Front-Line Heroes: Leo Portnoy ’06 Shares His Experience Fighting Covid-19 at a Correctional Facility

Front-Line Heroes: Leo Portnoy ’06 Shares His Experience Fighting Covid-19 at a Correctional Facility

Front-Line Heroes: Leo Portnoy ’06 Shares His Experience Fighting Covid-19 at a Correctional Facility

New York City is at the epicenter of the Covid-19 health crisis, and as a New York City-based College that educates students committed to public service, our alumni, students, faculty, and staff are working on the front lines to keep our communities safe. Our “Front-Line Heroes” article series serves as a testament to the valiant efforts of our first responders and essential workers. As a community we thank them for their service, dedication, and personal sacrifice.

Correctional facilities are some of the toughest places to practice Covid-19 mitigation strategies, but Leo Portnoy ’06 and his coworkers at the Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn (MDC Brooklyn) are working hard to combat the virus and maintain a safe environment. “I want people to understand that prison is a different atmosphere. We have an inmate population of 1,700 people who are all worried, anxious, and scared about a virus that is killing people,” says Portnoy, who works in Special Investigative Services for the Bureau of Prisons/Federal Prison System. “This type of emotion causes people to act out sometimes with violence.” Portnoy took time out of his busy day to share what it’s like conducting his job during a global health crisis.      

“We have an inmate population of 1,700 people who are all worried, anxious, and scared about a virus that is killing people. This type of emotion causes people to act out sometimes with violence.” —Leo Portnoy

Like anyone else, when Portnoy learned about the virus in early March, his first thoughts were his loved ones and his colleagues at MDC Brooklyn. “I was immediately worried about my grandfather and parents because of their advanced age. I just wanted to make sure no one in my family got infected. I was also really concerned about my co-workers who have to battle through this pandemic every day on the job,” says Portnoy. “Considering the job that I do, there’s always a possibility of exposure. But I’m thankful that the virus hasn’t had as much of a direct effect on my life as it has on others.”

“We began cleaning the entire institution early and probably prevented the spread from being as bad as it could have been.” —Leo Portnoy

A typical day for Portnoy involves lots of long hours, making sure the facility’s inmate population is getting everything they need to stay safe. “The virus in MDC Brooklyn has been handled very well by our administration. We began cleaning the entire institution early and probably prevented the spread from being as bad as it could have been,” says Portnoy.  “Compared to other facilities I think we are very fortunate. Luckily, my education from John Jay has helped me remain professional at all times, and communicate at the highest levels.”

“Everyone at MDC Brooklyn leaves their families every day, risking their lives, and are never recognized. They do this simply to keep the public safe.” —Leo Portnoy

When asked who he’s particularly proud of for the work they’re doing during this health crisis, Portnoy didn’t hesitate to name the Disturbance Control Team at MDC Brooklyn. “They show up to work six days a week, doing 12-hour shifts, and they respond to all types of emergencies,” says Portnoy. “These are the unspoken heroes that the public never sees. Everyone at MDC Brooklyn leaves their families every day, risking their lives, and are never recognized. They do this simply to keep the public safe.” For Portnoy, it’s the unity of his team that gives him hope for a brighter future, and the encouragement he needs to keep putting in the hours.