On April 24, 2020, Damiene Lewis was granted compassionate release and sent home. “That’s a huge blessing,” he says now, from his mother’s home in Baton Rouge. His release was months in the making, but actually happened one week earlier than he’d been informed, some icing on his particular cake.
FMC Fort Worth prison is “chaotic,” he explains. “So they hustled me out of there to make room for more people.” The BOP put him on a plane at 5 p.m., and at 9 p.m., he was calling home asking for someone to come pick him up. “They were speechless,” he says, referring to his mother, Shirley Shelmire, and girlfriend, Vanessa Taylor. “Then everyone was smiling and laughing. It was a little extra hope for everyone.”
Extra hope was needed; Damiene, 41, has severe COPD, diagnosed before he went to prison in 2018 to begin a sentence of 60 months on gun and drug charges. As his disease progressed, he feared he would die behind bars. His oxygen levels plummeted, and he was on several medications. Last year, he asked the BOP for compassionate release. The BOP denied his application, saying he could still walk and do some daily activities.
He heard about the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse last year from some other people in prison, and he asked his girlfriend to call FAMM. Vanessa spoke with FAMM General Counsel Mary Price, and then Mary began corresponding with Damiene directly through Corrlinks.
FMC Forth Worth reported its first COVID case on April 8. Damiene’s cellmate was an “inmate caretaker,” which exposed him to more than the usual risk. That, combined with the fact that his COPD increased the threat of the virus, made Damiene a good candidate for the Clearinghouse. He had no disciplinary infractions.
The team tried to get him a federal defender, and when that didn’t progress as quickly as it needed to – Damiene’s health was deteriorating rapidly and every day he became more at risk of contracting COVID-19 – a pro bono private attorney was assigned to him through the Clearinghouse.
The attorney matched to Damiene’s case “fought the government to a standstill,” says Mary Price. After much opposition, the prosecutor finally agreed to support Damiene’s release and the court promptly reduced his sentence to time served.
Damiene has two kids – a daughter, 26, and a son, 17 – and for now he’s working to reconnect with them and get healthier, struggling to get his oxygen levels back to where they were before prison. “In there, they don’t give you no hope. Now I got hope.”
Want to learn more about the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse? Visit our COVID response page.