EXCLUSIVE: Inmate’s girlfriend shares COVID-19 concerns at Cummins Unit


"Right now, my main thing is his health so he can come home"

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Not long after the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in the Natural State, the sickness made its way into the Cummins Unit, a state prison near Grady, Arkansas, by early April, 2020.

As of Monday, May 4, Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith confirmed 873 inmates, 54 guards, and other employees have tested positive for the virus.

Since Friday, May 1, — 72-hours — five Cummins Unit inmates have died. Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) Chief of Staff Solomon Graves said of the five, four were being treated for COVID-related symptoms.

Graves said an autopsy by the Arkansas State Crime Lab in Little Rock has been requested to determine the cause and manner of death of the fifth inmate.

Of the almost 900 inmates who have contracted COVID-19, we know at least one is from Northwest Arkansas — Daniel Smith.

Daniel Smith

The Rogers man is serving time at Cummins on several drug charges.

Smith’s girlfriend, Renee Torres, said she’s concerned with the ADC’s handling of sick inmates and that her boyfriend has COVID-19 symptoms, according to a letter he wrote.

“He was already not getting the adequate care that he needed medically,” Torres said.

She fears inmates, like Smith, have not been given proper protection, such as masks, to keep from getting the infectious disease.

“If we don’t have them out here [masks], enough to go around, why would they even care about making sure they have them?” Torres asked.

In response, Graves said, “all inmates housed in general population housing areas have cloth masks. Inmates in restrictive housing do not have a mask. Those inmates live in either one or two man cells and based on the Arkansas Department of Health guidance a mask is not warranted in those settings. All correctional officers and non-security have masks and must wear them while working.”

When asked if she was surprised the new coronavirus got into the prison, Torres said, “no.”

In her opinion, “because of their blatant disregard for any kind of medical treatment, or how they treat the prisoners.”

Not only has Smith told Torres that he’s not getting proper medical care, but he claims he and other inmates also aren’t getting the proper nutrition.

“Getting fed like two meals a day. A couple of boiled eggs and one pancake and then they don’t eat again until 9 p.m., maybe. Another bologna sandwich and something else,” Torres said.

In a letter to Torres, Smith wrote, “they don’t feed us right nor on time.”

Hand written letter from inmate Daniel Smith to his girlfriend, Renee Torres

Arkansas Department of Corrections Director Dexter Payne disputed this claim during the Monday, May 4, daily governor’s news conference.

“As an expected consequence of a unit-wide lock-down at Cummins there is a delay in food service,” Payne continued. “The inmates there are receiving three meals just as they did before, so there’s no real change other than then the length of time it takes us to feed those inmates.”

“Menus are set monthly by then ADC’s contracted dietician. Deviations are allowed based on kitchen inventories. The standard menu is being followed,” Graves said.

To reduce the workload on the Cummins kitchen, Graves said the Varner and Delta Regional Units are preparing baked goods for the Cummins Unit.

Payne also described how the prison has improved physical distancing. “We’ve changed the way we have the inmate’s bed aligned. That’s going to help keep the inmates approximately 6 feet away from each other.” However, he did not elaborate on the configuration.

While Torres acknowledges her boyfriend is incarcerated for a reason, she still worries enough isn’t being done for those behind bars.

While he’s on the inside, she will continue to advocate on his behalf, on the outside.

“Daniel has no voice in there but I do,” Torres continued, “I’m not going to stop. I will not be silenced anymore.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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