A Berrien County man, Efran Paredes, 47, serving life without parole for murder, is receiving national attention for his blogs from Michigan’s hardest-hit prison about COVID-19.
As of Tuesday, 16 of the 47 deaths of prisoners in Michigan who had tested positive for COVID-19 have been from Lakeland Correctional in Coldwater.
It is the only prison whose 1,438 inmates all have been tested. Of those, 791 tested positive. Paredes tested negative.
“I’m trying to stay healthy while the virus spreads through the prison,” he writes.
Testing by the Michigan National Guard is underway for all prisoners at the six prisons in the U.P. All prisoners in the 16 prisons are expected to be tested.
Paredes began warning officials about the pandemic and prison conditions at Lakeland posting online blogs on his Facebook page in March. Those have been picked up and reported in the Washington Post, On Spec podcast, and interviewed on Detroit radio and Michigan Public Radio.
Paredes believes the number who contracted COVID-19 in Lakeland may actually be higher since full testing was not done until the last week in April.
“The housing units where the least number of people tested positive were from the barracks-style pole barn housing E and F Units,” he wrote. “These are the housing units I wrote about for weeks where people had complained that they had been very sick with COVID-19 symptoms, and being repeatedly denied COVID-19 tests, and medical care.”
Paredes fears “Antibody testing may reveal that many of the people who tested negative in those housing units were already infected and recovered. That’s good news. However, it means many people were allowed to suffer who could have received treatment.”
“People here were being told to sit at small three-foot square tables less than two feet apart to eat their meals. Several incarcerated people working in the dining hall tested positive for COVID-19, as did staff members who work here. Some of the people who tested positive were handing people their meal trays,” he wrote.
“Over 1,300 people passed through the dining hall three times a day during normal meal times from every housing unit, except one which is a long-term care unit. People who work in the dining hall also live in various housing units. It is the one space where every person entered at least twice a day. All this activity in a single space made it a petri dish for propagation of COVID-19,” he wrote.
While inmates were told to social distance, there was not enough space. He recommended meals in dorms.
“It wasn’t until 200 people became infected at the prison and nine deaths later that officials decided to finally suspend the practice of feeding people in the dining hall on April 23, and began delivering packaged meals to housing units for people to safely consume.”
Paredes noted “When incarcerated people contract COVID-19, prison staff members contract it as well, so do their family members and the communities they live in. The spillover effect is enormous. Members of the public who believe they don’t have to worry about what happens inside prisons are wrong.”
A total of 33 prison staff have tested positive for COVID-19. Those include city councilman Jim Knaack who has family members also infected.
One reason MDOC said Lakeland suffered more was that a quarter of its 16 housing units are for geriatric patients. He said Corizon, the private company which provides medical care, is overwhelmed.
“Increasing medical staff will also help ensure they are able to check patients' temperatures and oxygen saturation levels twice each day to prevent deaths. There has been no improvement in this area because nursing staff are inundated with trying to keep up with the constant flow of patients going to Health Care Services due to severe COVID-19 symptoms they are experiencing,” he wrote.
Paredes continues to blog about life in Lakeland.