US (PT) – For over a year, 26 year old Reality Leigh Winner remained in the same Lincoln County jail in Georgia. The rural facility became a bleak, though familiar reminder of an impending court appearance this August. Since being sentenced to 5 years in prison under the Espionage Act, Winner has been shuffled between multiple facilities.
The former National Security Agency contractor and Air Force veteran faced up to 10 years for allegedly leaking documents related to Russian involvement in the 2016 election. The documents in question were to The Intercept.
Winner was held without bail throughout her detention, and received the longest sentence in history under the Espionage Act. Established in 1917 to prosecute WWI-era spies, the act has been increasingly used to imprison government whistle blowers. Reality Winner was the first whistle blower to be charged under the Trump Administration.
Her first facility transfer began in the middle of the night. Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told Pontiac Tribune her daughter was taken inter-state to Florida’s Baker County detention.
Interesting side note, Baker County is also an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility. Although it’s still unclear why Winner was taken here, the facility’s website might offer a clue. “Detainees cannot receive incoming calls” it reads.
ICE detention centers notoriously restrict access to family, press, and even lawyers. To call a Baker County detainee, one must go through essentially a voicemail system. After providing a detainee’s name, alien registration number, and your own phone number, a message is recorded then sent. Reality Leigh Winner, an American citizen, has no such number. Even without this issue, the transfer complicated communicating with Winner.
Wendy Meer, part of a group of advocates for Reality, told The Intercept that this isolation left Winner “hysterical.” The United Nations and others acknowledge that solitary confinement can amount to torture.
Baker County wouldn’t be her final stop. From there, the 26 year old was supposed to be transported to the Federal Transfer Center, in Oklahoma City. FTC houses people who haven’t been assigned a detention facility.
“It’s very messed up.” Billie Winner-Davis told Pontiac Tribune. “On Tuesday she was flown to Oklahoma, but FTC is at capacity. So she was taken to Grady County until she can be taken to FTC.”
Never relinquishing her motherly role, Winner-Davis has consistently remained her daughter’s biggest advocate. She’s educated herself throughout Reality’s detention, and keeps supporters updated.
Winner-Davis believes her daughter is being subjected to “diesel therapy” wherein prisoners are shuffled from place to place. “It’s meant to keep them scared and insecure.”
Reality, upon arriving at Grady County, didn’t even know where she was. According to her mother, she thought she was actually at FTC. Winner-Davis said her daughter was “in shock and angry” and described the facility as “horrible.”
Grady County jail also houses ICE detainees, but is not exclusively an immigration detention center. Whether this has any significance, given she’d just come from Baker County’s ICE facility, is unclear.
What was apparent was exhaustion had already stricken the convicted whistle blower. According to her mother, Reality hadn’t received her prescribed medication “and was not going to get them for a while.”
Reality reputedly told her mother 80 women were being held in a single room at Grady County. “It was filthy” reports Winner-Davis. Winner suffered anxiety attacks, and hadn’t eaten because the food wasn’t kosher, unlike the small Georgia jail she came from. “She cried and asked that we do whatever we can to get her out of there.”
“She loses everything at each move and we start all over funding new accounts and setting up new accounts with different communication and commissary companies. It’s horrible.” – Billie Winner-Davis, mother of Reality Leigh Winner.
In neither transfer was Winner allowed to take clothing, toothpaste, or soap. On Tuesday October 2nd, Winner contacted her mother with a “one minute free call” says Winner-Davis, to let them know to put money in her inmate account. Each move forces her family and support network to re-organize funds.
Lisa Ling, another member of Winner’s advocacy group, called these tactics “an unnecessary hardship on her family.” The group visits Winner in prison, and provides updates through social media. They’re ultimate goal is for Reality Leigh Winner to be pardoned.
“She actually didn’t even have clothing to travel in and they do not allow you to wear the uniforms when you leave their facilities. So they had her travel in her thermal underwear.” Winner-Daivs told Pontiac Tribune.
Reality eventually received her medication and was assigned cleaning tasks. Winner-Davis and others discovered a way to set up an email account for Winner by paying a fee to the Grady County facility. Reality described being “overwhelmed, in a good way” by emails from supporters from all over her mother says.
Organizing public support doesn’t come without risk. Billie Winner-Davis has long known “all correspondence both to and from Reality is scanned and monitored closely by the FBI and prosecution. I have no doubt that they keep a listing of everyone that she communicates with and have checked on all.”
Ling described how each of Reality’s potential visitors are independently background checked by authorities. This is more often than not a very time consuming process. One which puts each of Winner’s visitors under the microscope, along with possibly affecting visit duration.
“Although she is only charged with one count in comparison for other cases like this, she has been treated the most severe.” Throughout her detention, Winner’s case quickly became an obvious one of deterrence. Slews of assaults on her character by the government and prosecution focused on painting Winner as anti-American. This, supporters and her legal council argue, is far from the truth.
Bouncing Reality around, and forcing her to endure the subsequent loss is different. Attacks based on assumed motive for leaking documents and her character were very public. Winner’s hardships inside various detention facilities, however, is meant just for her. It has become the torture and punishment of Reality Leigh Winner.
Despite these challenges, Winner has become more optimistic in recent days. Although more transfers are likely, she’s adjusted to Grady County. Her mother recently enjoyed her first video chat with Reality on October 4th.
“She was smiling and laughing” says Winner-Davis. At her current location, some of her daughter’s needs are met. “We still don’t know if she’ll be placed in Fort Worth as recommended,” says Winner-Davis. During her sentencing hearing, Winner appealed to be placed at the Federal Medical Center in Forth Worth, Texas. Her family believes FMC would best meet her medical and psychological needs.
“This process has already been difficult for her and us,” Winner-Davis unloaded. To all of Reality’s supporters, her mother says “thanks for listening.” Reality Leigh Winner was transferred from Grady County to FTC. Her family is waiting to see if her finial destination will be Fort Worth.
Editor’s Note: As of earlier today, Reality Winners has been transferred once again, however this transfer was to the facility with which they had appealed, to FMC in Fort Worth, TX.