Grandmother, 76, sent back to prison after missing phone call during class

Gwen Levi is one of many federal prisoners sent to home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic

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A 76-year-old woman is being sent back to prison after reportedly missing a phone call from officials charged with supervising her while she was taking a computer word-processing course in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. 

According to a report from The Washington Post, Gwen Levi is one of many federal prisoners who were released from prison and sent to home confinement during the coronavirus pandemic. 

However, a memo issued in the waning days of President Donald Trump‘s administration granted the Federal Bureau of Prisons the authority to return the 4,500 inmates to prison for minor infractions, including Levi. 

Levi’s attorney, Sapna Mirchandani, a federal public defender in Maryland, made it clear “there’s no question” that Levi was in class. However, she said federal authorities told her “because [Levi] could have been robbing a bank, they’re going to treat her as if she was robbing a bank.”

Gwen Levi, 76, is one of many federal prisoners released from prison and sent to home confinement during the coronavirus pandemic. She, like many others, is being returned for a minor infraction. (USA Today)

Levi’s ankle monitor was triggered at 10:51 a.m. earlier this month, and she didn’t answer her phone. The monitor showed her back at her approved address by 1:17 p.m. the same day, but the incident is still being treated as an “escape.” 

Through a statement from her attorney, Levi said she is “devastated.” 

“I feel like I was attempting to do all the right things,” said Levi, who has been living with her 94-year-old mother. “Breaking rules is not who I am. I tried to explain what happened and to tell the truth. At no time did I think I wasn’t supposed to go to that class. I apologize to my mother and my family for what this is doing to them.”

Levi had been sentenced to 24 years in prison for dealing heroin. She served 16 years and might now be headed back to complete her term after a year back in society, during which she had been volunteering with prisoner advocacy organizations and rebuilding her relationships with kin. 

Prisoner in prison with handcuff (Credit: Adobe Stock)

The Trump memo has not been rescinded by the Joe Biden administration, and according to The Post, neither the Biden White House nor the Justice Department has issued a comment on the return of inmates to prison. 

Kristie A. Breshears, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Prisons, told the outlet her staff does not make the decisions to return people to “secure custody” in a “capricious or retaliatory manner.” 

Prisoner advocacy organizations are pleading with the Biden administration to rescind the Trump prison memo. Kevin Ring of Families Against Mandatory Minimums said, “This is exactly what we feared from them delaying resolution of this issue. Every day is torture. They’re worried about going back to prison. . . . Waiting is the hardest part.”

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