In June, a group of Baltimore City correctional officers gathered outside the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center for a vigil honoring Karen Kennedy. The 60-year-old corrections officer had worked there and contracted COVID-19 in May, eventually succumbing to complications.
The close-knit group of officers told stories of their colleague, bonded over the difficult job they shared and said they wondered every day if they could be next to get sick.
One of those in attendance was Barthphine Maduh, 68, a veteran officer who trained and mentored new guards for years. Likable and respected, Maduh worked long hours and spent decades on the job.
This month, the officers gathered again outside Central Booking, this time to honor Maduh. He contracted COVID in July, fought it for months and finally succumbed in late September, his wife said.
Kennedy and Maduh are the only two correctional officers in Maryland known to have died from COVID-19. Their deaths underscore the dangers faced by officers and inmates as the state grapples with a virus that has plagued the corrections system for seven months and killed at least 11 inmates.
That was on the mind of the nearly 100 officers at Maduh’s vigil Oct. 8. Balloons were tied together leading up to a podium, where his wife and two of their children sat in black chairs. The family held Maduh’s old uniform. Candles were passed out.
Maryland’s two correctional officer deaths are fewer than states such as Louisiana, which has recorded six deaths, and Texas, with more than a dozen, according to the website Corrections1, which focuses on labor issues for prison workers. Most states on the list have more people behind bars than Maryland, making comparisons difficult.
“The loss of our two veteran correctional officers is devastating, and we are committed to honoring their memory and never forgetting their courage and dedication to the citizens of Maryland,” said Gary McLhinney, assistant secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
Latia Barney, vice president of the AFSCME Union in Maryland, met Maduh when she was new to her job as a correctional officer. He was her trainer, she said, and he taught her to do the job with “efficiency.”
A loving husband and father, Barthphine Maduh had built long-lasting relationships with his co-workers, and it was a blow when he suddenly became sick in July, they said.
He was married to his wife, Vivian, for 38 years, and they had four children. “He was a gentle soul … a peacemaker,” she said. “He was just a dedicated worker and a hardworking individual.”
“There was a fear for her to work inside of that prison, but she had to because how else was she going to pay her bills?”— Danyetta Davis
Gary Everett, who has retired from the correctional system, remembered working with Maduh at the Jail Industries building in Baltimore in 2013.
Everett said they often would go back and forth over football, as Maduh was not a fan of the Ravens or former quarterback Joe Flacco. “He was a very nice guy. First thing you would see was his smile,” Everett said.
Kennedy, too, brought spirit and commitment to the job during her 20 years as an officer, colleagues and her family said.
Her daughter, Danyetta Davis, remembers the stress her mother carried as she witnessed inmates and correctional staff grappling with coronavirus in the cramped facility. Kennedy worked long hours of overtime, despite worries about her underlying health conditions, including diabetes.
Davis said she believes an unsafe environment in the prison facility ultimately led to her mother’s death.
“She would come home every day complaining and said a lot of inmates had it," Davis said. “There was a fear for her to work inside of that prison, but she had to because how else was she going to pay her bills?”
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Barney, the union vice president, said officers around the state face the challenge of performing their jobs as professionals while battling the uncertainties and dangers of a pandemic.
“The only thing we can do is just pull together and try to stay safe like the rest of the community,” Barney said after the vigil. “At this moment, all the correctional officers showed that we are going to stay together and get the job done.”
As of last week, the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center had the highest number of confirmed cases statewide for officers at 127 and the second highest for inmates at 147, according to numbers from the correctional services department.
During the early stages of the pandemic, the agency created a COVID-19 Response Team that meets three times a week. The department has distributed 3.9 million pieces of personal protective equipment to staff and inmates, according to Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman.
“We consistently stress to all employees the critical importance of personal responsibility, good hygiene practices, and adherence to all recommended COVID prevention protocols,” Vernarelli said. “COVID is transmitted in community settings outside the facilities; therefore employees must remain vigilant when they are not at work.”
Morial Hayes, another AFSCME union representative, believes prisons and jails in Baltimore have a long way to go to keep guards and inmates safe, especially in light of the deaths of Kennedy and Maduh.
“I think that the state needs to take more precaution to make sure everyone has proper [personal protective equipment]. And make sure inmates are also taking the same precautions," he said. “It won’t bring this brother [Maduh] back, but they should bring in more precautionary measures so people will continue to not put themselves at risk."