22 Days Inside Lompoc Prison’s COVID-19 ‘Hellhole’

Dr. Omid Souresrafil Writes Declaration Describing ‘Medieval’ Treatment by ‘Dysfunctional, Apathetic, and Irresponsible Staff’

Letter by Dr. Omid Souresrafil | Credit: Courtesy

Dr. Omid Souresrafil is a biomedical engineer who specializes in the design of implantable devices. Originally from Minnesota and married with a teenage son, he is currently serving time for wire fraud at the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex, where, as a nonviolent, first-time offender, he teaches GED classes. Unlike many of his fellow prisoners, Souresrafil doesn’t deny his guilt. “I have reiterated many times that I am absolutely guilty of the crimes I have committed,” he recently wrote to a judge, “and have strived to redeem and reform myself.” His release date is January 22, 2025.

Souresrafil, however, now finds himself locked inside the country’s worst prison COVID-19 outbreak. More than 1,000 Lompoc inmates and guards have tested positive for the disease, and four inmates have died. While prison officials are keeping their response to the ongoing health crisis highly secretive — refusing to communicate with Santa Barbara County’s top officials and health experts, and even members of Congress — inmates and their families are continuing to expose disturbing incidents of apparent neglect and mistreatment by staff. Souresrafil recently added to this growing body of evidence by providing attorneys a sworn declaration, dated May 27, that details his own experience at the complex.

On May 1, according to his declaration, 50-year-old Souresrafil checked himself into the prison’s small medical bay complaining of heart palpitations and shortness of breath. He tested negative for COVID-19, but the nurse ordered him under strict quarantine in H-Unit, where he spent 22 days in pain and panic in an 8’x8′ cell. “During every one of the 22 days, I could hear the 100+ inmates coughing and calling the guards for help,” he wrote. “Several collapsed and needed resuscitation before being taken by ambulance to Lompoc Medical Center. … I thought I was going to die, and there were times I felt I wanted to.”

United States Penitentiary Lompoc

Souresrafil said H-Unit is located in a formerly condemned wing of the prison that was “hurriedly pressed into service to house COVID-19 patients, although it has no medical equipment, including ventilators.” Souresrafil said he was shocked that “[the federal Bureau of Prisons] would use such a primitive and run-down facility to house its sick, vulnerable inmate population. It more resembles a third-world prison than an American one.”

Souresrafil made the following observations about his living conditions, which he described as “unsafe,” “unsanitary,” and “medieval”:

― “The toilets and sinks all leaked, and the smell of urine and feces permeated the cell.”

― “Insects crawled around the cell floors and walls, and flies and mosquitos entered from the open corridor windows.”

― “H-unit is very cold. I was provided one insufficient blanket. The mattress was old and torn. The lights were always kept on, and I could not sleep.”

― “I was denied a shower for the first nine days of my stay. (Some inmates that left H-Unit before I did claimed they never had a chance to shower for 17 days.)”

― “The emergency intercom system is inoperative. Guards must rely on the cries for help from inmates to inform them of an emergency.”

― “I have several chronic illnesses. For these conditions, I take BOP-prescribed medications, all of which were confiscated and never returned.”

― “Due to my cardiac arrhythmia, I passed out a total of four times and fell to the floor. Only the cries of other inmates who heard me fall alerted the guards to my situation.”

― “Guards do not always wear personal protective equipment.”

― “I was continuously denied access to a lawyer.”

Somehow, Souresrafil has avoided infection, testing negative for COVID-19 on five separate occasions. His health issues while in quarantine were apparently related to his preexisting illnesses. He is now back in his original housing unit but has since developed high blood pressure and a chronic nosebleed that he says prison doctors refuse to treat him for. “I wake up in a pool of blood every day,” Souresrafil said. “Once you are in this hellhole, you are at the complete mercy of the dysfunctional, apathetic, and irresponsible staff.”

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Lompoc prison complex and another Bureau of Prisons facility in San Pedro, where nine inmates have died, for failing to properly respond to their respective coronavirus outbreaks and therefore subjecting their populations to cruel and unusual punishments, a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

This article was underwritten in part by the Mickey Flacks Journalism Fund for Social Justice, a proud, innovative supporter of local news. To make a contribution go to sbcan.org/journalism_fund.


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