October 7th, 2020 Ocala.com
Austin L. Miller, Ocala Star-Banner
LOWELL — Debra Bennett has driven hundreds of miles delivering supplies to prison inmates and staff throughout the state.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bennett has dropped off much-needed items such as soap, toilet paper, masks and electronics to women at Hernando Correctional Institution, Gadsden Correctional Facility, Florida Women Reception Center, Homestead Correctional Institution and Lowell Correctional Institution.
September 17th, 2020 Orlando Sentinal
At least 550 inmates and 233 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at Central Florida's jails. A disabled Army veteran died in late August after contracting the virus while an inmate at the Seminole County Jail. Another inmate in Lake County died of pneumonia during the facility's outbreak in July, though officials couldn't say at the time if he had COVID-19.
"These are the forgotten men and women in our state and in our country," said Debra Bennett, executive director of the nonprofit prison advocacy group Change Comes Now." ... Some of these jails right now, they are death traps, plain and simple."
September 1st, 2020 Ocala.com
Andy Fillmore for The Star Banner
Suzanne Somma wanted her voice heard the moment she was released from the Lowell Correctional Institution (LCI) last month.
When she left, she held up a protest sign at the facility's main entrance that read: "60 FDC Staff Gave 993 Women Coronavirus.” A photo was posted to social media.
"My biggest fear was dying in prison," Somma said. She alleges improper handling of medical quarantine and isolation and other concerns related to COVID-19 at the facility.
"There's no question in my mind it's only going to get worse. It's like a domino effect," she said.
August 23rd, 2020 WFLX.com
Former incarcerated citizens are calling for an end to mass incarceration during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Saturday, several people met across the state and nation for a unified bell ringing as a commitment to freedom. Debra Bennett, Executive Director of Change Comes Now, said that being in prison during the COVID-19 pandemic is a death sentence. Inside prisons, she said it is impossible to social distance and that precautions to protect people are non-existent. "These prisons are so overcrowded," said Bennett. "There's no social distancing. COVID is ravaging these prisons."
August 21st, 2020 TheAppeal.org
Alexandra De Luca
Nearly a month had passed since Kenyetta heard from her sister at Lowell Correctional Institution in Florida when she received a message in late July. Her 37-year-old sister, who has Type 2 diabetes and latent tuberculosis, wrote to tell Kenyetta that she was battling a severe headache and sore throat. Her body, she said, felt like it had been in a car wreck.
August 1st, 2020 flcourier.com
Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post
The Florida Department of Health on Wednesday said a dozen inmates died from complications of COVID-19 at eight prisons within the past week.
Dade Correctional Institution, Everglades Correctional Institution, Lowell Correctional Institution and South Florida Reception Center each had two inmates die after testing positive for the disease.
Columbia Correctional Institution, Florida Women’s Reception Center, Graceville Correctional Institution and Wakulla Correctional Institution each had an inmate death.
July 31st, 2020 WMFE.org
A coronavirus outbreak has infected more than 1,200 inmates at two prisons in Marion County. More than 50 staff members have tested positive, as well.
Now a group of former inmates that previously protested outside Lowell has donated a truckload of soap, bleach, hand sanitizer, gloves, toilet paper and five televisions.
July 31st, 2020 Ocala.com
Austin L. Miller
Former inmate who has led protests outside the women’s prison near Ocala arrives with supplies for inmates and staff amid a spike in coronavirus cases.
Debra Bennett has organized several protests in front of Lowell Correctional Institution against what she calls the unfair treatment and injustice that occurs behind the barbed wired fences and prison walls at the Marion County facility.
July 30th, 2020 wcjb.com
MARION COUNTY, Fla. (WCJB) - A COVID-19 outbreak at the women’s prison in Marion County has taken a fatal turn.
Over 600 women at the Lowell Correctional Institute have contracted COVID-19, this has some former inmates speaking out.
According to the Florida Department of Corrections website, 629 women at Lowell have the virus. This has prompted the non-profit Change Comes Now to donate personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment to the staff and women at Lowell.
June 8th, 2020 mcclatchydc.com
“Mommy, I’m in so much pain … I just had to crawl to the door and knock on it over and over to beg for another tylono [sic],” wrote one inmate to her mother. “I’m still on the floor just crying cuz it hurts.”
“No staff has been coming to see me at all,” an older inmate wrote to her daughter. “I don’t know how they expect the oxygen to get better when you don’t have no plugs in here to use the machine.”
June 5th, 2020 Orlando Sentinal
The Florida women’s prison that has seen the most positive coronavirus tests among inmates of any state facility is getting donations of much-needed supplies, like toilet paper and face masks, from a group of former prisoners.
Last month, nonprofit Change Comes Now donated almost 3,000 rolls of toilet paper, about 1,500 bars of antibacterial soap, more than 2,000 disposable medical masks and 10,000 gloves, as well as cleaning supplies, to Homestead Correctional Institution in hard-hit Miami-Dade County, according to Debra Bennett, the nonprofit’s executive director.
May 11th, 2020, Miami Herald
Deirdre Hunt, an inmate at Lowell Correctional Institution, and Lana Blair, an inmate at Florida Women's Reception Center, talk about how prisons are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
May 3rd, 2020 Palm Beach Post
To help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Florida should utilize its existing conditional medical release law to release certain non-violent, elderly, seriously ill, and increasingly vulnerable inmates who pose no public safety threat.
April 18th, 2020, Ocala.com,
Austin L. Miller
An advocate for better conditions in state prisons placed four protest signs at one of the prisons on Friday afternoon.
Debra Bennett, known as a prison mom for inmates, erected the large square-sized messages at the front of Lowell Correctional Institution located at 11120 NW Gainesville Road in Marion County shortly after 3:30 p.m.
April 17th, 2020, Orlando Sentinal
Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda
Debra Bennett, Florida State Organizer for The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, is on a bullhorn leading a protest in front of the Orange County Courthouse in protest, on Friday, April 17, 2020. Their demands include: Release All Detainees with Bonds under $10,000; Suspend the Bond Schedule; Waive All Fees for Phone Calls and Medical Visits; Aggressive Covid-19 Testing; Stop Arrests for Non-Violent Misdemeanors;and for Speedy Bond Hearings.
April 16th, 2020
Just over a week ago, the Florida Department of Corrections said 12 staff members and no inmates had tested positive. As of Tuesday, that grew to 56 staff members and 35 inmates, with a majority of the case explosion happening at the Blackwater River Correctional Facility in Florida’s Panhandle, where two individuals reportedly died.
Debra Bennett, Florida state organizer for the National Council of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, says she thinks the number of positive tests is much worse.
April 10th, 2020, CBS Miami
Protestors are rallying for inmates, wanting many of them released from jail for fear of the coronavirus. Already eight inmates have tested positive and one with health problems has died.
“COVID-19 in jail is a death sentence. It’s a death sentence to men and women who were never sentenced to death. There is no social distancing in jails and prison,” said a protester.
The Broward State Attorney’s Office says it began reducing the jail population last month and holds hours long daily hearings to decrease the number of inmates.
April 3rd, 2020, PalmBeachPost.com,
More than a dozen people got together Friday afternoon, in separate cars, socially distancing from one another, to demand that those with lower-level, nonviolent offenses be released to stop the potential spread of coronavirus within the jails.
January 27th, 2020, Alligator.org,
A concrete sign on the front lawn of Lowell Correctional Institution reads, “We Never Walk Alone.” Across the street, former inmate Jordan Upchurch holds up a cardboard sign with that exact message scribbled across it.
Upchurch, who spent the majority of her 120-month sentence at Lowell Correctional Institute, said just as Lowell’s sign serves to represent the unity of their staff, hers symbolizes the solidarity of the inmates, both former and current.
January 26th, 2020, WOGX.com,
Dozens of protesters stood outside the Lowell Correctional Institute in Ocala on Sunday morning.
Most of them were former inmates at Lowell and the state's other women's prisons.
The protest happened after a Lowell corrections officer was arrested Friday morning, accused of putting bleach in an inmate's drink after the two of them got in an argument.
“It's not right,” Takeya Hatcher, a former Lowell inmate, said about the alleged poisoning attempt. “We're standing for a cause and we're gonna continue to do it until something is done about it.”
October 19th, 2019, Gainesville.com,
Austin L. Miller
“Its unacceptable. Nothing is happening. We want arrest. We want change,” said protest organizer Debra Bennett.
LOWELL — Scores of men, women and children gathered in front of Lowell Correctional Institution on Saturday to protest the brutal beating of 51-year-old Cheryl Weimar, an inmate at the prison, and to call for an end to inmate abuse.
The roughly 60 protestors, many wearing blue T-shirts, stood in front of the prison at 11120 NW Gainesville Road, north of Ocala. The held signs and banners, and waved to passing vehicles. Some of the protestors had tape covering their mouths.
September 9th, 2019, WUFT.org,
About 40 protestors attended and nearly one thousand images of people were sent in support.
Pink, unicorn-patterned duct tape covered Latangela McCall and her 6-year-old daughter Akyah Ward’s mouths as they held signs outside Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala on Saturday.