Former NSA contractor Reality Winner was transferred to Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, where she will be incarcerated for her sentence.
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. She is serving the longest sentence ever for a person accused of an unauthorized disclosure.
As of October 9, Winner prepared herself for another week at Grady County Jail in Chickasha, Oklahoma, an overflow facility used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
She shared, “I had a real tough time last night kind of accepting that we weren’t going to Carswell today, which means at least one more week here in this environment. ”
Winner stayed up until 3 am, hoping a guard would tell her the transport vehicle for Carswell arrived. A guard earlier claimed nobody was leaving because of weather. “I just went to the darkest place.” The next set of guards suggested the weather was not so bad. There would be prisoners shipping out. No names were called.
“It should not be a privilege to be able to go to prison, but it really is. It’s not fair,” Winner declared.
But prison authorities called her number in the morning on October 10, and she was finally moved to Carswell.
The Bureau of Prisons did not have to move her to Carswell. They could have kept her in an overflow facility in Oklahoma for a few more weeks.
The amount of time an inmate could spend in-transit varies widely. According to the Bureau of Prisons guidebook for the Federal Transfer Center Oklahoma City, in-transit inmates could be held for more than 60 days, and the average stay is four to six weeks.
The Bureau of Prisons adds that for inmates in the process of being transferred, “It is not unusual for other inmates to arrive after you and depart before you. Movement is normally based upon when you were designated,” not when they arrived at the facility.
Yet, Winner was in a facility with no programs. Inmates do not go outside. There is no visitation. If inmates do not have money or a smart phone with good wifi, they do not get to see their loved ones. She was warehoused with around 80 or more women.
“Our recreation is the email kiosk, and there’s some books,” Winner shared. “I’ve never seen so little provided in a space housing so many.”
At Grady County Jail, federal inmates temporarily live with county inmates or state prisoners. The jail has had funding issues with local inmates taking up beds in the facility. Most of the jail’s income comes from holding federal inmates.
Winner suggested the jail had a “multi-million dollar contract” with the federal government, and each federal inmate brought in much more money than local inmates. But there are no programs and next to no resources provided to inmates. “Where is that money really going then?”
For over a year, Winner was detained in a county jail in Lincoln 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 said. “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 moved to Grady County Jail.
Supporters with the Stand With Reality organization were relieved that she made it to Carswell.
“She has been in transit for over 25 days,” said Lisa Ling, a former drone operator, whistleblower, and organizer with Stand With Reality. “Transit has been extremely difficult for family and friends and especially Reality, who has not been outdoors in all of that time.”
Billie Winner-Davis, Winner’s mother, who has been her biggest advocate, was also relieved that her daughter was now at Carswell and in the same state where her family lives.
“I am so very happy. I checked the BOP site all night, and when I finally saw her listed at Carswell this morning, I cried,” Winner-Davis shared. “She is finally going to get medical treatment, access to music, fresh air, recreation, college classes, and good food.”
“Having her in Texas means I get to remain home. And I can’t wait for our first visit with her when I will finally be able to hug her.”
Since Winner was detained in 2017, her mother has not been allowed to hug her when she visited her in county jail.