The longest partial government shutdown in United States history may be over for now, but the news isn’t relieving tensions at FCI Englewood, the sprawling federal prison on the southwest side of …
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After watching her husband head off to another day of work without pay, Nicole Patterson decided she couldn’t sit by passively anymore.
Patterson, whose husband is a correctional officer at FCI Englewood, a large federal prison in southwest Denver, started a food drive for prison staff, who worked for 35 days without pay amid the longest-ever partial government shutdown.
Though a deal on Jan. 25 funds the government through Feb. 15, Patterson is forging ahead with the drive, in case talks fail and the government shuts down again.
“It’s a way to make sure the Bureau of Prisons family can be taken care of,” Patterson said. She asked that her husband’s name not be used out of concerns for his safety.
“We’re seeking donations to relieve the stress of what’s going on,” Patterson said. She’s looking for non-perishable food, baby formula and diapers, pet food, cat litter and “other things that make your household run on a daily basis.
”Patterson, a stay-at-home mom of two young kids, said she’s been babysitting to help bring in a little cash.“It’s very frustrating,” Patterson said. “But the community has been so supportive. There’s been an amazing outpouring of help from neighbors, friends and family.”
Patterson said it’ll be nice to get back pay, but her family will be watching their spending closely until a final deal to keep the government open is reached.
Donations for employees at FCI Englewood will be collected at Cadence Academy Preschool at 6768 West Ottawa Avenue in unincorporated Littleton. Volunteers will be on-site collecting donations from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays, and a box for donations will be available from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday.
Organizers are seeking donations of non-perishable food, diapers, baby formula, hygiene products and other useful household items, said Nicole Patterson, who is overseeing the drive.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, or visit the group’s Facebook page, called “Littleton Shutdown Drive.”
The longest partial government shutdown in United States history may be over for now, but the news isn’t relieving tensions at FCI Englewood, the sprawling federal prison on the southwest side of the Denver metro area.
“We’re going to catch up on mortgage payments and bills, but if they shut it down again, we’ve exhausted our savings,” said Chris Janssen, the president of Local 709 of the American Federation of Government Employees, the prison’s union.
President Trump and Congress agreed on Jan. 25 to fund the government through Feb. 15, meaning federal employees like Janssen and roughly 300 other staffers at the prison will get back pay owed to them following the 35-day shutdown, but what happens after that is unknown.
“If elected leaders keep playing games, we won’t have anywhere to turn,” Janssen said. “It’s a pressure release for right now, but it’s almost more terrifying because we can’t replenish our savings while we wait for the other shoe to drop.”
The shutdown was hard on prison staffing, Janssen said, as correctional officers increasingly called in sick after coming into work for weeks without pay.
Teachers and plumbers were guarding sex offenders as officers called in sick, Janssen said.
“These people are supposed to be keeping the lights on or helping inmates get ready to re-integrate into society, and instead they’re guarding blocks of 200 prisoners,” Janssen said.
The prison near the intersection of West Quincy Avenue and South Kipling Street houses roughly 1,000 inmates across three main camps, Janssen said. The population covers all security levels, and includes hundreds of sex offenders, he said.
“We’ve got everyone from embezzlers to cop killers,” Janssen said. “The worse staffing gets, the greater the likelihood of riots, murders and suicides. We have seen all of those here in the past.”
The situation at the prison could grow worse if the shutdown resumes, Janssen said, as logjams at the Department of Justice could mean that offenders who are sentenced by judges in Denver’s federal court aren’t able to be sent to their designated prisons.
Staff members are facing scary situations in their personal lives, Janssen said.
“Our standards of employee conduct mandate that we have to maintain good credit and pay our debtors on time. If we don’t, we’re automatically subject to discipline, from letters of reprimand up to firing.”
Many prison staffers called in sick to drive for Uber and Lyft, Janssen said, because they could get quick cash to pay bills.
“Federal employees don’t make as much money as people think,” Janssen said. “A guard here starts at $44,000 a year, but for someone paying a mortgage and raising a family, that’s not a lot. You’ve got guys in their 30s borrowing against their retirement accounts, knowing they’re not going to be able to pay it back.”
Janssen, a Navy veteran and 12-year employee of the Bureau of Prisons, said he accepted the help of friends and neighbors to feed his two young children.
“It’s disgraceful,” Janssen said. “People say, ‘Oh, you’ll get your back pay eventually,’ but that doesn’t put food on my table tonight. I’ve got people dropping off soup at my house like it’s the Depression.”
Janssen said he doesn’t want to wade into the politics of the shutdown.
“We’re hoping the government comes to their senses and does the right thing,” Janssen said. “If I do the work, I want my pay.”
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