INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – The state of Indiana reported its first COVID-19 related death of an inmate this week.
A 70-year-old male offender at the Westville Correctional facility died of COVID-19 Monday at a nearby hospital.
Pam Bontrager at Indiana Filter Company is working to prevent more deaths by converting her specialized materials into masks.
It sounds simple, but the high grade MERV16 filter is essential to stopping air particles as small as .03 to 1.0 Microns. It’s estimated that the COVID-19 virus particulate size is .1 Microns.
Bontrager’s supplier, Parker Hannifin, donated the filter material and Lafayette Venetian Blind donated fabric.
Bontrager then recruited sewing friends Megan Crawford and Debbie Klein, as well as her own family, to create masks and mask assembly kits.
The masks are made of cotton with a pocket for the filter. The cotton can be washed and disinfected between uses and the filter can be replaced.
Deanna Whetstone of Brownsburg is assisting as well and delivering the completed kits and masks. Bontrager projects with her current inventory, her team will deliver packages for 40,000 masks.
Her target is the 26,000 offenders and 7,000 DOC staffers at Indiana’s 23 correctional facilities.
As of Monday, Robert Carter, the Indiana DOC Commissioner said seven of the state's 23 facilities are contaminated with the virus and a total of 27 offenders have tested positive.
That’s up from April 3 when the DOC reported two positive cases at the Indiana Women's Prison and three at the Plainfield Correctional Facility.
Governor Eric Holcomb has stated repeatedly that he is not looking at releasing prisoners because of the pandemic. That’s why Bontrager can’t deliver masks fast enough.
“The prisoners are people too and we have to take care of them. They can't just be left in there with this virus. This virus is killing people daily,” Bontrager said.
The donations are a supplement to the broader statewide program already underway at the Miami Correctional facility where offenders are making masks, gowns and alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
The products are intended first to support state agencies and if supplies warrant, the general public too.
Wesley is one of the offenders who helped design the mask at the Miami facility.
He has a background in home construction and has worked in the sewing area for the last 14 months while making T-shirts. The switch to making masks is welcome.
“We've done things wrong in our lives, but we're still trying to make sure doing something, give back for our community," Wesley said. "I feel like I'm giving back and that this is what is going to help get rid of the virus.”
Bontrager hopes assembling kits from her company will provide a greater purpose for the offenders as well.
“You know, how you feel when you're doing something for people," Bontrager said. "It always makes you feel good. It makes everyone feel better when they're helping people.”
If you would like to support the mask effort at Indiana Filter Company, call 317-827-2754.