Hundreds dead. Thousands infected. Stories from the inside.

LISTEN

The COVID-19 crisis
in California prisons

Zoom in to navigate map

The COVID-19 crisis
in California prisons

COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in prisons across our communities. The largest outbreaks in the United States are occurring in these facilities, and widespread lockdowns and visitor prohibitions have cut off prisoners from most outside contact. Click the circles on the map to learn more about COVID-19 at each prison.

Featured Stories

04/21
See them trembling
LISTEN
0:00
0:00

See them trembling

HEAR THE FULL STORY

This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Valley State.

I’ll tell you my experiences that occurred because of COVID-19 in April of 2020. I have been with people who were sick with a very dangerous cold. I would see them trembling, as if they were cold, with diarrhea.

Others had liquids squirting out their nose. Constantly they would use up rolls of hygienic paper in less than half an hour.

I was afraid that the same would happen to me here. No one worries for anyone else, not even those who take care of us. They do not care. They just spend their time sitting and sleeping with their dark glasses.

You get in front of them and ask, “What do we do, there is someone sick in the dormitory?” And they respond, “What do you want me to do? I am not a doctor, I am an officer.”

The companions look at one another, then they separate you and put you in quarantine once or more. There is sometimes double quarantine.

The doctors here never prescribe medicine. Not even if you tell them that your head hurts, or that you have chills. They told me that there is no medicine, it does not exist yet and we have to wait.

For now, we are watching what is happening with this pandemic, of COVID-19. Everyday, I see that they move the sick inmates with the symptoms of COVID-19. But what happens is that they do not have experience. They mix them with those who are not sick.

Like me, who have not felt symptoms from this sickness and being with a lot of sick people.

The full story

Go Back

This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Valley State. Click the play button again to hear their full story.

Sorry for the writing. I hope you can understand me. Thank you.

Hello, I hope to God that you all find yourselves in good health, since those are the best wishes right after greeting you all.

I’ll tell you my experiences that occurred because of COVID-19 in April of 2020. I have been with people who were sick with a very dangerous cold. I would see them trembling, as if they were cold, with diarrhea.

Others had liquids squirting out their nose. Constantly they would use up rolls of hygienic paper in less than half an hour.

I was afraid that the same would happen to me here. No one worries for anyone else, not even those who take care of us. They do not care. They just spend their time sitting and sleeping with their dark glasses.

You get in front of them and ask, “What do we do, there is someone sick in the dormitory?” And they respond, “What do you want me to do? I am not a doctor, I am an officer.”

The companions look at one another, then they separate you and put you in quarantine once or more. There is sometimes double quarantine.

The doctors here never prescribe medicine. Not even if you tell them that your head hurts, or that you have chills. They told me that there is no medicine, it does not exist yet and we have to wait.

For now, we are watching what is happening with this pandemic, of COVID-19. Everyday, I see that they move the sick inmates with the symptoms of COVID-19. But what happens is that they do not have experience. They mix them with those who are not sick.

Like me, who have not felt symptoms from this sickness and being with a lot of sick people.

In January, I was with four people who were coughing and sneezing every minute. And the nurses knew that they were feeling bad and needed attention. I didn’t know what to do, only trying not to get too close to them, cover everything one uses; plates, spoons, cups, and even the clothes one wears daily.

I wash it daily with the liquid they give us to clean the floor.

I know that the material that one has differently every month. I bless it and thank God that I haven’t gotten sick. Because only that liquid is the one that they give us, we don’t have soap, not even the ones that are cheap. Even the masks they gave us are used.

What can one do, but wait for a miracle from the lord. Now this year, we have faith in the new president. Since I am catholic, I believe in God and the virgin of Guadalupe, I know that soon there will be a vaccine for everyone.

I will come out in the future, because the desperation is like we have COVID-19. The desperation of being incarcerated in a cold dark cell. Alone without seeing anyone, without knowing if your kids find themselves in good health.

I have been so close to hurting myself, only because it’s been months without knowing about my kids. There are days when I finish my quarantine, I have a chance to be able to talk on the phone with the lady that I have two daughters with.

03/20
Constant moving
LISTEN
0:00
0:00

Constant moving

HEAR THE FULL STORY

This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Valley State.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit our institution in early 2020, either during February or March, when we were given limited programming. School, vocation, religious services, self-help groups, and other programming here at the institution seized. Our recreational program was limited to two hours of yard, two hours of dayroom, and one 15-minute phone call per day.

And that aspect, I was satisfied with the institution’s response, because the inmate population was still given some programming, while still maintaining social distancing at its best. A situation where the population had to be on a 24-hour lock down throughout the pandemic would have been detrimental to me, and I’m sure many other’s mental health.

Every inmate was given a weekly COVID test. Limited programming continued for a couple of days while the test results came back. If an inmate was found to be positive for COVID-19, he and every other inmate in his cell, up to eight, were quarantined. Each person in the infected cell had to pack up his entire property and were forced to move to a different housing within the institution, one dedicated to the housing of those infected.

In my situation, I was tested for COVID-19 on Saturday, and continued programming until early Tuesday morning, around 2 am. I was awoken by myself by a correctional officer, who instructed me to pack my belongings and get ready to move. I frantically packed up all my property, and about an hour later was escorted to the gym, where 88 beds have been installed to house those infected. There was no social distancing in this place. Beds were much less than six feet apart from one another.

There were instances where inmates were sent to the gym because one of his cellmates tested positive for COVID-19, yet he himself had tested negative during the same period. If you did not have COVID-19 by the time he was escorting you to the gym, being housed in those conditions certainly would have infected him. After a 14-day quarantine, I was moved again. Rather than returning to my original cell, I was obligated to move to a completely different housing unit.

During the months leading up to my infection, which occurred in November, I was living in constant fear of being moved. I felt as if I was getting punished for getting COVID. A better alternative would have been for the institution to quarantine the infected cells and to bring the medical care to them, as opposed to moving the sick inmates to another housing. I’ve heard of instances where an inmate had to move as many as five times in a few months span.

Such protocols are very stressful, as it prevents him from having stability. It may try to stay on a constant alert as he’d have to pack everything up and move to a new environment at any given time. In addition, constant moving is not an effective way of preventing the spread of COVID. Keeping the sick quarantined in the original 14 days is a much better option. Which actually increases exposure of the sick with more inmates, officers, and staff.

Throughout the institution here there is dissatisfaction with the pandemic response. In my opinion, a lot of it seemed random and illogical though. I understand that the pandemic created a new set of problems across the globe, but some of the decisions and protocols by the institution regarding COVID-19 were inconvenient for inmates and did not serve to curb the spread of COVID-19.

I hope this is helpful and can contribute to positive prison reforms.

The full story

Go Back

This letter was written by a person incarcerated in Valley State. Click the play button again to hear their full story.

Hello PrisonPandemic team,

I am glad that you gotten in contact with me and giving me the opportunity to tell my story. I went ahead and shared this with a few inmates here at Valley State Prison, hoping they could add insight to what’s going on as well.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit our institution in early 2020, either during February or March, when we were given limited programming. School, vocation, religious services, self-help groups, and other programming here at the institution seized. Our recreational program was limited to two hours of yard, two hours of dayroom, and one 15-minute phone call per day.

And that aspect, I was satisfied with the institution’s response, because the inmate population was still given some programming, while still maintaining social distancing at its best. A situation where the population had to be on a 24-hour lock down throughout the pandemic would have been detrimental to me, and I’m sure many other’s mental health.

Every inmate was given a weekly COVID test. Limited programming continued for a couple of days while the test results came back. If an inmate was found to be positive for COVID-19, he and every other inmate in his cell, up to eight, were quarantined. Each person in the infected cell had to pack up his entire property and were forced to move to a different housing within the institution, one dedicated to the housing of those infected.

In my situation, I was tested for COVID-19 on Saturday, and continued programming until early Tuesday morning, around 2 am. I was awoken by myself by a correctional officer, who instructed me to pack my belongings and get ready to move. I frantically packed up all my property, and about an hour later was escorted to the gym, where 88 beds have been installed to house those infected. There was no social distancing in this place. Beds were much less than six feet apart from one another.

There were instances where inmates were sent to the gym because one of his cellmates tested positive for COVID-19, yet he himself had tested negative during the same period. If you did not have COVID-19 by the time he was escorting you to the gym, being housed in those conditions certainly would have infected him. After a 14-day quarantine, I was moved again. Rather than returning to my original cell, I was obligated to move to a completely different housing unit.

During the months leading up to my infection, which occurred in November, I was living in constant fear of being moved. I felt as if I was getting punished for getting COVID. A better alternative would have been for the institution to quarantine the infected cells and to bring the medical care to them, as opposed to moving the sick inmates to another housing. I’ve heard of instances where an inmate had to move as many as five times in a few months span.

Such protocols are very stressful, as it prevents him from having stability. It may try to stay on a constant alert as he’d have to pack everything up and move to a new environment at any given time. In addition, constant moving is not an effective way of preventing the spread of COVID. Keeping the sick quarantined in the original 14 days is a much better option. Which actually increases exposure of the sick with more inmates, officers, and staff.

Throughout the institution here there is dissatisfaction with the pandemic response. In my opinion, a lot of it seemed random and illogical though. I understand that the pandemic created a new set of problems across the globe, but some of the decisions and protocols by the institution regarding COVID-19 were inconvenient for inmates and did not serve to curb the spread of COVID-19.

I hope this is helpful and can contribute to positive prison reforms. If you have any questions or concerns, I’d be more than happy to respond to you at any time. I’ve got nothing but time. Have a great day you guys and stay safe.

03/21
So thick with lint
LISTEN
0:00
0:00

So thick with lint

HEAR THE FULL STORY

This story was told by a person incarcerated at CIW (California Institution for Women).

UCI: And you have access to water though?

Caller: Yeah, I wrote down the date in my little digital things. We have something called like JPay or something. So I wrote down the date there.

But as far as washing our clothes after, COVID we sat over there for two weeks almost dying and we were unable to wash our clothes. Although they had a washing machine available, we were unable to wash our blankets. We had to bring our contaminated blankets back to the same room that were never sprayed or cleaned or anything.

So the air, the air system, it was so thick with lint and garbage on the exhaust vents that I just scraped it and put it up. You know? And sent it somewhere but you know I’m saying?

These are the kind of conditions when they want to say, oh the women are being given bleach. We read one article where the warden was allegedly, the acting warden was allegedly telling people, you know the girls get bleach and they have access to bleach. We’ve never had bleach since I’ve been here. Okay not on delta facility so everything that’s being projected, like yeah it sounds good on paper, but it’s not living out.

UCI: Exactly.

Caller: You have the officers that are now taking it serious enough to wear their masks. They were wearing some kind of like little ski thing and it was real flimsy. So then when we see the special on Channel 18 and it showed all the different types of masks and the ones that really work. We were flabbergasted because in essence had, as soon as the 700 inmates broke out then they started issuing us every day masks of N95. So why weren’t we given out any?

UCI: Right, at the very beginning.

Caller: Some of us have high risk right, I’m already at a medium risk because I’m out here in Chowchilla with the cocci or whatever they call that thing, valley fever, and I’m a interested party for that, you know.

So when everything comes down, I have to combat that and COVID. You don’t wanna give me a mask or you don’t wanna give me SaniGuard. And that’s where the headaches lie. So now people are doubled up and tripled up in rooms, because now they’re doing a transporting thing in order for them to transport inmates to something called CTTRP, community something, training program or something. There are only living four in a room, so what made their lives any better than ours?

UCI: That’s crazy.

Caller: This is today.

UCI: That’s yeah I was gonna ask about you with the current COVID situation was over there right now.

Caller: Right and today and why they keep saying that, oh CDCR is regulating things that they’re doing early releases. These are the people that are being released, but now they’re living in a four bedroom cell and we’re cramped up and we still have to be here to catch it. You know?

UCI: Yeah.

Caller: If there’s 50 people, send them to the gym.

UCI: Mhm. So is that-

Caller: That’ll be their last stop.

UCI: ‘Cause I was gonna say this other there’s tents too or they’re sending over the gym.

Caller: No, we just have, we, they created an isolation unit, but only if you’re positive. So that means that any other living unit will be sequestered. Or, you know, except to the side where you you’re not going to interact with them. We’re not worried about the interacting, we’re worried about our program.

UCI: Oh, your prog-

Caller: How are they getting four people to a room when we’re squashed with eight?

The full story

Go Back

This story was told by a person incarcerated at CIW (California Institution for Women). Click the play button again to hear their full story.

UCI: Please give your testimony about any aspects you think are important for people to know about the the situation of the people incarcerated during COVID-19.

Caller: I think for the female population being incarcerated in the center of California, within the center of California, that we were originally given manmade face masks that they made out of the state issue, what we call state issue clothing, and it was originally made out of our oranges. We have something called oranges, which is like reception center, so it was basic cotton and polyester, and those are the original masks that we had since the beginning of March of last year until January of this year. Now when two- a doctor and a nurse came in and they were tested positive, within two days over 700 people tested positive, Okay?

UCI: Wow.

Caller: And that was based on us not having the proper protocol for procedure, protection, as far as preventive measures. Now, while the officers, yeah, while the officers are screaming six what is that? Six feet distancing, social distancing. They want to enforce that to send us back to our rooms and we weren’t coming out for seven days at a time, nine days at a time and we’re forced to live in there seven and eight deep.

Okay now today when, before we, before I contracted the virus I was begging for something called SaniGuard. I noticed that all the officers were using SaniGuard. So when I look at the difference between what they normally issue, which is Cellblock 64 versus the SaniGuard, I was able to see that the Cellblock 64 is a carcinogenic.

UCI: Oh wow.

Caller: Okay, so when we’re spraying it in our rooms, and that’s what they’re using to clean it with, they’re not doing it themselves. They’re using SaniGuard, which is food grade, which means that we can inhale it and we won’t die or anything or, you know, make situations worse or anything. So being that I’m a broncil-, I, what do they call it, bronchitis asthma? So that’s the kind of asthma that I have.

So the whole time that I was 602’ing, which is our griefing system, I was being told by the supervisors of- we have housing staff. Second, third, and first watch, and then we have supervisors for those housing staff members. And it’s from the housing staff is basic, which is like the floor people, the people that deal with this eight hours or eight hour shifts. Then we have their supervisor, which are the sergeants and lieutenants and then the captains and so on.

So on my, on this particular yard the sergeants were covering for their staff, for their subordinates, saying that they issue SaniGuard. All these different things, you know, that seem like that they were going by the book that they were enforcing this, they were enforcing that. They were saying that the signs were posted about social distancing here. Every time we walk out of our room to come out for anything there’s more than one person there, and we’re not six cubic feet away.

Our bedrooms are packed with more than six people. The rooms were created for four and I was here when it was created for four. So we’re on the max capacity with eight people in a room. And you’re gonna tell me that when we actually caught the COVID I was less than two feet away from the next person that had COVID.

UCI: Wow.

Caller: In the room that I was in, yes. In the room that I was in, there were people that were 14 days clear still living there with us when we came in.

Okay, so as far as everything happening. The food portions because staff had to feed us on paper trays and things like that. We were given one ounce of potatoes instead of the four standard ounces and on one particular, on one particular day I wrote it down and showed our AVS system, which is our camera system, that instead of the normal so many ounces of food I got like one ounce of everything.

UCI: Terrible.

Caller: So how do you keep your body up to standards when you can’t be fed the right food.

UCI: And you have access to water though?

Caller: Yeah, I wrote down the date in my little digital things. We have something called like JPay or something. So I wrote down the date there.

But as far as washing our clothes after, COVID we sat over there for two weeks almost dying and we were unable to wash our clothes. Although they had a washing machine available, we were unable to wash our blankets. We had to bring our contaminated blankets back to the same room that were never sprayed or cleaned or anything.

So the air, the air system, it was so thick with lint and garbage on the exhaust vents that I just scraped it and put it up. You know? And sent it somewhere but you know I’m saying?

These are the kind of conditions when they want to say, oh the women are being given bleach. We read one article where the warden was allegedly, the acting warden was allegedly telling people, you know the girls get bleach and they have access to bleach. We’ve never had bleach since I’ve been here. Okay not on delta facility so everything that’s being projected, like yeah it sounds good on paper, but it’s not living out.

UCI: Exactly.

Caller: You have the officers that are now taking it serious enough to wear their masks. They were wearing some kind of like little ski thing and it was real flimsy. So then when we see the special on Channel 18 and it showed all the different types of masks and the ones that really work. We were flabbergasted because in essence had, as soon as the 700 inmates broke out then they started issuing us every day masks of N95. So why weren’t we given out any?

UCI: Right, at the very beginning.

Caller: Some of us have high risk right, I’m already at a medium risk because I’m out here in Chowchilla with the cocci or whatever they call that thing, valley fever, and I’m a interested party for that, you know.

So when everything comes down, I have to combat that and COVID. You don’t wanna give me a mask or you don’t wanna give me SaniGuard. And that’s where the headaches lie. So now people are doubled up and tripled up in rooms, because now they’re doing a transporting thing in order for them to transport inmates to something called CTTRP, community something, training program or something. There are only living four in a room, so what made their lives any better than ours?

UCI: That’s crazy.

Caller: This is today.

UCI: That’s yeah I was gonna ask about you with the current COVID situation was over there right now.

Caller: Right and today and why they keep saying that, oh CDCR is regulating things that they’re doing early releases. These are the people that are being released, but now they’re living in a four bedroom cell and we’re cramped up and we still have to be here to catch it. You know?

UCI: Yeah.

Caller: If there’s 50 people, send them to the gym.

UCI: Mhm. So is that-

Caller: That’ll be their last stop.

UCI: ‘Cause I was gonna say this other there’s tents too or they’re sending over the gym.

Caller: No, we just have, we, they created an isolation unit, but only if you’re positive. So that means that any other living unit will be sequestered. Or, you know, except to the side where you you’re not going to interact with them. We’re not worried about the interacting, we’re worried about our program.

UCI: Oh, your prog-

Caller: How are they getting four people to a room when we’re squashed with eight?

UCI: Have you had access to any medicine at all?

Caller: Yeah, they just brought the Moderna. I just got vaccinated the first part of it. I believe it was Saturday. Yeah, so you know, I’m saying Moderna whatever and I was, I’m in the medium risk so they said the high risk people were first, medium risk, and low risk and no risk and that they would go down like that.

But it still comes back to what about the preventive measures? And now when they have all these jobs that are available and then where they can create cleaning crews per building that are not porters that come out and they clean the walls, they clean the seat every time somebody uses a telephone. They haven’t even thought that far. And this is reality for us in here, so we’re now we’re not even given that.

Yeah, we’re not even given the new masks anymore. They want us to go back to the cloth masks, which I’m deathly afraid of. If I had 12 out of the 13 symptoms, the only thing I didn’t contract was the vomiting and the diarrhea and that’s because I didn’t have nothing on my stomach, all I could do was drink liquid.

UCI: Well, so but for the people that when the people did have like whoever contracted COVID, were, did you have access to medicine for that?

Caller: No, they offered us Tylenol.

UCI: Okay.

Caller: And I can’t take Tylenol ’cause it’s the blood thinner and I was like I was gonna be fitted for a pacemaker. So all of my medical issues were out there, and then when, when the vitals would come by and they want to say oh well, we’re giving vitals every day. Yeah, we’re giving vital. Most of the nurses were mean, ugly, and rude.

Meaning that their attitudes and their demeanors were mean, ugly, and rude. And this is what they were doing, so they never asked caringly. Hey, are you okay? Are you okay? How do you feel today?

They were like what is your number? What’s your this? Well just go back in the room then, I’m just gonna extend you. You know it was. Everything was about punishment we’re already being punished we’re damn near dying in prison.

UCI: Exactly.

Caller: How much more punishment can we get? You know?

UCI: And plus visitation too.

Caller: For myself. For visitation, they just, they stopped that maybe about I want to say about six months back, but now they want you to wear a mask to go to visiting, to sit there with your family while you’re wearing a mask. So you can sit in a booth and talk on a video chat. Yeah.

UCI: That’s crazy.

Caller: That’s through. The Education Department in here is like twice, each building goes once. Once the number comes up like if you live in 15, then you go on the whatever date. Then when you live in another building then you’ll go on another day from there as well. But this month it’s twice.

It is twice a- twice this month to go to school instead of running it for the whole of whatever and it’s D yard, it’s C yard, it’s B yard. They’re doing it one day at a time, and all this crazy stuff, but everything it still comes back to the inmate is suffering.

The bottom line here is we don’t get fresh air on a regular basis, our schedules and allotted times are from 9:30 in the morning until 10:30, we never get out for that. From 11 until 12 you might get out for that. They won’t do that because at 12:00 o’clock it’s noon. So you’re supposed to get meds at that time, so why should we let you out when we just have to run meds.

So it’s a lot of, you know, everything looks good on paper here, but it’s not being applied. You know and I did myself and another person filed a lawsuit regarding this, so we’re already in the 5th.

UCI: That’s yeah, that’s what we’ve been hearing too.

Caller: There are precedents- yeah.

UCI: I’ve got a couple other questions for you.

Caller: Uh huh.

UCI: So starting from the very beginning of the pandemic, would you say, so month by month, I mean, I know it’s kind of hard to think back it in ’cause I’m sure so much has happened since then, but starting from the very beginning. Say like last March through, through the month and through the summer and then through the winter time and the spike that happened.

How was the situation at your facility like? Nobody paid attention to it? Nobody took it seriously at first and then they started taking it seriously once-

Caller: At first the officers were laughing and joking ’cause we’re swearing if they had it before, which a lot of us, even the inmates, believe that we did because prior to March. We had that November thing that the United States was recognizing as a flu, a different kind of flu, and that’s what they advertise it as. And so when I was deathly ill then, it was told to me that I just had, oh, it’s the flu symptom, not, you know, they haven’t given it the COVID-19 name.

So then I went on and I recuperated four months later, I came up on March and that’s when they slammed the whole prison and we stayed slammed for a long time.

But the officers, when they originally started out giving them temperature checks and things like that, they stopped that at the gate. So after like, 60 days, 90 days and they stopped doing it. Then it was, oh well, you test if you feel like. Well if they don’t have, if they’re a systematic, then, asymptomatic, how are they going to know to test? You get it?

UCI: Yep, and then as far as-

Caller: Go ahead.

UCI: I’m sorry go ahead.

Caller: No, go ahead.

UCI: I was gonna ask so they weren’t taking it seriously. They stopped doing the temperature checks. You know they stopped paying attention to it and then?

Caller: Right. They stopped them. They stopped them coming in at the gate from doing temperature checks where they were down to like once a month, random or something like that. But even from there, their whole sadness is, you have a lot of decent officers that work here that work hard.

They’re trying to give you, trying to give us our state issue. And they’re bombarded with doing the work of somebody else, because guess what? That person didn’t show up, so if you have a grumpy officer then this what the kind of quality that you get?

You know my dilemma was simple. Because the housing units that I was in, the officers we’re in some kind of like semi romantic relationship. So they didn’t want to open the day room, which is where you use the telephone, which is where you get on the kiosks, which is where you walk around, outside of your cell activity.

And they didn’t want to separate themselves long enough to let us get out, so I’ve been through a living hell. I’ve been nine days locked in my room straight without a break in here. That’s not even counting outside, outside with fresh air because all food was brought to us on trays, you know.

But anyway, I don’t know when or where I’ll able to call back maybe tomorrow or something. And it’s seven now, so maybe I’ll just try around this time and we can finish any other questions that you have okay?

UCI: Fantastic thank you so much and tell your friends if you can.

Caller: All right.

UCI: Thank you, I appreciate your time.

Caller: Have a nice day.

UCI: You as well. I appreciate your time.

02/21
Stayed in my chest
LISTEN
0:00
0:00

Stayed in my chest

HEAR THE FULL STORY

This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Valley State.

Back in March of 2020 I became ill with flu like symptoms and was put in quarantine with another inmate also with symptoms of his own. We received daily vitals checks and medication twice a day for seven days then returned to normal housing. After about a month I continued to have pressure on my chest, was seen by medical staff on three different occasions with no results found. I had asked if I should be tested for COVID-19 but was told it was a flu.

I have never had a flu that stayed in my chest for so long duration before in my life, was told back in the August medical visit I would have follow up that has not happened to this day. The whole basis for me writing attorneys is this. The quarantines in earnest started in September for me as well as the whole prison.

In my dorm low at that time had three inmates working in optical where they were in contact with free-staff all day and were told they had been closed down for a week because a free staff tested positive. This became the norm. Every time someone tested positive we went on quarantine. And it may seem like an accident that CDCR started moving inmates in and out of dorms, buildings, and yard right after the government passed the expedited early release program related to COVID-19 after myself and I am sure many others who had real concerns as I do.

But as always CDCR always finds a way to make a law not apply, how! Give everyone COVID by moving inmates returning from testing positive into dorms where everyone has been testing negative, working to perfection. Here we are doing everything in our control to be safe only to have CDCR bring it into your housing.

Example, I had over a dozen negative tests since they started testing for COVID only to have them move two inmates into our dorm while we’re on quarantine. Both arrived complaining of still not having taste or sense of smell, and within a few days of arriving one began to have symptoms, fever, and chills but would avoid the daily temperature checks. Within a week two more had fevers, by that time it was too late.

We were tested on December with four positives and moved to the COVID-19 yard until coming back to C yard on January 2021. We were put on quarantine on November and didn’t come off until aforementioned date. 51 straight days on quarantine, with two phone calls and two days of yard in that span of 51 days.

The full story

Go Back

This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Valley State. Click the play button again to hear their full story.

Hello Mr.,

And thank you for writing me. I’ve been trying to share my experience with multiple attorneys who might be willing to help me, but as yet to receive a response?

Back in March of 2020 I became ill with flu like symptoms and was put in quarantine with another inmate also with symptoms of his own. We received daily vitals checks and medication twice a day for seven days then returned to normal housing. After about a month I continued to have pressure on my chest, was seen by medical staff on three different occasions with no results found. I had asked if I should be tested for COVID-19 but was told it was a flu.

I have never had a flu that stayed in my chest for so long duration before in my life, was told back in the August medical visit I would have follow up that has not happened to this day. The whole basis for me writing attorneys is this. The quarantines in earnest started in September for me as well as the whole prison.

In my dorm low at that time had three inmates working in optical where they were in contact with free-staff all day and were told they had been closed down for a week because a free staff tested positive. This became the norm. Every time someone tested positive we went on quarantine. And it may seem like an accident that CDCR started moving inmates in and out of dorms, buildings, and yard right after the government passed the expedited early release program related to COVID-19 after myself and I am sure many others who had real concerns as I do.

But as always CDCR always finds a way to make a law not apply, how! Give everyone COVID by moving inmates returning from testing positive into dorms where everyone has been testing negative, working to perfection. Here we are doing everything in our control to be safe only to have CDCR bring it into your housing.

Example, I had over a dozen negative tests since they started testing for COVID only to have them move two inmates into our dorm while we’re on quarantine. Both arrived complaining of still not having taste or sense of smell, and within a few days of arriving one began to have symptoms, fever, and chills but would avoid the daily temperature checks. Within a week two more had fevers, by that time it was too late.

We were tested on December with four positives and moved to the COVID-19 yard until coming back to C yard on January 2021. We were put on quarantine on November and didn’t come off until aforementioned date. 51 straight days on quarantine, with two phone calls and two days of yard in that span of 51 days.

With a mother coming up on 101 years old in March, God willing it was very stressful not knowing if I would ever get to talk to her again. Not knowing how your family is doing out there in this pandemic, not knowing if I got sick really bad, how would I reach my family.

This place of having to deal with COs and their mood swings, inmates who harbor so much hate towards everyone, the thought of getting sick and possibly dying is a real concern at my age.

I was given the highest assessment score for the expedited early release program, of six points because of my age 67, high risk medical, and pre-existing medical conditions. But what good does that do me now that I’ve tested positive? While I was on quarantine in my paperwork clearly stated to be isolated for 14 days but had sick inmates move in and out until they move me to a dorm full of sick inmates until I was returned to C yard.

Mr. I hope this is not too long and you can read my writing and I thank you for reaching out to me and will forward this info for others. God bless you and loved ones.

PS, I have dates and can get names if needed? Please let me know if I can be of more help. I will keep you and your loved ones in my prayers and remain safe, COVID free.

Thank you for your time.

03/21
Aware of the danger
LISTEN
0:00
0:00

Aware of the danger

HEAR THE FULL STORY

This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Pleasant Valley.

Around January, 2020, the news had finally reached the institution concerning the COVID-19 virus. Many people didn’t take it seriously but after people started realizing it was real, people started being more cautious.

I realized the severity of the pandemic right away because I had valley fever. In 2014 I coughed up blood because of it and I was hospitalized for three weeks and a half. And for this reason I was well aware of the danger.

The protocols in place were so bad that we went from no cases, to nearly two-thirds of the population being infected. The people in charge decided to isolate anyone who came in contact with someone who’d been positive for COVID. And it sounded good but they failed to follow through with their own policies. For instance, contact tracing was flawed because if someone had contact with a staff that tested positive, they would move the individual to a so called, “COVID block” but leave his celly.

Then some people ended up not having the virus and were forced to move in with someone that did, and they ended up getting it. It was a complete failure all the way around.

Another example is, someone had tested positive in the morning but they still let him out and ran yard, dayroom, business as usual and then the next day, they locked us down because that person was positive. It made no sense at all. Before you knew it, they started moving people around to and from the COVID blocks and that’s when it got out of control. It became clear to me and everyone, that they wanted to achieve herd immunity.

We couldn’t believe what was going on.

Finally, the majority of the people were infected. There were about 30 to 40 people in my block that didn’t get sick. But for the most part it was everywhere.

Luckily for me and my celly, we didn’t get it. I took extra precautions and quarantined myself. And I did that because I knew the prison had no clue how to deal with the pandemic.

If they would’ve listened to us when we expressed concern about moving people around, it wouldn’t have been out of control. If you were to investigate this prison and pay attention to all the moves that they did, it’ll show you that it was at that precise moment the virus spread.

The full story

Go Back

This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Pleasant Valley. Click the play button again to hear their full story.

First and foremost I want to introduce myself. I’m 42 and have been incarcerated for 24 years. At an early age I was in an unfortunate situation in which my life was in danger. As a result I killed someone in self-defense.

Obviously, the jury did not believe my account. I was sentenced to death by incarceration and without any chance of parole or rehabilitation. In regards to the pandemic and the stories you’re interested in, well I can surely help you.

Before we start, I’d like to say thank you and your staff members for taking the time in hearing my story along with the rest of the inmate population. Honestly, I didn’t think my life mattered.

The pandemic is by far one of the worst experiences humanity has faced. I truly hope everyone of your staff and friends, oh and family, have made it through. It’s a terrible feeling to lose a loved one and if anyone did suffer such, my condolences and prayers go out to everyone.

Fortunately, my family suffered no tragedy and my friends, well I have none. Mostly, the majority of my friends no longer see me as a human because I dropped out of my gang and chose to ask for help in changing my life.

There is only one way to express my predicament without getting into details that are extremely difficult for me to talk about. Imagine your life the way it is today and the way it’s been the past 21 years, now imagine everyday you went about your business with a vest on, filled with explosives.

Every morning was like getting up, putting this vest on, and knowing someone had the detonator. And I had to walk around wearing this vest, living my life on edge because it was only a matter of time before its activated. I dealt with this for 21 years. Around January, 2020, the news had finally reached the institution concerning the COVID-19 virus. Many people didn’t take it seriously but after people started realizing it was real, people started being more cautious.

I realized the severity of the pandemic right away because I had valley fever. In 2014 I coughed up blood because of it and I was hospitalized for three weeks and a half. And for this reason I was well aware of the danger.

The protocols in place were so bad that we went from no cases, to nearly two-thirds of the population being infected. The people in charge decided to isolate anyone who came in contact with someone who’d been positive for COVID. And it sounded good but they failed to follow through with their own policies. For instance, contact tracing was flawed because if someone had contact with a staff that tested positive, they would move the individual to a so called, “COVID block” but leave his celly.

Then some people ended up not having the virus and were forced to move in with someone that did, and they ended up getting it. It was a complete failure all the way around.

Another example is, someone had tested positive in the morning but they still let him out and ran yard, dayroom, business as usual and then the next day, they locked us down because that person was positive. It made no sense at all. Before you knew it, they started moving people around to and from the COVID blocks and that’s when it got out of control. It became clear to me and everyone, that they wanted to achieve herd immunity.

We couldn’t believe what was going on.

Finally, the majority of the people were infected. There were about 30 to 40 people in my block that didn’t get sick. But for the most part it was everywhere.

Luckily for me and my celly, we didn’t get it. I took extra precautions and quarantined myself. And I did that because I knew the prison had no clue how to deal with the pandemic.

If they would’ve listened to us when we expressed concern about moving people around, it wouldn’t have been out of control. If you were to investigate this prison and pay attention to all the moves that they did, it’ll show you that it was at that precise moment the virus spread.

When they took our visits, my mom was planning to come to see me from Mexico. But, when the pandemic hit, that plan had fallen through and was no longer possible. I’ve met my mother only three times in my life.

When I was 10 my mom passed away. Or so I thought, at the age of 17, my godmother pulled me to the side and asked if I knew the truth about my mom? I replied, “no.”

She said, “Well, your mom is alive and your dad is in Missouri and you have brothers and sisters. Your mom and siblings are in Mexico.” And I just couldn’t believe it. All this time I thought I was the only child and experienced the loss of my mother and it wasn’t so.

Shortly after, I was arrested.

Before I found my mom and siblings I was at a point in my life where I felt hopeless and tired. I always had an obligation to the structure of prison life which expected me to do anything at anytime. Usually it meant getting in serious trouble, trouble I just couldn’t afford to get into.

And for the most part, in 24 years, I have two serious 115’s (write up misconducts). Which is amazing really but the presence of my mom changed my perspective on everything and really saved my life. In 2018, the day had come, the vest that I’ve been carrying for 21 years was activated. A red light was blinking and it was only through the grace and mercy of God that I was able to see it flashing and feel it.

I was asked to pass a piece of contraband, and as soon as I touched it, I felt a strong sense of danger. I knew in my heart this is it, the detonator. My obligation was to go to the yard and be brutally stabbed to death. That is what was expected of me by my own friends.

I survived but it took a devastating toll on my mental health. By 2021, I was barely starting to get a little better but then the pandemic hit and I was regressing. Not being able to see my mom devastated my morale and I became worried she or my family would get sick.

The only thing that helped me was college kept me busy. I am a student of college, I have a 4.0 GPA and I am a good person. I made mistakes and I am truly sorry. It is people like you that make me feel human and I appreciate you all.

Sincerely,

PS. I asked my mom what happened, how we were separated? And she said my aunt, rip, stole me. She was at work and came home and I was gone. I was about three years old.

My aunt was my mom’s sister and I thought she was my mom. She couldn’t have kids. They used to tell me I was the only child she had but as I grew older something didn’t make sense.

There have been at least

51,064

reported cases of COVID-19
in California prisons.

Share These Stories
Shine a light on this crisis and share these stories with your network today!

Have a story to share?

EMAIL US