and who I am, and who I was, and how the fact that I expected better from our government is not a criminal act.
I don’t want to be forgotten nor do I want my struggles minimized. However, I am not alone in this.
No part of this system should ever be called “normal.” Our society should be judged most harshly based on its treatment of those of us at its mercy, and according to that standard, our country is failing miserably.
For my sake, change must be demanded of our elected representatives. We have to end this Department of Injustice and its economic hierarchy that exploits the powerless and strips them of their citizenship and basic human rights. No one should make a dime in profit off the incarceration of another human being, and yet, this is one of the most profitable industries in our nation.
Meanwhile, I sit here deprived of mental health care—my bulimia and depression, which were diseases present before incarceration, written off and ignored as a common womens’ issues and not the core challenge to my day-to-day survival.
I have not been outside or seen the sunlight in 18 days. I live in a filthy warehouse, which now houses 90 women in one common room. This is the price of my activism.