Avenal

AVENAL STATE PRISON IS LOCATED IN AVENAL, CA,
HOUSING 4,204 PEOPLE.

Since March 2020, there have been 3,108 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 8 deaths, at this facility.

Stories from Avenal

11/20
A lot of stress
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A lot of stress

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This story was told by a person incarcerated at Avenal.

UCI: Right. And how have you been coping with the crisis so far?

Caller: Well, now it just feels like it’s the new norm, honestly, but it – it’s – it’s tough. It takes a toll on you. It’s a lot of stress.

We’re limit – before we’d be able to be outside from 8:00 to 9:00 at night – from 8:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night. Now we’re getting an hour and a half of yard a day, if that, because if a new test positive – if someone tests positive, then they cancel the yard. It’s – it’s a – people moving in and out the buildings, it’s – it’s, you know, it has affected me.

And I don’t even know how to deal with it anymore but just hope, you know, the virus doesn’t come back and get it a second time.

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Caller: Well, it’s been out of control, honestly. Like there’s so many people that are just – well, there’s no social distancing here whatsoever.

We’re in a dorm setup and they expect us to – for us to be safe and make everyone else safe and be considerate of others. There is no possible way to social distance in here. Like our beds are three feet apart. We use the same restrooms. We use the same phones. You know, everything we – we have in here, we have to all use right after one another and there’s no possible way of preventing yourself from getting the virus.

And there’s been several people here that have been – have – that have been diagnosed with the virus.


UCI: Mm-hmm.

Caller: More than, I think, 80 percent of the prison has tested positive, and it’s just – it’s not stopping. It’s just people are still testing positive. It’s not under control. Nothing seems to be working.

UCI: And what is – like what is troubling you or concerning about the situation to you?

Caller: I feel like the – I feel like officers aren’t being considerate of the inmates. They have a lot more better medical attention than we do. I feel like officers come in here without their masks on, they go home every day. There – there’s no possible way of us bringing it in because we do not leave. So with that being the – the officers go home every night or – or in the daytime, what – and they bring it into us.

So them getting their tests only once a week, the day after they test, they could just bring it right back in the very next day; you know? So I don’t know how – how they, you know, this is – that’s why it’s out of control is because the officers have – are bringing it in. I don’t know how to – what else to say about that.

UCI: And, so – What would you – what would make the situation at your facility better?

Caller: Cutting down the population in here; you know? Like getting rid of people that are close to going home. Just, you know, most of us have – I myself am going home in days, so –

UCI: Oh, wow.

Caller: – to make me just fin out – finish out my sentence is crazy whenever there’s people that are – done the whole sentence, have no write-ups, you know, have been on good behavior, I feel like they should be considerate and move them out to make it more social distancing in here; you know? The less numbers, the, you know, the more you can keep six feet away from each other. You know, maybe they can maintain it a little bit better, more medical attention for the ones that are going to need it.

I – you know, I feel like that’s maybe one thing that they can do to – to help out. Cells would be – if we had cells that – that would be a lot better also, but we’re not able to – this is a dorm setup. When you come to a level one or level two prison, that’s the beds of it. So when something like this happens, we cannot be in our cell and locked down and be away from others until we get rid of it. Right here, there’s – in my – inside my dorm, there’s six bunks.

So there’s – there’s normally 12 people in there. Two racks they emptied out to try to social distance, but so there’s two – there’s three people that sleep within two feet away from me; okay? So I don’t understand, like, and also, two of us tested positive and the two that tested negative never got moved out. They put them right back in the same dorm with us. So I don’t understand.

Like, I feel that they’re at risk because I myself tested positive, but the ones that didn’t test positive, why would – I don’t understand why they would put them right back in the same dorm two feet away from us and put them at risk of getting it.

UCI: How was COVID-19 handled by your facility at the beginning of the outbreak?

Caller: Very poorly. Like I said, it – it went from yard – there’s six yards here. It went from yard to yard to yard to yard, and I think our yard was the hit hardest and – and first.

I know a guy here that, you know, that was a kitchen worker that he was a lifer himself and he couldn’t risk getting a write-up, and he had tested negative, but they – he had to still go to work knowing that there was positive people and – and the risk of getting it, the virus, but they – he had to go to work still to not get a write-up because he’s trying to go home to his family, and he ended up dying.

You know, he ended up passing away getting the virus, you know, and now his – his family’s, you know, suffering because of it because he was trying to go home to his family and they still made him go to work.

UCI: Is it being handled differently now?

Caller: Not really so much differently.

I feel like they’re – they – they’re letting PIA work because I feel like it benefits the prison because they make millions of dollars a year off – off PIA here, but they aren’t – aren’t letting vocations run, so – which is education. They’re not letting that run, but I feel – because they’re getting paid a – for vocations no matter what. But the PIA, if PIA isn’t running, which is the – the business they have running in our yard, then they don’t get money.

They’re – you know, they’re lost – lost out on all – millions of dollars a year. So I don’t know why they would let free staff come in and out and be around our inmates, which inmates can bring it back to the – to the building to 250 people in each building.

UCI: Mm-hmm. If possible, could you tell us about – could you tell us month-by-month how the situation has changed at your facility?

Caller: At first it was no yard. We would – we’re in our racks in dorms. They give us – they do give us masks and stuff, but, you know, like I said, the cops – the cops got tired of wearing them, the inmates got tired of wearing these masks, you know, because it feels like it’s not going to stop it anyways here.

We’re in a building with recycled air. It’s not like we have windows open; you know? It’s – it’s a prison. We’re not supposed to have windows open; you know? They’re supposed to be secure and safe from people escaping, so it’s like a – it’s like a sealed box; you know? How is the virus supposed to escape if we’re in a sealed box? You know, prison is no place for a pandemic; you know? And I feel that a lot of people are doing good trying to go home, and if they see people programming and been down 25 years and 60 years old, barely, you know, only a couple years left of their life, I feel like they should release them.

Why would you make them sit in a box and that’s pretty much like a death penalty; you know?

UCI: And how has COVID-19 situation at your facility affected your loved ones?

Caller: It’s – it’s affected them really – I mean, this whole last – I haven’t seen my kids and my wife for – since November of last year.

So about a year now I have not seen them. You know, my kids are suffering. You know, they want to see their dad. My mom, I’ve lost family members since this pandemic has started. Haven’t got to see them. And, you know, it – it’s rough for us, too; you know? We’re on good behavior, we’re trying to do whatever we can to go home to our families and we can’t even see them; you know?

No virtual – like it would be nice if we could see them virtually even like, you know, on a Skype or like a FaceTime or something that they could provide for us to do that to say hello to our kids and stuff. Like I feel that my kids maybe even feel like I abandoned them because, you know, they – they’re – how am I going to explain to the 5- and 6-year-old that they can’t see me? When they ask to see me, how can – that’s not right to tell your kids that they – that they can’t.

You know?

UCI: Mm-hmm.

Caller: They’re probably like, well, why can’t I see my dad; you know?

UCI: And what has it been like for you to have reduced visitations and programming? I know you’ve told me a little bit about the programs and stuff, but, you know, how – how has that been like for you?

Caller: It’s – it’s been a struggle.

Like I said, it hasn’t been as bad for me. I feel because like I said, I’m – I go home soon. I go home in about a week. So I feel that it’s not as bad for me, but some people that live very far from their families aren’t going home for several years, it takes a bigger toll on them. But I know it’s for a good reason to try to keep it out as much as possible, but it’s not going to stay out as long as the – I feel like the officers and free staff and nurses, they have to go in and out of this prison every day.

So that’s not going to keep it out. Not giving us visits.

UCI: Right. And how have you been coping with the crisis so far?

Caller: Well, now it just feels like it’s the new norm, honestly, but it – it’s – it’s tough. It takes a toll on you. It’s a lot of stress.

We’re limit – before we’d be able to be outside from 8:00 to 9:00 at night – from 8:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night. Now we’re getting an hour and a half of yard a day, if that, because if a new test positive – if someone tests positive, then they cancel the yard. It’s – it’s a – people moving in and out the buildings, it’s – it’s, you know, it has affected me.

And I don’t even know how to deal with it anymore but just hope, you know, the virus doesn’t come back and get it a second time.

UCI: Mm-hmm. And what else is there that you want to give in your testimony? Something that –

– that maybe you might want to say in the next couple of seconds or, you know –

Caller: I think that’s pretty much it.

UCI: Okay. Well, the time is now 6:36. I want to thank you very much for participating in PrisonPandemic. I want you to just remain calm and remain safe. You’re going home soon. And just keep yourself and everyone else around you safe and healthy. And I wish you the best of luck; okay?

Caller: All right. Thank you very much.

UCI: Thank you. I’m ending this call and this recording. Thank you.

Caller: All right. Thank you.

10/20
Can’t contain it in here
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Can’t contain it in here

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UCI: What do you think is irrational about the authority that you’ve noticed in regards to their response to the virus?

Caller: The most irrational was when our building was 90% of the population was positive, and they brought people, they brought 12 people from another yard into our building and we talked to them and we were like, “Hey are you positive too?” and they were like, “No, we’re negative.”

So why did they bring a bunch of negative people into a building that’s almost entirely positives? And then someone like me who just like wearing masks, well I get it they enforce it more around the medical staff to put up a front but when we go into the chow hall we sit tables you know, tables are pretty close to one another and you have to take your mask off there, they’re trying to rush you.

The tables being sanitized while in between feedings, so that table’s like a shared surface with whoever ate there before you. There’s things there that just don’t, you know.

And then like at night you don’t sleep with a mask on so the air that you’re breathing in your dorm, you don’t have a mask on at night and you have a bunkie that’s less than six feet above you, and he’s eating at whatever table, so I mean there, it’s, you can’t contain it in here. You know the best containment that they could possibly do is the separation between us and staff.

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Caller: Uh okay, in March they started the COVID restriction, and being in here I wasn’t wearing a mask. They wouldn’t let me wear a mask.

They would call people by name and say that I can’t have a mask on because it’s, it would be harder for them to identify me. And in our building, like 90% of our building tested positive for COVID. To me, they uh try to dissuade you or get you to where you don’t want to test by, if you go to the dentist or if you need to go to the dentist they give you a quick test. And over half the people that test come up positive and each time you come up positive you have to hold an entire dorm to quarantine.

Um… dorms are overcrowded, you have eight people per dorm, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but your bunk beds, and then when you go to chow you, you know you’re sitting at a table with the four people. And then your bunkies sitin’ at a table with four people, and they’re always without a mask and there’s no kind of way, there’s no way to kinda get your own personal space.

Um some of the medical staff have real negative attitudes and they kind of voice their negative attitudes around the inmates, which kind of creates a negative environment for the inmates in trusting the medical staff. So uh… basically it’s uh… kinda a scary environment.

UCI: Okay, so what’s the current COVID situation at your facility?

Caller: In my building, they have, they had one dorm quarantine, where they took them and when they test positive they grab the, they roll up the whole dorm, they send them to like a lock-up unit.

They’re gone 14 days, and then that one came back, another guy went and from my understanding they swooped on him. In our yard, there’s like I believe there’s four dorms and all the buildings that are in quarantine, and those are people having to go to dentist.

We tested back in May and there was like 90% of the building, this building came up positive but we haven’t, as a building, we haven’t did a complete test since. And with the amount of people that are coming up positive just to go to medical, there’s probably, I would assume 30 or 40% of the people that have it still.

UCI: So what is troubling or concerning to you, specifically about your situation?

Caller: Well the uh, I’ve had it at least twice because I went through the headaches at least twice. Long-term, I don’t know what’s gonna happen because they don’t have no evidence of how this is going to play out over the long-term.

Are we going to keep getting the COVID until it evolves into something that becomes a little more hazardous for our health, our problems?

Um, you know, problems with the mind because… sometimes I think that getting it, when you have it, sometimes I’m wondering like man if I have a long-term effect or something so there’s a lot of people that think like that. But there’s an [unintelligible] that try to do their time and they don’t want to be uprooted.

You have to roll up your stuff and go to the lock-up unit for quarantine for 14 days when they believe like the whole building, they should test the whole building all at one time, and see where everybody’s at. They need to bring down the population.

UCI: So how was COVID handled at your facility at the beginning of the outbreak?

Caller: Very poorly. It was hard to be able to wear a mask. And it was uh, they harassed you, they didn’t, the staff didn’t wear a mask. It was um, you know as quick as we wanted to be able to wear a mask, they weren’t letting us wear them, it wasn’t until like a whole building tested positive, that they took it more seriously.

UCI: Are they saying that because of identification purposes?

Caller: Can’t hear.

UCI: Are they saying you can’t wear it for identification purposes?

Caller: That’s what they were saying in the beginning, and it was really ironic because they called me over by name, and told me that I couldn’t wear a face covering because they couldn’t identify who I was.

UCI: Okay, what’s being handled differently now?

Caller: What’s being handled differently now, right. The hard part now is nobody wants to get tested because the results now are, they’re gonna take the whole dorm, and I kinda get it, I understand nobody wants their whole dorm, to you know like if one person tests positive inside a dorm they take all eight people and put them over in a lock-up unit in quarantine.

So everybody’s property has to get boxed up, packed up, and you have to move over there, um freezing cold cell for 14 days and come back.

But at the same time, you know, this second wave of the pandemic, what’s gonna happen? What’s gonna happen when the flu starts going around, you know?

UCI: So what do you think would make the situation better at your facility?

Caller: Mandatory testing, like they did every kind of day they tested a whole building, um some of the guys when they first, when 90% of the building came up positive, they quarantined the building, but then they brought negatives from another yard and put them inside the building when our building was 90% positive.

So stuff like that, it uh discourages the population on the authority, that we start seeing the authority be irrational, so you have irrational authority take control of you, you have no trust over stuff like that. Everything that they’re doing is such [unintelligible].

UCI: How has the COVID-19 situation at your faculty affected your loved ones?

Caller: Aw man I don’t have words. Um it’s financial hood isn’t the way it should because like people in here we don’t have our jobs, we’re all in a, the program’s down to a minimal. Uh we spend more time trying to be like phone busy, or maybe a message, you wanna reach out, you wanna talk to your parents a little bit there’s a lot of worry going on.

UCI: Okay, we could jump back to the last thing, what do you think is irrational about the authority that you’ve noticed in regards to their response to the virus?

Caller: The most irrational was when our building was 90% of the population was positive, and they brought people, they brought 12 people from another yard into our building and we talked to them and we were like, “Hey are you positive too?” and they were like, “No, we’re negative.”

So why did they bring a bunch of negative people into a building that’s almost entirely positives? And then someone like me who just like wearing masks, well I get it they enforce it more around the medical staff to put up a front but when we go into the chow hall we sit tables you know, tables are pretty close to one another and you have to take your mask off there, they’re trying to rush you.

The tables being sanitized while in between feedings, so that table’s like a shared surface with whoever ate there before you. There’s things there that just don’t, you know.

And then like at night you don’t sleep with a mask on so the air that you’re breathing in your dorm, you don’t have a mask on at night and you have a bunkie that’s less than six feet above you, and he’s eating at whatever table, so I mean there, it’s, you can’t contain it in here. You know the best containment that they could possibly do is the separation between us and staff.

UCI: Okay, are guards made aware of positive prisoners?

Caller: Um yeah I mean they [unintelligible] really quick, but they need to test the whole building at one time. They haven’t tested us since May.

UCI: Okay, how have you been coping with this crisis?

Caller: How I’ve been coping with it? Um… reading, uh you know like we still try to maintain like four or five of us doing AA in a group you know uh, our groups you know social groups so that we kind of keep to this area.

UCI: Okay, so we are at 14, we are at 14 minutes, just to let you know.

Caller: Okay.

UCI: So you’re welcome to call back. What else do you want people to know about your experience? Is there anything else for our last 45 seconds?

Caller: Hmm, there’s a lot of us worried about the solution and the second wave. And these buildings have poor ventilation, I know this is dorm living, and dorm living is, I mean it’s an apparent disaster waiting to happen.

11/20
Couldn’t walk yard
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Couldn’t walk yard

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UCI: Did you say that you had COVID?

Caller: Yeah.

UCI: How was that – have you been worried about like what could happen?

Caller: Yeah. It’s definitely – when I had it, I knew I had it because I’ve never been an unhealthy person. You know, I ran track in high school, everything else. And I couldn’t even walk the yard. Like when we go to chow, we walk around the, you know, the yard counterclockwise. And I couldn’t even make it halfway around the yard without having to stop to take a breath. And I’m not talking about just a quick little breather, like I actually had to stop and kind of almost keel over for a second to breath.

You know, and then I had to do it again when I got to the chow hall. And, you know, it wasn’t fun. You know, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and I physically can’t breathe. It feels like my lungs are like locking themselves up, you know. I mean I’m lucky that I didn’t get any other symptoms aside from the respiratory issues. But that was still enough to scare me. And now that it’s coming back in a second time, and I’ve heard that you can get it again, it’s scary because I don’t want my family to have to get that phone call saying, you know, your son or, you know, your little brother died in prison because of COVID-19.

So, it’s definitely nervous, you know, it makes me nervous. I’ve never, I mean I don’t think anybody’s ever had to deal with something like this before, so …

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UCI: What facility are you currently housed at?

Caller: I’m sorry?

UCI: What facility are you currently housed at right now?

Caller: Avenal State Prison.

UCI: Avenal.

Caller: So, B yard.

UCI: Okay. Then how’s the COVID situation right now at Avenal?

Caller: We’re having actually another round. We already went through the first one about four or five months ago.

Pretty much the majority of my building got it, including me. And now here we are like I said about four or five months later, and they had a whole building go basically lockdown about yesterday or the day before. And then today, they tested the whole building and now I’m not sure what protocol they’re using for that.

UCI: So, how did they handle COVID-19 the first time around?

Caller: Basically, not at all. They didn’t institute social distancing until basically after it had become a relevant issue in the prison. And even then, they basically gave us these masks that weren’t really masks, they were kind of just like cloth like just strung together.

And then on top of that, they were saying basically like, you don’t have to wear them when you’re outside of your dorm, but if a sergeant walks into the building, put them on. You know, basically make it look like you’re doing something. And there’s, you know, they didn’t enforce social distancing because you can’t here. You know, they’re not doing anything to really give us any product to sanitize our dorms. They basically just let it run its course and kept themselves away from us.

UCI: So, I was going to … Do you know how your prison caught COVID-19, like who brought it in?

Caller: I don’t know specifically who, but from what I remember, about like I said, four or five months ago it was one of the kitchen staff I think that brought it in. And it was the main kitchen, so it kind of spread, you know, after that.

UCI: So, besides the masks, has there been any other changes that they’ve implemented?

Caller: They cleared out – so, there’s kind of a difference between the setting. So, in some of the buildings, and one of the buildings I’m in, there’s two floors of housing. So, you have the bottom floor, you know, like the first story, basically. And there’s one, two, three four, five.

There’re six racks in there. So, the middle two they taped off. They moved people out of those racks and basically put caution tape on them so nobody’s supposed to be on those or housed there. So, basically provide social distancing so to speak. But the other racks in the building or in the dorms aren’t, like they’re not less than six feet apart. So, there’s really no way to stop that. And we all live in close proximity to each other. And then I mean really other than that, there’s really nothing else that’s been implemented that’s keeping, you know, the spread down.

UCI: Do you have any ideas of what they should be doing?

Caller: I mean to be honest, they need to at least be giving us some sort of sanitation for our dorms, you know, for us that live in the dorms, not just the porters that mop and disinfect the sinks, you know, a couple times a day. You know, we need something that’s going to actively keep our dorms sanitized so that even if we do come into the dorm, you know, we can sanitize our areas as frequently as needed to make sure that none of us get sick.

And they recently actually changed out the soap dispensers. Because before, we didn’t even have soap dispensers. And then now they put them in. And then they switched them. So, now they’re these big steel boxes where you can’t even really get anything out of it. Maybe because they’re basically accusing us of draining it out and watering it down and using it for our own purposes. And now there’s a situation where we can’t even really get it out.

And when we do, it’s basically like, it’s detrimental to your hands. Like me personally, it started cracking my hands. It started burning my hands after a while. So, I mean me personally, I just take the state soap that they give us once a week and wash my hands with that.

UCI: That’s not very good.

Caller: No.

UCI: So, how have you been doing like mentally? Like has it affected you much?

Caller: Yeah, it’s honestly, it’s a whole different experience. I mean because for the longest time, we basically watched the pandemic takeover the world from in here. And then it’s, you know, for a while I kind of thought, I mean it’s not here, like nobody’s sick yet. You know, and this is before it hit. And I got to thinking, this is never going to hit us, you know, we’re so far away from everything. And then it just took over the whole prison in like two days, two or three days. And everybody started getting sick. One of my good friends, he almost died. You know, I basically watched him, you know, become just this zombie, you know, couldn’t even get up out of bed.

You know, and it’s scary, you know, because it’s something that, you know, you obviously can’t see. And these cops don’t really do anything to combat that. They don’t give us necessary, you know, like I said, no necessary cleaning supplies to clean our dorms. They don’t ever hardly wear their masks with each other until a sergeant walks in. You know, it’s just … It’s nerve wracking, you know, especially because a lot of these cops recently, because they just switched like …

So, they switch shifts. And how we have cops that are actively walking through our dorms going through our stuff. And the thing about it is, is that they’re not really wearing masks when they’re doing it. They’re wearing gloves, but they’re not wearing masks. And I actually had right after the pandemic hit this prison, I had one of the cops here actually like, I went to go grab my mail and he coughed on it and then gave it to me. And there’s no, that is not an exaggeration at all.

UCI: That is kind of unacceptable.

Caller: Yeah.

UCI: So, have you been able to like see your family or loved ones?

Caller: No, I haven’t seen my family since I’ve been in prison. And not for lack of trying. They just, since the shutdown happened, there’s been literally no contact like physical-wise or even through a telemonitor, or through a glass, nothing.

The only way I can contact my family right now is by phone or letters.

UCI: Is there anything else that you want people to know about?

Caller: I want to let them know that there’s not, the news isn’t telling them everything, not in the slightest. There’s actually, I’m sure people have heard, but in case they haven’t, there was a story in the LA Times and it’s actually posted up on the board that I’m looking at.

This man was on my yard and he was a kitchen worker and he feared for his life because that was the kitchen that was, you know, people were actually getting sick in, like really deathly ill. And he told the staff that I don’t feel comfortable going to work, he refused. And not obviously for any dumb reason, like it’s a life-threatening disease. And they told him, you’re going to go to work or we’re going to give you a write up, which is like a black mark for somebody that needs to go to a parole board. Because if you go to parole board with that write up, they’re going to deny you one, to five, to 10- year denial over that.

So, they forced him to go to work and he later died because of COVID-19 from the kitchen. You know, this isn’t a joke. These COs don’t care. A lot of them are here to just collect a paycheck. They don’t understand that this affects us too. And they’ve even gone as far as trying to put it on us that we’re not doing our part when it’s physically impossible for us to social distance here.

So, I just want to explain to the public that this is traumatizing for a lot of us. And I really hope that maybe soon or one day we can figure out a way to make this safe. Not just for the people on the street, but for prisoners as well.

UCI: Yeah, that’s the goal of this. So, I remember you said, did you say that you caught COVID?

Caller: I had what?

UCI: Did you say that you had COVID?

Caller: Yeah.

UCI: How was that – have you been worried about like what could happen?

Caller: Yeah. It’s definitely – when I had it, I knew I had it because I’ve never been an unhealthy person. You know, I ran track in high school, everything else. And I couldn’t even walk the yard. Like when we go to chow, we walk around the, you know, the yard counterclockwise. And I couldn’t even make it halfway around the yard without having to stop to take a breath. And I’m not talking about just a quick little breather, like I actually had to stop and kind of almost keel over for a second to breath.

You know, and then I had to do it again when I got to the chow hall. And, you know, it wasn’t fun. You know, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and I physically can’t breathe. It feels like my lungs are like locking themselves up, you know. I mean I’m lucky that I didn’t get any other symptoms aside from the respiratory issues. But that was still enough to scare me. And now that it’s coming back in a second time, and I’ve heard that you can get it again, it’s scary because I don’t want my family to have to get that phone call saying, you know, your son or, you know, your little brother died in prison because of COVID-19.

So, it’s definitely nervous, you know, it makes me nervous. I’ve never, I mean I don’t think anybody’s ever had to deal with something like this before, so …

UCI: So, how is the – has there anything like an over population issue at your prison?

Caller: Honestly, I’m not sure what the normal numbers are supposed to be for the prison, so I can’t give you a …

It seems like it though right now because our tables, they’re less than six foot across from the next, like from the little foursquare table. So, it says for the, the assistant warden, he put notices on all the tables saying four to a table, no visitors, which means no five people to a table, six people to a table. But it’s going to spread at a table that small. You know, there’s no – they’ve freed it up a little bit by emptying out the two racks in the dorms, like I told you before.

But even then, you’re still, you hop off a rack and you’re less than six foot away from somebody else.

UCI: Yeah. So, how many people live per rack?

Caller: How many people are where?

UCI: How many people live per rack?

Caller: Oh, live on the …? Okay, so there’s two per rack. So, it’s one bunk and there’s a lower rack and a top rack.

And they don’t, they’re not – me and my bunkee personally, we sleep opposite. So, his head would be where my feet are at and my head is where is feet are at because I’m on the top rack. But even then, you know, again if I hop off that rack for whatever reason, if he coughs or …

Caller: You know, if he coughs or sneezes, then, you know, it’s a wrap.

UCI: Yeah, that’s really close. So, when was the first round? Did you say it was a few months ago?

Caller: Yeah, the first time was about, I want to say four or five months ago.

UCI: Is the – do you know if it’s, how the situation is? Like is it a lot of people this round that have it?

Caller: Oh, yeah. Like … There’s … About 90% of the people in my building have it still to this day. I mean like they tested positive. And there’s more rates going up now. But even the people that were never sick are now getting sick.

UCI: Yeah. Does not sound like a good situation.

Caller: No, it’s definitely not.

UCI: Well, I just want to say thank you for calling us. It’s really good to hear, well it’s really good to hear more about what happens so we can try and help you.

Well, then please consider telling other people to try and call in and talk about how they’ve been experiencing this situation.

Caller: Of course, of course.

UCI: Thank you. Bye.

Caller: All right thank you, bye.

11/20
Took over the prison
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UCI: So, how have you been doing like mentally? Like, has it affected you much?

Caller: Yeah, it’s honestly, it’s a whole different experience. I mean because for the longest time, we basically watched the pandemic takeover the world from in here. And then it’s, you know, for a while I kind of thought, I mean it’s not here, like nobody’s sick yet. You know, and this is before it hit. And I got to thinking, this is never going to hit us, you know, we’re so far away from everything. And then it just took over the whole prison in like two days, two or three days. And everybody started getting sick. One of my good friends, he almost died. You know, I basically watched him, you know, become just this zombie, you know, couldn’t even get up out of bed.

You know, and it’s scary, you know, because it’s something that, you know, you obviously can’t see. And these cops don’t really do anything to combat that. They don’t give us necessary, you know, like I said, no necessary cleaning supplies to clean our dorms. They don’t ever hardly wear their masks with each other until a sergeant walks in. You know, it’s just … It’s nerve wracking, you know, especially because a lot of these cops recently, because they just switched like …

So, they switch shifts. And how we have cops that are actively walking through our dorms going through our stuff. And the thing about it is, is that they’re not really wearing masks when they’re doing it. They’re wearing gloves, but they’re not wearing masks. And I actually had right after the pandemic hit this prison, I had one of the cops here actually like, I went to go grab my mail and he coughed on it and then gave it to me. And there’s no, that is not an exaggeration at all.

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UCI: What facility are you currently housed at?

Caller: I’m sorry?

UCI: What facility are you currently housed at right now?

Caller: Avenal State Prison.

UCI: Avenal.

Caller: So, B yard.

UCI: Okay. Then how’s the COVID situation right now at Avenal?

Caller: We’re having actually another round. We already went through the first one about four or five months ago.

Pretty much the majority of my building got it, including me. And now here we are like I said about four or five months later, and they had a whole building go basically lockdown about yesterday or the day before. And then today, they tested the whole building and now I’m not sure what protocol they’re using for that.

UCI: So, how did they handle COVID-19 the first time around?

Caller: Basically, not at all. They didn’t institute social distancing until basically after it had become a relevant issue in the prison. And even then, they basically gave us these masks that weren’t really masks, they were kind of just like cloth like just strung together.

And then on top of that, they were saying basically like, you don’t have to wear them when you’re outside of your dorm, but if a sergeant walks into the building, put them on. You know, basically make it look like you’re doing something. And there’s, you know, they didn’t enforce social distancing because you can’t here. You know, they’re not doing anything to really give us any product to sanitize our dorms. They basically just let it run its course and kept themselves away from us.

UCI: So, I was going to … Do you know how your prison caught COVID-19, like who brought it in?

Caller: I don’t know specifically who, but from what I remember, about like I said, four or five months ago it was one of the kitchen staff I think that brought it in. And it was the main kitchen, so it kind of spread, you know, after that.

UCI: So, besides the masks, has there been any other changes that they’ve implemented?

Caller: They cleared out – so, there’s kind of a difference between the setting. So, in some of the buildings, and one of the buildings I’m in, there’s two floors of housing. So, you have the bottom floor, you know, like the first story, basically. And there’s one, two, three four, five.

There’re six racks in there. So, the middle two they taped off. They moved people out of those racks and basically put caution tape on them so nobody’s supposed to be on those or housed there. So, basically provide social distancing so to speak. But the other racks in the building or in the dorms aren’t, like they’re not less than six feet apart. So, there’s really no way to stop that. And we all live in close proximity to each other. And then I mean really other than that, there’s really nothing else that’s been implemented that’s keeping, you know, the spread down.

UCI: Do you have any ideas of what they should be doing?

Caller: I mean to be honest, they need to at least be giving us some sort of sanitation for our dorms, you know, for us that live in the dorms, not just the porters that mop and disinfect the sinks, you know, a couple times a day. You know, we need something that’s going to actively keep our dorms sanitized so that even if we do come into the dorm, you know, we can sanitize our areas as frequently as needed to make sure that none of us get sick.

And they recently actually changed out the soap dispensers. Because before, we didn’t even have soap dispensers. And then now they put them in. And then they switched them. So, now they’re these big steel boxes where you can’t even really get anything out of it. Maybe because they’re basically accusing us of draining it out and watering it down and using it for our own purposes. And now there’s a situation where we can’t even really get it out.

And when we do, it’s basically like, it’s detrimental to your hands. Like me personally, it started cracking my hands. It started burning my hands after a while. So, I mean me personally, I just take the state soap that they give us once a week and wash my hands with that.

UCI: That’s not very good.

Caller: No.

UCI: So, how have you been doing like mentally? Like has it affected you much?

Caller: Yeah, it’s honestly, it’s a whole different experience. I mean because for the longest time, we basically watched the pandemic takeover the world from in here. And then it’s, you know, for a while I kind of thought, I mean it’s not here, like nobody’s sick yet. You know, and this is before it hit. And I got to thinking, this is never going to hit us, you know, we’re so far away from everything. And then it just took over the whole prison in like two days, two or three days. And everybody started getting sick. One of my good friends, he almost died. You know, I basically watched him, you know, become just this zombie, you know, couldn’t even get up out of bed.

You know, and it’s scary, you know, because it’s something that, you know, you obviously can’t see. And these cops don’t really do anything to combat that. They don’t give us necessary, you know, like I said, no necessary cleaning supplies to clean our dorms. They don’t ever hardly wear their masks with each other until a sergeant walks in. You know, it’s just … It’s nerve wracking, you know, especially because a lot of these cops recently, because they just switched like …

So, they switch shifts. And how we have cops that are actively walking through our dorms going through our stuff. And the thing about it is, is that they’re not really wearing masks when they’re doing it. They’re wearing gloves, but they’re not wearing masks. And I actually had right after the pandemic hit this prison, I had one of the cops here actually like, I went to go grab my mail and he coughed on it and then gave it to me. And there’s no, that is not an exaggeration at all.

UCI: That is kind of unacceptable.

Caller: Yeah.

UCI: So, have you been able to like see your family or loved ones?

Caller: No, I haven’t seen my family since I’ve been in prison. And not for lack of trying. They just, since the shutdown happened, there’s been literally no contact like physical-wise or even through a telemonitor, or through a glass, nothing.

The only way I can contact my family right now is by phone or letters.

UCI: Is there anything else that you want people to know about?

Caller: I want to let them know that there’s not, the news isn’t telling them everything, not in the slightest. There’s actually, I’m sure people have heard, but in case they haven’t, there was a story in the LA Times and it’s actually posted up on the board that I’m looking at.

This man was on my yard and he was a kitchen worker and he feared for his life because that was the kitchen that was, you know, people were actually getting sick in, like really deathly ill. And he told the staff that I don’t feel comfortable going to work, he refused. And not obviously for any dumb reason, like it’s a life-threatening disease. And they told him, you’re going to go to work or we’re going to give you a write up, which is like a black mark for somebody that needs to go to a parole board. Because if you go to parole board with that write up, they’re going to deny you one, to five, to 10- year denial over that.

So, they forced him to go to work and he later died because of COVID-19 from the kitchen. You know, this isn’t a joke. These COs don’t care. A lot of them are here to just collect a paycheck. They don’t understand that this affects us too. And they’ve even gone as far as trying to put it on us that we’re not doing our part when it’s physically impossible for us to social distance here.

So, I just want to explain to the public that this is traumatizing for a lot of us. And I really hope that maybe soon or one day we can figure out a way to make this safe. Not just for the people on the street, but for prisoners as well.

UCI: Yeah, that’s the goal of this. So, I remember you said, did you say that you caught COVID?

Caller: I had what?

UCI: Did you say that you had COVID?

Caller: Yeah.

UCI: How was that – have you been worried about like what could happen?

Caller: Yeah. It’s definitely – when I had it, I knew I had it because I’ve never been an unhealthy person. You know, I ran track in high school, everything else. And I couldn’t even walk the yard. Like when we go to chow, we walk around the, you know, the yard counterclockwise. And I couldn’t even make it halfway around the yard without having to stop to take a breath. And I’m not talking about just a quick little breather, like I actually had to stop and kind of almost keel over for a second to breath.

You know, and then I had to do it again when I got to the chow hall. And, you know, it wasn’t fun. You know, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and I physically can’t breathe. It feels like my lungs are like locking themselves up, you know. I mean I’m lucky that I didn’t get any other symptoms aside from the respiratory issues. But that was still enough to scare me. And now that it’s coming back in a second time, and I’ve heard that you can get it again, it’s scary because I don’t want my family to have to get that phone call saying, you know, your son or, you know, your little brother died in prison because of COVID-19.

So, it’s definitely nervous, you know, it makes me nervous. I’ve never, I mean I don’t think anybody’s ever had to deal with something like this before, so …

UCI: So, how is the – has there anything like an over population issue at your prison?

Caller: Honestly, I’m not sure what the normal numbers are supposed to be for the prison, so I can’t give you a …

It seems like it though right now because our tables, they’re less than six foot across from the next, like from the little foursquare table. So, it says for the, the assistant warden, he put notices on all the tables saying four to a table, no visitors, which means no five people to a table, six people to a table. But it’s going to spread at a table that small. You know, there’s no – they’ve freed it up a little bit by emptying out the two racks in the dorms, like I told you before.

But even then, you’re still, you hop off a rack and you’re less than six foot away from somebody else.

UCI: Yeah. So, how many people live per rack?

Caller: How many people are where?

UCI: How many people live per rack?

Caller: Oh, live on the …? Okay, so there’s two per rack. So, it’s one bunk and there’s a lower rack and a top rack.

And they don’t, they’re not – me and my bunkee personally, we sleep opposite. So, his head would be where my feet are at and my head is where is feet are at because I’m on the top rack. But even then, you know, again if I hop off that rack for whatever reason, if he coughs or …

Caller: You know, if he coughs or sneezes, then, you know, it’s a wrap.

UCI: Yeah, that’s really close. So, when was the first round? Did you say it was a few months ago?

Caller: Yeah, the first time was about, I want to say four or five months ago.

UCI: Is the – do you know if it’s, how the situation is? Like is it a lot of people this round that have it?

Caller: Oh, yeah. Like … There’s … About 90% of the people in my building have it still to this day. I mean like they tested positive. And there’s more rates going up now. But even the people that were never sick are now getting sick.

UCI: Yeah. Does not sound like a good situation.

Caller: No, it’s definitely not.

UCI: Well, I just want to say thank you for calling us. It’s really good to hear, well it’s really good to hear more about what happens so we can try and help you.

Well, then please consider telling other people to try and call in and talk about how they’ve been experiencing this situation.

Caller: Of course, of course.

UCI: Thank you. Bye.

Caller: All right thank you, bye.

11/20
Kids suffering
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Kids suffering

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UCI: And how has COVID-19 situation at your facility affected your loved ones?

Caller: It’s – it’s affected them really – I mean, this whole last – I haven’t seen my kids and my wife for – since November of last year.

So about a year now I have not seen them. You know, my kids are suffering. You know, they want to see their dad. My mom, I’ve lost family members since this pandemic has started. Haven’t got to see them. And, you know, it – it’s rough for us, too; you know? We’re on good behavior, we’re trying to do whatever we can to go home to our families and we can’t even see them; you know?

No virtual – like it would be nice if we could see them virtually even like, you know, on a Skype or like a FaceTime or something that they could provide for us to do that to say hello to our kids and stuff. Like I feel that my kids maybe even feel like I abandoned them because, you know, they – they’re – how am I going to explain to the 5- and 6-year-old that they can’t see me? When they ask to see me, how can – that’s not right to tell your kids that they – that they can’t.

You know?

UCI: Mm-hmm.

Caller: They’re probably like, well, why can’t I see my dad; you know?

UCI: And what has it been like for you to have reduced visitations and programming? I know you’ve told me a little bit about the programs and stuff, but, you know, how – how has that been like for you?

Caller: It’s – it’s been a struggle.

Like I said, it hasn’t been as bad for me. I feel because like I said, I’m –

Caller: I go home soon. I go home in about a week. So I feel that it’s not as bad for me, but some people that live very far from their families aren’t going home for several years, it takes a bigger toll on them. But I know it’s for a good reason to try to keep it out as much as possible, but it’s not going to stay out as long as the – I feel like the officers and free staff and nurses, they have to go in and out of this prison every day.

So that’s not going to keep it out. Not giving us visits.

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Caller: Well, it’s been out of control, honestly. Like there’s so many people that are just – well, there’s no social distancing here whatsoever.

We’re in a dorm setup and they expect us to – for us to be safe and make everyone else safe and be considerate of others. There is no possible way to social distance in here. Like our beds are three feet apart. We use the same restrooms. We use the same phones. You know, everything we – we have in here, we have to all use right after one another and there’s no possible way of preventing yourself from getting the virus.

And there’s been several people here that have been – have – that have been diagnosed with the virus.


UCI: Mm-hmm.

Caller: More than, I think, 80 percent of the prison has tested positive, and it’s just – it’s not stopping. It’s just people are still testing positive. It’s not under control. Nothing seems to be working.

UCI: And what is – like what is troubling you or concerning about the situation to you?

Caller: I feel like the – I feel like officers aren’t being considerate of the inmates. They have a lot more better medical attention than we do. I feel like officers come in here without their masks on, they go home every day. There – there’s no possible way of us bringing it in because we do not leave. So with that being the – the officers go home every night or – or in the daytime, what – and they bring it into us.

So them getting their tests only once a week, the day after they test, they could just bring it right back in the very next day; you know? So I don’t know how – how they, you know, this is – that’s why it’s out of control is because the officers have – are bringing it in. I don’t know how to – what else to say about that.

UCI: And, so – What would you – what would make the situation at your facility better?

Caller: Cutting down the population in here; you know? Like getting rid of people that are close to going home. Just, you know, most of us have – I myself am going home in days, so –

UCI: Oh, wow.

Caller: – to make me just fin out – finish out my sentence is crazy whenever there’s people that are – done the whole sentence, have no write-ups, you know, have been on good behavior, I feel like they should be considerate and move them out to make it more social distancing in here; you know? The less numbers, the, you know, the more you can keep six feet away from each other. You know, maybe they can maintain it a little bit better, more medical attention for the ones that are going to need it.

I – you know, I feel like that’s maybe one thing that they can do to – to help out. Cells would be – if we had cells that – that would be a lot better also, but we’re not able to – this is a dorm setup. When you come to a level one or level two prison, that’s the beds of it. So when something like this happens, we cannot be in our cell and locked down and be away from others until we get rid of it. Right here, there’s – in my – inside my dorm, there’s six bunks.

So there’s – there’s normally 12 people in there. Two racks they emptied out to try to social distance, but so there’s two – there’s three people that sleep within two feet away from me; okay? So I don’t understand, like, and also, two of us tested positive and the two that tested negative never got moved out. They put them right back in the same dorm with us. So I don’t understand.

Like, I feel that they’re at risk because I myself tested positive, but the ones that didn’t test positive, why would – I don’t understand why they would put them right back in the same dorm two feet away from us and put them at risk of getting it.

UCI: How was COVID-19 handled by your facility at the beginning of the outbreak?

Caller: Very poorly. Like I said, it – it went from yard – there’s six yards here. It went from yard to yard to yard to yard, and I think our yard was the hit hardest and – and first.

I know a guy here that, you know, that was a kitchen worker that he was a lifer himself and he couldn’t risk getting a write-up, and he had tested negative, but they – he had to still go to work knowing that there was positive people and – and the risk of getting it, the virus, but they – he had to go to work still to not get a write-up because he’s trying to go home to his family, and he ended up dying.

You know, he ended up passing away getting the virus, you know, and now his – his family’s, you know, suffering because of it because he was trying to go home to his family and they still made him go to work.

UCI: Is it being handled differently now?

Caller: Not really so much differently.

I feel like they’re – they – they’re letting PIA work because I feel like it benefits the prison because they make millions of dollars a year off – off PIA here, but they aren’t – aren’t letting vocations run, so – which is education. They’re not letting that run, but I feel – because they’re getting paid a – for vocations no matter what. But the PIA, if PIA isn’t running, which is the – the business they have running in our yard, then they don’t get money.

They’re – you know, they’re lost – lost out on all – millions of dollars a year. So I don’t know why they would let free staff come in and out and be around our inmates, which inmates can bring it back to the – to the building to 250 people in each building.

UCI: Mm-hmm. If possible, could you tell us about – could you tell us month-by-month how the situation has changed at your facility?

Caller: At first it was no yard. We would – we’re in our racks in dorms. They give us – they do give us masks and stuff, but, you know, like I said, the cops – the cops got tired of wearing them, the inmates got tired of wearing these masks, you know, because it feels like it’s not going to stop it anyways here.

We’re in a building with recycled air. It’s not like we have windows open; you know? It’s – it’s a prison. We’re not supposed to have windows open; you know? They’re supposed to be secure and safe from people escaping, so it’s like a – it’s like a sealed box; you know? How is the virus supposed to escape if we’re in a sealed box? You know, prison is no place for a pandemic; you know? And I feel that a lot of people are doing good trying to go home, and if they see people programming and been down 25 years and 60 years old, barely, you know, only a couple years left of their life, I feel like they should release them.

Why would you make them sit in a box and that’s pretty much like a death penalty; you know?

UCI: And how has COVID-19 situation at your facility affected your loved ones?

Caller: It’s – it’s affected them really – I mean, this whole last – I haven’t seen my kids and my wife for – since November of last year.

So about a year now I have not seen them. You know, my kids are suffering. You know, they want to see their dad. My mom, I’ve lost family members since this pandemic has started. Haven’t got to see them. And, you know, it – it’s rough for us, too; you know? We’re on good behavior, we’re trying to do whatever we can to go home to our families and we can’t even see them; you know?

No virtual – like it would be nice if we could see them virtually even like, you know, on a Skype or like a FaceTime or something that they could provide for us to do that to say hello to our kids and stuff. Like I feel that my kids maybe even feel like I abandoned them because, you know, they – they’re – how am I going to explain to the 5- and 6-year-old that they can’t see me? When they ask to see me, how can – that’s not right to tell your kids that they – that they can’t.

You know?

UCI: Mm-hmm.

Caller: They’re probably like, well, why can’t I see my dad; you know?

UCI: And what has it been like for you to have reduced visitations and programming? I know you’ve told me a little bit about the programs and stuff, but, you know, how – how has that been like for you?

Caller: It’s – it’s been a struggle.

Like I said, it hasn’t been as bad for me. I feel because like I said, I’m – I go home soon. I go home in about a week. So I feel that it’s not as bad for me, but some people that live very far from their families aren’t going home for several years, it takes a bigger toll on them. But I know it’s for a good reason to try to keep it out as much as possible, but it’s not going to stay out as long as the – I feel like the officers and free staff and nurses, they have to go in and out of this prison every day.

So that’s not going to keep it out. Not giving us visits.

UCI: Right. And how have you been coping with the crisis so far?

Caller: Well, now it just feels like it’s the new norm, honestly, but it – it’s – it’s tough. It takes a toll on you. It’s a lot of stress.

We’re limit – before we’d be able to be outside from 8:00 to 9:00 at night – from 8:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night. Now we’re getting an hour and a half of yard a day, if that, because if a new test positive – if someone tests positive, then they cancel the yard. It’s – it’s a – people moving in and out the buildings, it’s – it’s, you know, it has affected me.

And I don’t even know how to deal with it anymore but just hope, you know, the virus doesn’t come back and get it a second time.

UCI: Mm-hmm. And what else is there that you want to give in your testimony? Something that –

– that maybe you might want to say in the next couple of seconds or, you know –

Caller: I think that’s pretty much it.

UCI: Okay. Well, the time is now 6:36. I want to thank you very much for participating in PrisonPandemic. I want you to just remain calm and remain safe. You’re going home soon. And just keep yourself and everyone else around you safe and healthy. And I wish you the best of luck; okay?

Caller: All right. Thank you very much.

UCI: Thank you. I’m ending this call and this recording. Thank you.

Caller: All right. Thank you.

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