Just a few days after the first law enforcement officer in Florida prisons to COVID-19 died, a second officer died of the highly infectious disease that infected 9,180 inmates and 1,810 officers across the state prison system. 54 inmates have died.
Joseph “Joe” Foster was remembered by family and friends as a devoted husband, father and proud US Army veteran. He was hired by the State Department of Corrections in December 2009.
“We called him” the executor “because he always looked after everyone,”
Surles said Foster, who had a 15-year-old woman, two sons and a daughter, was a “family man” with a “heart of gold”. His latest Facebook posts were about school reopening and how he feared that the state would endanger children if they sent them back for personal lessons.
Foster lived in Gainesville, where he grew up. According to his Facebook page, he graduated from Gainesville High School in 1994.
Most recently, he worked at the Florida Women’s Reception Center in Ocala, where one inmate died of COVID-19 and 472 are infected. 27 prison officers are ill with the disease.
The Corrections Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The department confirmed Monday evening that 65-year-old Robert “Wayne” Rogers was the first officer to die of COVID-19. Rogers, who worked at Graceville Work Camp, a subsidiary of the Jackson Correctional Institution, died an hour after his wife, who also had COVID-19. Neither his nor Foster’s death is reflected in the Department of Health’s death report, which is updated once a week.
Not even top brass players were spared the virus, which the prison system could not contain. Department Secretary Mark Inch and Deputy Secretary Ricky Dixon tested positive for COVID-19 last Thursday after attending the Columbia Correctional Institution and attending a Florida Sheriffs Association conference on July 27.
Protection of correction officers has become a focus of the Police Benevolent Association, according to which officials have not been given adequate personal protective equipment or access to tests. So many officers have contracted the disease that the FDC is launching emergency plans in two prisons with significant staff shortages. Dade and Jefferson Correctional Services personnel work 12-hour shifts up to six days a week.
Surles says his friend’s loss attracted people on Facebook to share memories of their friend, who they say died much too young. Friends called him “Big Joe” or “Coach” and considered him someone who got along with everyone he met, even though he was “scary” in behavior.
“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” said Surles. “He was a loving, kind guy.”