CAMERON, Mo. — “The recurring sentiment is, I'm so hungry,” Janice Herrington said, reading her husband’s letters from prison.
“Something has got to change, something has to,” Herrington said.
She hadn’t heard her husband’s voice in seven weeks until just recently when Crossroads Correctional Center partially lifted a lockdown following a 200-inmate riot two months ago.
Visits are still not allowed.
“We’ve been married 29 years and it was horrible not to just hear his voice reassure me he was okay or that he was struggling,” said Herrington.
Herrington says her husband is in what’s called the “Honor Wing,” where inmates with good behavior essentially have more freedom. She says inmates in that unit are able to have crockpots in their cells, and purchase food items at the canteen.
Her husband worked at the factory at Crossroads, which was extensively damaged during the riot.
After the riot, he complains of worsening conditions: poor medical attention, 10-minute showers every 3 days, bad food, and hardly any time to just move around.
Herrington read from her husband’s letter: “Lunch and dinner is always the same. Either the nasty peanut butter and jelly tubes with four pieces of bread. The bread tastes like some kind of chemical and you definitely have to remove the crust to be able to choke it down.”
Karen Pojmann, spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Corrections, says the restrictions are standard practice and they’re gradually lifting the lockdown, but denies the claims of lacking food and medical care.
Pojmann says they abide by guidelines require they provide three nutritionally balanced meals, including fresh fruit, to the inmates per day. She says it totals 2,300 calories.
“You can attach calories to anything,” Herrington counters.
We reached out to the Missouri Corrections Officer Association for some perspective.
“They have to be fed. The have to have a certain amount of exercise a week. Their basic necessities have to be met,” said Gary Gross, the executive director of the association.
Gross says each facility determines how long a lockdown will last based on inmate behavior.
But lifting the lockdown may take months also because of a critical staffing shortage, which is what spurred the riot in the first place.
“People are working so many hours and they're burned out and, to be honest, their tensions are pretty high,” Gross said.
Gross says corrections officers make $14 an hour, which is below the national average.
“Because the economy in Missouri is strong, the national unemployment rate is at an 18-year low, and our entry-level salaries aren't always as competitive with private-sector jobs as we'd like,” Pojmann said.
Crossroads is closing three housing units, which Pojmann says will reduce their staffing needs by 26 employees. She says they’re also going to ramp up recruitment.
But meanwhile Herrington - and the many others who have called 41 Action News with similar concerns - want to make sure their loved ones are okay.
“They’ll say they're not punishing, but they are punishing the whole population for what those 200 inmates did. It makes me angry, it does,” Herrington says.
The inmates who were involved in the riot have been transferred out of Crossroads.
“The offenders who were involved in the May 12 incident are in administrative segregation,” Pojmann said.
Soon after the riot, 41 Action News talked to a former corrections officer at Crossroads who said he wasn’t surprised it happened .
“I was angry. I was very upset that it had been allowed to get to this point,” the employee said.
The employee said corrections officers had been hearing the inmates were planning a riot and told their supervisors, but they did nothing.