Many federal prisoners were sent home to be with family (and in continued confinement) during the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic. For 76-year-old Gwen Levi, the chance to be outside those cell block walls meant a chance to create growth opportunities for herself. Unfortunately, due to a memo issued in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s administration, Levi is now being sent back to prison after reportedly missing a phone call from officials charged with supervising her while she was taking a computer word-processing course in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
A report from The Washington Post has the full story, detailing how Gwen Levi’s ankle monitor was triggered at 10:51 a.m. earlier this month. She didn’t answer her phone due to being focused on her coursework. The lack of response prompted the Trump memo, which granted the Federal Bureau of Prisons the authority to return the 4,500 inmates to prison for minor infractions, and includes Levi.
Levi’s attorney, Sapna Mirchandani, a federal public defender in Maryland, made it clear “there’s no question” that Levi was in class. However, she shared that federal authorities said “because [Levi] could have been robbing a bank, they’re going to treat her as if she was robbing a bank.” Despite the monitor going off, which showed her at her approved address by 1:17 p.m. the same day, the incident was being treated as an “escape.”
Through a statement from her attorney, Levi said she is “devastated.”
“I feel like I was attempting to do all the right things,” said Levi, who has been living with her 94-year-old mother. “Breaking rules is not who I am. I tried to explain what happened and to tell the truth. At no time did I think I wasn’t supposed to go to that class. I apologize to my mother and my family for what this is doing to them.”
President Joe Biden and his administration have yet to rescind the Trump memo, and according to The Post, neither the Biden White House nor the Justice Department has issued a comment on the return of inmates to prison.
Levi, who had been sentenced to 24 years in prison for dealing heroin, served 16 years and now may be forced to complete the rest of the time on her books only after a year back in society. While out and in addition to the training courses, she had been volunteering with prisoner advocacy organizations and rebuilding her relationships with family and friends.
Other advocacy organizations for prisoners are pleading with Joe Biden and his administration to rescind the Trump prison memo. Kevin Ring of Families Against Mandatory Minimums said, “This is exactly what we feared from them delaying resolution of this issue. Every day is torture. They’re worried about going back to prison … waiting is the hardest part.”