The Clutches of COVID-19 Continue Its Hold on TDCJ Staff
Corrections Officer V. Jerry Esparza's end of watch came on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Officer Esparza, age 46, died from complications of COVID-19 after contracting the virus during an outbreak at the Jester III Unit in Richmond, Texas. CO Esparza had been hospitalized at Memorial Hermann Sugarland since June 17 after he tested positive for COVID-19. This virus does not discriminate; it attacks inmates and staff alike, and it is having a noted success in tightly secluded areas such as prisons and enclosed workplaces. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice had been CO Esparza's profession for the past 25 years. He leaves behind his wife and four children.
TDCJ COVID-19 Statistics
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has compiled some alarming data relating to COVID-19. As of August 18, just in the TDCJ, there have been 181,776 inmates and 58,590 employees tested for COVID-19. Of those tested, 18,710 inmates and 4,040 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 in both symptomatic and asymptomatic testing. There have been 15,576 inmates and 2,806 employees who have recovered. There have been 122 inmate deaths connected to COVID 19, with an additional 43 under investigation. There have been 19 employee line of duty deaths from COVID-19.
To put this into perspective, on August 13, only five days before the above data was collected and documented, the numbers were quite different. In total, there had been 179,688 inmates and 58,088 employees tested for COVID-19. Of those tested, 18,554 inmates and 3,878 staff have tested positive for COVID-19 in both symptomatic and asymptomatic testing. These numbers, from a mere five days apart, calculate as follows:
- An additional 2,088 inmates tested.
- Of those inmates tested, there were an additional 156 people who tested positive.
- An additional 502 staff/employees tested.
- Of the staff/employees tested, there were an additional 162 people who tested positive.
The numbers do not lie and can be curbed to a certain degree. Being in such close quarters in prison makes it nearly impossible to keep a recommended six-foot social distance between individuals, but masks can be used all the time.
For best practices out of prisons, Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated, "The only way to reduce the spread is by everyone continuing to do the best practices of wearing a mask, keeping a distance from others, staying home, if at all possible, using frequent hand sanitizing to make sure that you are reducing the spread of COVID-19,"
Living Within The New Landscape
The American Correctional Association "Wall of Honor" website states that when the coronavirus pandemic struck, life as we knew it was changed forever. There have been many deaths, and unfortunately, the death toll increases daily. Most people realize that it is the "first responders" to whom we owe a debt that can never be repaid. Among those brave individuals, on the front lines of this new landscape, are the proud men and women of corrections. Quote from the ACA Wall of Honor, "It is with heavy hearts that we join grief-stricken families and loved ones to express our heartfelt sympathies for those who have died because of this insidious virus. Stay safe."
Reflecting on Corrections Officer V. Jerry Esparza
Many messages of love and gratitude for CO Esparza found on various internet platforms were abundant and heartfelt.
Retired Fire Lieutenant Frank J Corasan, of the Baltimore City Fire Department, posted his comment on August 5, 2020. "I am sorry for your loss to your Family, Fellow Officers, Friends. I will keep all of you in my prayers. RIP."
On August 12, 2020, retired Chief of Police Jim Spratlen of the Durango Police Department added his gratitude for Esparza's sacrifice.
"Thank you for your service. May you rest in peace, my brother."
Deputy Parole Administrator Howard Wykes from the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections offered his prayers and thoughts to Esparza's family and friends. "Rest in Peace, Officer Esparza. May the Lord grant your family, friends, and co-workers peace during this difficult time. Thank you for your service and sacrifice."
Retired Chief of Police Steven Marshall of Georges Mill, NH, made a point to remind us not to reflect upon the death of Esparza but to remember how he lived. "A corrections officer should be remembered not by how he died, but how he lived! A great man has gone to secure a safe path for the rest of us to follow. Thank you to you, your family, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Our country is a little less safe without you. Rest in Peace, Brother!"