CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — The family, friends and coworkers of an ACI correctional officer who died about a month after contracting COVID-19 are mourning his loss and remembering him as a dedicated family man and tenacious officer.
Richard Ferruccio, president of the R.I. Brotherhood of Correctional Officers, said Lt. Russell Freeman was a colleague and a good friend.
“He was a genuinely nice guy,” Ferruccio said. “I know he was on a ventilator and just couldn’t breathe. It was 100% COVID-19. It’s a horrible loss.”
Department of Corrections Director Patricia Coyne-Fague confirmed Freeman died “from complications of COVID-19.”
“This is a terrible loss for the Department,” Coyne-Fague said. “He served with distinction, garnering an excellent reputation among law enforcement for his tenacity and professionalism.”
Freeman’s wife, who is a correctional officer in medium security, has the disease as well but “seems to be on the mend,” according to Ferruccio.
Ferruccio said Russell Freeman started at the ACI in 1991 and had worked in the facility’s Special Investigations Unit for several years, but his most recent assignment was in the women’s facility.
Stone and Ingrid Freeman were only able to talk to their dad over zoom with the help of nurses.
“It can happen to anybody, and it happened to our dad,” Stone said. “He was always shooting hoops with us, always hitting ground balls to us. He was a coach, he was a mentor, he was a friend.”
“They held his hand while we couldn’t,” Ingrid added.
In a Facebook post, Stone said his father “lived life with zero regrets.”
“He was larger than life. He never lost the 6-year-old inside of him. He was a beam of light in a dark world, the shoulder you needed to cry on and was always there to put a smile on your face,” Stone Freeman wrote. “We are so blessed and grateful that we got to share our Dad with all of you.”
Freeman is one of about 120 ACI employees who have contracted the virus, Ferruccio said.
“This has hit us very hard,” he said.
Coyne-Fague said the Department of Corrections has created a COVID-19 vaccine team to educate department employees about the vaccine and work on logistics and administration of the vaccine.
According to Coyne-Fague, the group will include employees from the RIDOC Ins/Ops, Rehabilitative Services, and Administrative divisions, and the correctional officers’ union has been invited to join.
“We can — and we will — get through this together,” Coyne-Fague said.