Gwen Levi was granted an early release from prison last year during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic after serving 16 years of a 24-year sentence for conspiracy to sell at least one kilogram of heroin. However, nearly less than three months after she was released, she is heading back to prison. Her offense? Not answering her phone.
According to The Washington Post, the 76-year-old Black woman was one of nearly 4,500 inmates released under former President Donald Trump’s administration; it was done to help prevent the virus from spreading in federal prisons. They were then transferred to home confinements deemed “low risk,” as many of those released were elderly and in poor health.
Before her return to prison, Levi lived with her 94-year-old mother in Baltimore, where she was rebuilding relationships with family members, including her sons and grandchildren. She also volunteered at prisoner advocacy organizations, awaiting an opportunity for a paying job.
Earlier this month, while taking a computer word-processing course in the city’s Inner Harbor, her ankle monitor triggered at 10:51 a.m., and Levi missed phone calls from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the incident report says.
The senior citizen and her attorney, Sapna Mirchandani, a federal public defender in Maryland, maintain that “there’s no question” that she was in class. However Mirchandani said to The Washington Post she was told by federal authorities that “because [Levi] could have been robbing a bank, they’re going to treat her as if she was robbing a bank.” Her monitor later showed that at 1:17 p.m. that afternoon she was back at her approved address, but officials are still labeling the incident as an “escape.”
Levi said she always feared there’d be a chance she’d be sent back to prison once the pandemic was over, though the outlet reported that members of the Trump administration objected to the idea of having people like her return to prison after being sent to home confinement. However, President Joe Biden and his administration don’t look like they’ll extend the policy and will almost likely send all the inmates back.
“I feel like I was attempting to do all the right things,” Levi said in a statement through her attorney. “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.” Her lawyer explained that her client is “devasted” by her mistake.
Levi resided in several different prison establishments over a span of three presidential administrations, serving time in facilities in Maryland, Texas, and Alabama. She was diagnosed with cancer and later beat it, and when she applied for clemency under President Barack Obama, she was denied.
She was reincarcerated and has been in jail since June 12 as she awaits a transfer to federal prison.