A 54-year-old woman awaiting her sentencing hearing died inside a federal prison in Fort Worth after being transferred to receive medical care.
Sherri Hillman died Monday night at FMC Carswell, which is the only federal medical facility for incarcerated women in the country. Hillman was not yet sentenced on her charge of selling methamphetamine and was awaiting her pre-sentencing hearing at a jail in Kentucky. Hillman contracted COVID-19 at Laurel County Correctional Center, a Kentucky regional jail, in January. She was hospitalized and placed on a ventilator on Jan. 8.
Since then, she was transferred across various jails and hospitals, mostly in Kentucky, Hillman’s mother, Jan Addington, said. After her hospitalization for COVID-19, Hillman’s health never fully returned.
On May 18, Hillman was transferred to a hospital in Kentucky where she had surgery on May 21, her attorney, Barry Glenn, said. Her condition still did not improve. COVID-19 can cause long-lasting health problems, especially when people have pre-existing conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Hillman had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema, according to court records. Hillman and her attorney had filed several motions, which are sealed, in April concerning Hillman’s health. Glenn said he could not say what the motions were about specifically.
“She was transferred to (Carswell) in Fort Worth because most people thought she would be getting better care there than in Kentucky,” Glenn said. “Because that’s a county jail and they said they did not have the capability or the means to care for her anymore.”
On June 1, U.S. marshals transferred Hillman to FMC Carswell. She was put into quarantine when she got to Carswell, per CDC guidelines.
‘Somebody help me’
The last phone call Addington got from her daughter was about a week ago.
“She told me, ‘Mom, I’m not going to make it this time. I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t do it,’” Addington said. “I think she knew. And she had been in (prison) in Texas and I wasn’t able to get to her. I haven’t seen my daughter in almost three years.”
Hillman grew up in Tennessee near the Virginia state line, Addington said. She was a “beautiful young lady growing up” who loved to go dancing. The family had cookouts and family vacations. She was married and later divorced and had three children and two grandchildren.
“It’s always hard to lose a child,” Addington said. “No matter how old they are.”
Addington does not feel like her daughter got the care she needed while she was in custody. Hillman told her mom she was not being treated right; she could not keep food or water down but was not given any nutritional help, Addington said. After one stay in the hospital, Hillman had weakened to the point that she could no longer walk more than a few steps.
“From what she was telling me, I just don’t think she was treated right,” Addington said.
Two women incarcerated at Carswell said they heard Hillman crying out for help for several days from her cell on the medical floor. One woman, who is also staying on the medical floor, said she could hear Hillman shouting.
“Everyone on the floor heard her screaming for help for several days,” the woman, who did not want her name to be used out of fear of retaliation, said. “For days, they said she’s faking it and there’s nothing wrong with her, and they ignored her cries for help. She would say, ‘Please, somebody help me.’”
On June 14, Hillman was having difficulty breathing and became unresponsive, according to a press release from the Bureau of Prisons. Staff immediately initiated life-saving measures, the BOP said, and requested emergency services.
An autopsy was ordered for Hillman, Glenn said, and he was told the death was from natural causes.