Editor’s Note

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More than 500 women imprisoned at Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, have tested positive for COVID-19. The facility has the second-most cases out of all federal prisons in the United States, and one of the prisoners who has tested positive is NSA whistleblower Reality Winner.

Last week, The Dissenter reported that COVID-19 cases tripled at Carswell in one week. The article included comments from Winner’s sister Brittany Winner. Staff at Carswell apparently read the story, and according to Brittany Winner, she is experiencing retaliation for our reporting.

“Reality is being retaliated against for speaking out about the conditions in the prison, but she won’t stop fighting for better treatment for herself and her fellow inmates,” Brittany Winner declared. “She will continue to update us, and I want everyone to know that we are watching and won’t stop being her voice.”

Brittany Winner continued, “I am terrified that she will develop severe symptoms and require urgent medical care, but with the huge swell of cases in FMC Carswell and the likelihood that the region’s hospitals are already overwhelmed, I have no confidence that she will receive the care she needs.”

“She belongs at home where she can be safely quarantined and receive medical care,” Brittany Winner contended.

It took at least five days for Reality Winner to receive the results of her COVID-19 test, and fortunately, she has not exhibited symptoms of the virus yet.

Reality Winner is waiting on the 11th Circuit to rule on an appeal that she filed after a lower court denied her request for compassionate release.

As her attorneys warned in May, “The entire basis for Reality’s motion—and so many like hers—is that she cannot afford to wait until she is removed from FMC Carswell in a stretcher, or worse, before she is afforded relief.”

Reality Winner pled guilty in 2018 to one count of violating the Espionage Act when she disclosed an NSA report to The Intercept. She believed the report contained evidence that Russian hackers targeted United States voter registration systems during the 2016 election. She has served well over half of her 63-month sentence.

On July 20, the Bureau of Prisons’ number for “inmates positive” with COVID-19 spiked dramatically from less than 200 cases to 509 cases.

The spike raises questions about the extent to which the facility has failed to report or track the spread of an outbreak that seems to increasingly be out of control.

According to Brittany Winner, Reality Winner is in a “home unit” that is quarantining more than 200 inmates that have tested positive for COVID-19.

Reality Winner told her family that she sought “administrative remedies” for retaliation she experienced as a result of reporting that was published on her case and the prison outbreak.

One corrections officer apparently visited Reality Winner to tell her, “I just wanted to congratulate you on your positive results,” said Brittany Winner.

As Brittany Winner recalled, the same officer confronted Reality Winner last week and refused to allow her to clean. She alleges this officer tried to have her thrown in isolation so she would not be able to talk to her attorney.

“I think they know that she enjoys cleaning. It’s how they are punishing her,” Brittany Winner stated.

For a prisoner, cleaning the little amount of space that they can call their own gives them some sense of control, and in a pandemic, that means being able to disinfect and dramatically slow the spread of the virus. But in a system, where facility personnel want prisoners to remain dependent on them, staff can impose their authority by refusing to permit cleaning is a cruel act.

It effectively intensifies the trauma a prisoner is already feeling, as they deal with the fact they are trapped in a facility in which it is nearly impossible to social distance from fellow prisoners.

Brittany Winner shared a story from Reality Winner about an incarcerated person, who has diabetes, COVID-19 symptoms, and can barely walk on the stairs. They tried to have this woman do Reality Winner’s paid prison detail.

Furthermore, according to Brittany Winner, Reality Winner said the virus spread in a hospital unit with chemo and dialysis patients after someone who tested positive was allowed into the unit.

There are isolation units that did not have prisoners with COVID-19, but that is not the case anymore. Reality Winner believes this is a result of staff coming and going and spreading the virus.

Previously, The Dissenter reported that Reality Winner’s bunkmate tested positive and was removed from her unit.

Reality Winner’s prosecution was a high-profile prosecution and received a substantial amount of attention. The warden at Carswell, as well as the staff, are well aware that she can marshal press coverage to a degree that no other prisoners in the facility can and may have even marked this down in her file.

When CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou was imprisoned at Federal Correctional Institution Loretto in Pennsylvania, his file was marked with, “CAUTION – Inmate has extensive access to the press,” and, “CAUTION: Publicity.”

“[Staff] will do everything in their power to stop prisoners from telling the world what conditions are like in these prisons, and they’ll operate both within the rules and outside the rules,” Kiriakou declared. “They know that there is so little that a prisoner can do to protect herself that they push the envelope daring that prisoner try to do something about it.”

“In my case, the media were my friends because they allowed me a voice that I otherwise would not have had. And, yes, I was punished for being outspoken in the media,” Kiriakou added. “But it was worth it.”

Joe Whitley, an attorney for Reality Winner, told R. Robin McDonald at Law.com that they hoped the 11th Circuit would permit her to “serve the balance of her sentence in home confinement.”

“She fits all the parameters that have been set by the Bureau of Prisons for release. It serves no real purpose to have her confined any longer, given the incidents of COVID at Carswell,” Whitley added.

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Reality Winner has not emailed or mailed any messages to The Dissenter. Everything we have published comes from Reality Winner’s family, and the Bureau of Prisons should cease their retaliation against Reality Winner immediately.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."