Cellphone video captures fire inside local prison

Fire reported in South Carolina prison

KERSHAW, S.C. — A fire set at a Kershaw prison was captured on a cellphone by an inmate. In the video, inmates at Kershaw Correctional Institution claim their lives are at risk, and family members worry the violence will continue.

The four-minute cellphone video shows a fire in a common area at the Kershaw prison Sunday night. In the video, it looks like no one was around as the fire burned. The camera shows a wide room with no guards, inmates or staff visible for several minutes.

Channel 9 spoke to two women who have a loved one in that prison. They did not want their names used over concerns about possible retaliation or punishment for their incarcerated relatives.

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"You have to look at it like it was one of your own family members," one woman said. "This is awful.  It could have been my brother's last day alive."

Channel 9 learned that Lancaster County firefighters were initially called to respond to the prison Sunday night but then canceled.

The Department of Corrections sent Channel 9 an email about the fire.

"Food containers were piled up to be taken out to the trash,” DOC officials said in a statement. “Inmates lit pieces of paper on fire and threw them from their cells into the pile resulting in a small fire. It was quickly extinguished. No injuries resulted from this deliberate action by the inmates."

On April 15, seven inmates died during a riot at Lee prison. They were bludgeoned to death in a fight over gang turf.

Since then, inmate advocates said there has been a statewide lockdown. Prison officials did confirm an institutional lockdown to Channel 9, restricting privileges.

Teresa Bebeau is an advocate for prison inmates. She talks to them, gets letters from them and hears accounts of issues going on inside state penitentiaries.

"They've been locked down since April and the inmates in these other prisons feel like they're being punished for what happened at Lee prison. It had nothing to do with them," she said. "Some of them aren't getting showers for days or weeks. They are restricted to cells. It's driving them crazy."

State prison officials told Channel 9 that during an institution-wide lockdown, inmates must be escorted from their cells, and usually can shower every other day on a rotating basis.

However, advocates believe that's not happening in many cases.

They believe incidents like the fire at Kershaw will continue until changes are made and more people are hired to staff prisons.