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Exclusive Report: How Long Did Flint's County Jail Inmates Drink Poisoned Water?

February 04, 2016
Story
WATCH FULL SHOW

Guests

Jody Cramer

former Genesee County Jail inmate who was just released this week. He worked as a trustee in the kitchen and helped distribute food and, more recently, bottles of water to other inmates.

Linda Garland-Molpus

mother of Jody Cramer.

In a Democracy Now! exclusive, we hear from some of hundreds of prisoners in the Genesee County Jail in Flint, Michigan, who have had no option but to drink and shower in the contaminated city water. In October, after Flint’s newly elected Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency over high levels of lead in the city water, the jail briefly switched to distributing bottled water. But five days later, the jail switched back to the city supply after the sheriff said a water quality test showed the water was safe. Finally, last Friday, the jail again switched to using bottled water. We hear the voice of former Genesee County Jail inmate Jody Cramer, who was just released from jail this week after serving two months. While inside Genesee County Jail, Cramer worked as a trustee in the kitchen and helped distribute food and, more recently, bottles of water to other inmates. He says that once water distribution began this past Friday, he was instructed to distribute two 12-ounce bottles of water twice a day to inmates—or a total of 48 ounces per day. That’s less than half the amount of water the Institute for Medicine recommends adult men drink daily. Cramer also says there are a number of pregnant women in the jail and that they, too, were drinking the tap water up until last Friday’s switch. Lead poisoning puts pregnant women at risk for miscarriages and can cause permanent damage to the brain, kidneys and nervous system of newborn children.


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, we turn now to some of the voices of Flint residents who were not heard at yesterday’s congressional hearings—the hundreds of prisoners at the Genesee County Jail in Flint. While many Flint residents have been buying bottled water throughout this crisis, inmates at the jail have had no option but to drink and shower in the city water following the switch to the corrosive Flint River more than a year ago. In October, after Flint’s newly elected Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency over high levels of lead in the city water, the jail briefly switched to distributing bottled water. But five days later, the jail switched back to the city supply after the sheriff said a water quality test showed the water was safe. That means the inmates were forced to drink, bathe in and eat food cooked in the city’s contaminated water. Finally, last Friday, the jail again switched to using bottled water.

AMY GOODMAN: In this exclusive Democracy Now! report, we hear the voice of former Genesee County Jail prisoner Jody Cramer. He was just released from jail this week after serving two months. While inside Genesee County Jail, Cramer worked as a trustee in the kitchen. He helped distribute food and, more recently, bottles of water to other prisoners. He says once water distribution began this past Friday, he was instructed to distribute two 12-ounce bottles of water twice a day to prisoners—or a total of 48 ounces per day. That’s less than half the amount of water the Institute for Medicine recommends adult men drink daily. Cramer also says there are a number of pregnant women in the jail and that they, too, were drinking the tap water up until last Friday’s switch. Lead poisoning puts pregnant women at risk for miscarriages, can cause permanent damage to the brain, kidneys and nervous system of newborn children. Jody Cramer is joined in this interview by his mother, Linda. But first, we start with Jody Cramer.

JODY CRAMER: In jail, we were drinking from the taps. Our food was being made from the taps. Prior to this, they had already started handing out bottles of water when this first broke in October. And then they stopped, saying that their water was good. Many inmates made complaints due to the fact that the deputies would not drink from the faucets—they all carried bottled water. And on that same token, we were consistently told that the water in the jail was good. And also, when I had made phone calls home, I explained the situation to my family members, and from what we were told, the water in the jail was good.

LINDA GARLAND-MOLPUS: So, like I said, when I called down there—I didn’t write the deputy’s name down—he was just kind of, you know, short. And, you know, I said that "I am concerned my son’s in there, and I’m concerned about, you know, the water. What’s—you know, how’s your guys’s—where’s your water come from?" And he says, "We have a filtration process," or whatever. And he said, "Our water’s fine." So—and then they started giving you bottled water on January 23rd.

JODY CRAMER: Right, water was starting to be distributed on the 23rd of January. But the food they still served that day was already made already with the water. So, we kind of were like, "All right. Well, we’re distributing water, but what about this food that we’ve been eating all day—or all month or prior to this?"

I was very much concerned that I’d get four bottles of water a day. I have two bottles at lunchtime, two bottles at dinnertime, per inmate. Yeah, I have to not only drink this water, but I have to brush my teeth. I drink coffee. We’ve been told that there’s nothing wrong with washing your body or hands with this water out the tap, that it’s just consuming it. That’s what they’ve told.

There is pregnant women inside the Genesee County Jail, several pregnant women inside Genesee County Jail. I know this because there’s diet trays that are distributed. They’re allowed so much, or they get a double portion because they’re pregnant or something. So you see, when you make their tray—you have a list of how many people, and there’s a lot of pregnant women in the Genesee County Jail. As far as I know, they get the same amount of water as anybody else.

This has also been—happened. A lot of the deputies were passing out water filtration systems or—in the city. If you had warrants—they did a warrant sweep while they did that, so they tricked you. If you answered your door, and they would say, "Hey, how are you doing, Mr. Cramer?" If I responded, then I just confirmed that I’m me. "Well, here’s your water filtration system. By the way, you have a warrant for your arrest." People were saying that’s how they got arrested.

AMY GOODMAN: That was former Genesee County Jail prisoner Jody Cramer and his mother, Linda. Jody was just released from jail this week. Special thanks to journalist Kate Levy and to the RaizUp Media Collective for this exclusive report, as well as to Laura Gottesdiener of Democracy Now! This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute looking at Zika. Stay with us.


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