High Desert

HIGH DESERT STATE PRISON IS LOCATED IN SUSANVILLE, CA,
HOUSING 3,161 PEOPLE.

Since March 2020, there have been 2,034 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 2 deaths, at this facility.

Stories from High Desert

01/21
A lonely hell
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A lonely hell

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This letter was written by a person incarcerated at High Desert.

I got your letter saying you wanted a story about inside of prison. Well, first off it’s hell and lonely. Nothing good comes out of it, only the fact that you learn your lesson and become a better person and not mess up again. There’s violent things that go on like stabbings and murder but you have to be smart. There’s a lot of politics that go on with different races. Everyone is grouped up.

I am trying to change. I do bible studies and pray to god to get through the day. I try to stay away from bad things even though it’s all around. There needs to be a lot of change in here. I am willing to do this and tell all. I used to be in a gang in LA doing the usual gang stuff. I’ve changed now and grew out of that even though I have my hard times. I try to stay clean off drugs even though it’s hard.

I take it day by day. There’s really not much to do here but think about your mistakes and go to school for those who haven’t graduated and willing to go take classes. Sorry for my grammar and spelling and writing. I am not good on writing at all, though I try to spent my time looking for penpals to write even though some come and go.

Other than that, there’s is so little to do. We get dayroom certain times of the day. Right now we are on a lockdown with the whole COVID crisis. I don’t know when we will be off and go back to normal program.

Other than that, our living is not good. Very small cells, two per cell unless you’re a single cell inmate. There are dorm living, but I don’t like that, too noisy. I rather live in a two-man cell, someone to talk to and not go completely crazy. We also get yard time, certain time of the days and for those who really get in trouble in here will get write-ups when they lose privileges like going to store and dayroom and yard time. Maybe they can lose phone time also.

We also can order four packages from an online company that is part of the prison with lots of stuff to order from. Other than that, there’s really nothing else to say.

The full story

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

Hello. I am 30 years old, born and raised in LA. I’m down eight years, I have 10 years to do, but hopefully by behaving and doing good and going to classes I can get my time reduced.

I got your letter saying you wanted a story about inside of prison. Well, first off it’s hell and lonely. Nothing good comes out of it, only the fact that you learn your lesson and become a better person and not mess up again. There’s violent things that go on like stabbings and murder but you have to be smart. There’s a lot of politics that go on with different races. Everyone is grouped up.

I am trying to change. I do bible studies and pray to god to get through the day. I try to stay away from bad things even though it’s all around. There needs to be a lot of change in here. I am willing to do this and tell all. I used to be in a gang in LA doing the usual gang stuff. I’ve changed now and grew out of that even though I have my hard times. I try to stay clean off drugs even though it’s hard.

I take it day by day. There’s really not much to do here but think about your mistakes and go to school for those who haven’t graduated and willing to go take classes. Sorry for my grammar and spelling and writing. I am not good on writing at all, though I try to spent my time looking for penpals to write even though some come and go.

Other than that, there’s is so little to do. We get dayroom certain times of the day. Right now we are on a lockdown with the whole COVID crisis. I don’t know when we will be off and go back to normal program.

Other than that, our living is not good. Very small cells, two per cell unless you’re a single cell inmate. There are dorm living, but I don’t like that, too noisy. I rather live in a two-man cell, someone to talk to and not go completely crazy. We also get yard time, certain time of the days and for those who really get in trouble in here will get write-ups when they lose privileges like going to store and dayroom and yard time. Maybe they can lose phone time also.

We also can order four packages from an online company that is part of the prison with lots of stuff to order from. Other than that, there’s really nothing else to say. I think that’s all I know but if there’s anything else I can help with just let me know. I don’t know if you are allowed to correspond with inmates other than our stories, but I’m willing to help!

Thanks. Hope all is good.

P.S. All I want is a nice penpal. Can you find me one?

02/21
Never get over
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Never get over

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This letter was written by a person incarcerated at High Desert.

I see the news and read the paper only to be informed that this coronavirus is not getting better and people are dying in the thousands. That scared me for my family’s sake. The last thing I’m trying to find out is that one of my family members died from this virus and me being stuck here in prison, not being able to get out and be there for my family. That would be something I would have to live with and maybe never get over.

Living in prison during this pandemic has been difficult. The constant lockdowns. The constant COVID testing. As of right now, I haven’t caught COVID. The no visits and not being able to physically hug and see my family makes it hard. But I know it’s for everyone’s good.

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

Dear Kristin,

Before anything, I hope all the students at UCI are in good health and COVID-free. Thank you for caring for all the inmates here in prison. Sometimes all we need is a letter from anyone to remind us that there is a real world out there, and luckily for me I will soon come home to in 2022.

Life here has been hard. Dealing with the stress and the worry about the guilt on not being able to take care of my kids, not knowing if they got their necessities, shelter, food, and clothing.

I get angry because the state should be releasing people like me with bullshit drug convictions. The police department of the city of Gardena made a simple possession drug charge, which is a misdemeanor, into a felony bringing drugs into a jail only because they failed to find the drugs when they searched me in the streets. Because of the Gardena police department negligence and Torrance court system, I was sentenced to six years.

I had no choice but to take this deal because if I took it to trial and lost, I would of got punished to the maximum sentence, which was 12 years. I accept that I was wrong and broke the law by having drugs. What I needed was help with my addiction, like a drug problem, that was never offered. Not the six years I’m wasting in here.

I see the news and read the paper only to be informed that this coronavirus is not getting better and people are dying in the thousands. That scared me for my family’s sake. The last thing I’m trying to find out is that one of my family members died from this virus and me being stuck here in prison, not being able to get out and be there for my family. That would be something I would have to live with and maybe never get over.

Living in prison during this pandemic has been difficult. The constant lockdowns. The constant COVID testing. As of right now, I haven’t caught COVID. The no visits and not being able to physically hug and see my family makes it hard. But I know it’s for everyone’s good.

That California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations has been trying to fight this crazy battle with the virus. But lockdowns with infected cellmates is obviously not the answer. I was negative the three and a half months I was in reception. Only to be moved from reception to another prison where the whole yard has been infected. The correctional officers housed me in the hot housing.

The block I was housed in was infected and moved me in with three different cellmates that has caught the virus. I really feel like the COs don’t care if I’m healthy and COVID-free. One of the COs made a comment of “you’re gonna catch it anyways, so who cares, get it over with.”

How can you say something like that? They’re not treating this virus like it’s real. This is life or death! I was sentenced to six years, not death.

I’m scared of this virus? Hell yes! I have a little girl that I’m trying to come back home to and raise. I’m forced to sit here till my release date. All I did was have drugs on me. I didn’t ransack the capitol. They even got a pardon from the president.

I’m just trying to come home safe and COVID-free to my family. I miss them and worry about them so much. It becomes hard for me doing time I shouldn’t be doing. I’m going on 24 months for a possession. Hopefully something happens where drug charges get to go sooner because of the pandemic. Thank you for your letter. I appreciate your time and best wishes.

Take care and stay healthy.

02/21
Inevitable formula
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Inevitable formula

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This letter was written by a person incarcerated at High Desert.

Finally, the inevitable formula manifested and this isolated area of mostly pessimistic citizens got the truth of which they’d refused to believe COVID-19 infections. It was around November and that is the month of my birthday. The prison went on quarantine lockdown. Nurses came by and tested the entire population.

If you tested positive, you were moved to another building and the infections spread rapidly until a group of inmates who were not infected refused to move to an infected building. The officers took the hand sanitizer stating it had alcohol in it and didn’t provide us any other sanitizer.

The director of CDCR sent the sanitizer to us and we never got to use it. Nurses came around three times a day to check our breathing, temperature, and pulse. The medical staff did a good job making sure we were okay at great risk to themselves.

After 30 days, the infections went away but we continued to be isolated. We begged for the Jpay tablets and kiosks, which allow us to email family and friends. We were told this yard is too dangerous to have what the equally dangerous opposite yard here already has–Jpay tablets.

We begged for family visits promising to quarantine after the visits for a fortnight, but no contact visits will be allowed until May or June 2021. The video visits are once a month for almost 30 minutes. They start late and end at the scheduled time. I received 21 minutes for my visit.

I am glad that I made it through COVID-19 so far without any losses. My celly lost his mother two weeks ago. I know many say prisoners deserve harsh treatment but I must tell you, that thinking is flawed because the majority of prisoners will be returned to society and I know I don’t want some angry, agitated person set free in my family’s community.

We don’t deserve back rubs but being treated with dignity isn’t too much to ask during a pandemic. No hand sanitizer or distribution of cleaning products.

Sincerely.

The full story

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

Governing the powerless…

To whom it may concern,

Everyone on Earth felt the strange impact of the 2020 pandemic caused by COVID-19. But some felt the abrupt changes powerless to cease its destructive reverberations throughout their lives.

As a member of the prison population, I found myself in the category of the powerless. My life was subjected to the thoughts and decisions of authorities, who had no prior experience governing during a crisis of this magnitude.

I am a diabetic with hypertension, weighing 250 pounds, standing five feet, 10 inches. As a 43-year-old African American, I am categorized as high-risk for COVID-19.

In March 2020, all visitation was stopped. The stress began to build from that point. No Zoom call with friends and family. Just one collect call, on a walled landline, for almost 15 minutes each day. Three-way calls are prohibited, as grounds to terminate phone privileges immediately if detected for the day.

If I call my mother, I have to hope she’s already spoken with my wife, son, and other family members. Calling friends is absolutely out of the question because my stresses have me checking in with my asthmatic wife and 80-year-old parents daily.

During this time, the authorities continue to transfer prisoners to and from the prison. We were given masks and told to stay apart. While prison staff with antagonistic beliefs about the pandemic searched our cells, frisked our clothing and bodies, and handled our property.

Finally, the inevitable formula manifested and this isolated area of mostly pessimistic citizens got the truth of which they’d refused to believe COVID-19 infections. It was around November and that is the month of my birthday. The prison went on quarantine lockdown. Nurses came by and tested the entire population.

If you tested positive, you were moved to another building and the infections spread rapidly until a group of inmates who were not infected refused to move to an infected building. The officers took the hand sanitizer stating it had alcohol in it and didn’t provide us any other sanitizer.

The director of CDCR sent the sanitizer to us and we never got to use it. Nurses came around three times a day to check our breathing, temperature, and pulse. The medical staff did a good job making sure we were okay at great risk to themselves.

After 30 days, the infections went away but we continued to be isolated. We begged for the Jpay tablets and kiosks, which allow us to email family and friends. We were told this yard is too dangerous to have what the equally dangerous opposite yard here already has–Jpay tablets.

We begged for family visits promising to quarantine after the visits for a fortnight, but no contact visits will be allowed until May or June 2021. The video visits are once a month for almost 30 minutes. They start late and end at the scheduled time. I received 21 minutes for my visit.

I am glad that I made it through COVID-19 so far without any losses. My celly lost his mother two weeks ago. I know many say prisoners deserve harsh treatment but I must tell you, that thinking is flawed because the majority of prisoners will be returned to society and I know I don’t want some angry, agitated person set free in my family’s community.

We don’t deserve back rubs but being treated with dignity isn’t too much to ask during a pandemic. No hand sanitizer or distribution of cleaning products.

Sincerely.

01/21
Can’t hug them
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Can’t hug them

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This letter was written by a person incarcerated at High Desert.

I keep in contact with family through phone calls and letters. Though it’s hard, I can’t hug them or see them. But that’s the consequence of sin. I’m truly grateful for all the love and support they’ve been showing me since day one of my calamity.

As I look around in my cell, I can honestly say that I’m blessed by God through my family. I cope by just doing the best I can to better myself by reading the Bible and getting involved in the self-help packets. I keep some of their pictures up on the wall for motivation when I have difficult days. In all good conscience, I can’t be lazy or complacent on my rehabilitative efforts when they have done nothing but show me their love and support.

The full story

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

My name is [redacted]. I was born and raised in California. I am the youngest of five children. We grew up in a humble loving home, raised by two hard-working loving parents, though we did have our rough times.

I now find myself serving a sentence for a horrible mistake I committed, that I myself admitted doing when asked. I will never try to justify what I did. Though I know without a shadow of a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t of done it if I hadn’t been under the influence of crystal meth and the horrible situation/relationship I was in. May God bless and comfort everyone that got hurt for what I did.

Well now I’ve been in state prison for over a year. In that year alone, I’ve already been in three other prisons, and the one I’m currently in is the fourth one.

Due to my kind of charge, I had trouble with cellmates that caused me to move from prison to prison. Which caused me to be very concerned for my safety.

When I got to my current prison, I asked to be placed in single-cell status, due to the fact of what had happened in the previous prisons, not wanting to go through the hard situations I had gone through. But I got denied. I finally got blessed with a good cellmate and finally well off.

Since I arrived at HDSP around late, I’ve signed up for school and rehabilitative programs. But was put on the waiting list, and was waiting for a while. I finally got into a rehabilitative achievement credit math class, that a fellow Christian brother helped me to get into. I attended about four classes, then it got shut down due to COVID-19 pandemic. That was back around 2020.

Since then, I’ve been keeping busy and making efforts to better myself by doing in cell self-help packets that get offered here at HDSP. The packets focus on issues like anger management, addiction, anxiety, and many more.

Since the lockdown, I’ve earned certificates competition chronos on, which teaches on how to re-think your story, change your life, cyclical pattern of behavior, and much more. Working on these packets have been a real help for me and have caused me to reflect on my mistake and bad choices that led up to it.

I tested for COVID-19. I’ve been quarantined ever since. Due to that, what we get is a shower only once every three days. There’s no recreational yard or day room.

What gets me the most is not being able to attend and continue in the rehabilitative achievement credit math class. Though I strongly believe that the in cell self-help packets do help my rehabilitation, they don’t take time off as the RAC math class. They don’t let us know if we ever gonna program again.

I keep in contact with family through phone calls and letters. Though it’s hard, I can’t hug them or see them. But that’s the consequence of sin. I’m truly grateful for all the love and support they’ve been showing me since day one of my calamity.

As I look around in my cell, I can honestly say that I’m blessed by God through my family. I cope by just doing the best I can to better myself by reading the Bible and getting involved in the self-help packets. I keep some of their pictures up on the wall for motivation when I have difficult days. In all good conscience, I can’t be lazy or complacent on my rehabilitative efforts when they have done nothing but show me their love and support.

Well that’s a real quick summary of what’s going on with me. You’re reaching out to me was a bit of a surprise. And I’m very grateful that there’s people out there pushing for positive reform, especially during this pandemic. To know that there’s people out there that still look at you as human being and don’t define you by your mistakes. If I may ask, how did you guys or why? Why did you guys reach out specifically to me?

Well may God bless you guys for what you’re trying to do to help people like me in prison. I hope that the information I provided helps you as I tried my best to answer your questions the best I could. God bless you and be safe.

02/21
Don’t stand a chance
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Don’t stand a chance

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This letter was written by a person incarcerated at High Desert.

A year ago, when the news started airing stories about COVID-19 and how bad things could become, I thought, this cannot be good for any one in or out of prison. As the months passed, movement in the facility was restricted, visiting was canceled! Then came the worst news, COVID-19 outbreak within the facility.

Overnight things changed into a scene from a sci-fi movie. The whole place was flooded with nursing staff wearing gowns, masks, face shields. No movement out of our cells for inmates. We were afforded a shower every 72 hours. Our vitals were checked daily and we were COVID tested weekly. But how could this have happened?

Me, I do not exit my cell for any reason since the whole outbreak started. When my doors opened for a shower, I declined the privilege so that my door can be closed promptly. I do not have a cellmate and since my conviction six years ago I’ve battled depression, anxiety, and at times panic attacks.

I figured I wouldn’t get sick if I stayed in my cell and for weeks I only had two views out of my cell, what I saw on TV and what I could see out of my cell door window. The first was filled with news stories of hospitalizations and a mounting death toll. The second, all I could see is nurses and staff members in full PPE testing people and moving those who tested positive.

I know for a fact that prison is not a safe place. As an inmate, you are not safe from violence, abusive authority, or illness. Many times you have no choice but to defend yourself from things that are out of your control. And after any attack of a physical nature, illness included, you will be punished for defending yourself. That’s just prison life.

During a world pandemic, you don’t stand a chance as a prisoner. It’s like standing in the middle of the road, watching a truck moving towards you and the only thing you can do is hope the impact doesn’t kill you, but you can’t move.

After a few weeks living in constant fear, looking out my cell door window watching this truck loaded with a dose of COVID-19 headed my way, it hit me. I got sick. At first I told myself it was something I ate because I only had a stomachache. But then my whole body hurt and I knew I was sick.

All the information I know about symptoms or effects of COVID-19 are what I see on TV. Asking staff any questions regarding what is going on or what to expect results in the same answer: “We don’t know, hang tight.” Television only shows hospitalizations and death rate. Not knowing and being kept in the dark about anything will make any situation more frightful, especially when it involves personal health.

I didn’t ask questions or advise anyone that I was not feeling well. I just sat there and allowed the virus to consume me. Besides there’s nothing that can be done. There is no cure. By the time I contracted the virus, I was so sad and tired from what I saw on TV. Every time I saw a person on TV crying at the loss of a parent or loved one I felt a pain in my gut and sadness in my heart. Emotionally I felt the pain of all of those images and stories.

The full story

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

Thank you for contacting me and providing me with an opportunity to write and be a part of your project.

Enclosed please find a four-page handwritten journal style entry for submission to be shared with the outside world. I hope you enjoy reading it. Your note stated it would be posted. Please feel free to share with anyone and everyone. I do not mind sharing my writing with others openly and publicly. I personally wish to give up any anonymity regarding any stories were writing I may send to the outside world. I am providing consent to use my name and personal information with this letter for the purpose of posting or sharing of any kind. Please feel free to do so. Stay healthy and well. And please take care of yourself and each other out there.

Respectfully,

Many words we know, understand, feel, and experience, a course of our daily life. Some of these words would include cold, hot, happy, sad. Then there are more complex words which we only knew in their textual definition, “pandemic”.

We now truly know, understand, feel, and are experiencing this word in our daily life. COVID-19, the disease of this pandemic, has brought with it many things including other words such as “social distancing”.

Prior to the pandemic I was already socially distanced from most people because I have been incarcerated for the past six years. Estranged from my family and left to survive alone in a dangerous environment. How much worse could things get? Today I have an answer to that question.

A year ago, when the news started airing stories about COVID-19 and how bad things could become, I thought, this cannot be good for any one in or out of prison. As the months passed, movement in the facility was restricted, visiting was canceled! Then came the worst news, COVID-19 outbreak within the facility.

Overnight things changed into a scene from a sci-fi movie. The whole place was flooded with nursing staff wearing gowns, masks, face shields. No movement out of our cells for inmates. We were afforded a shower every 72 hours. Our vitals were checked daily and we were COVID tested weekly. But how could this have happened?

Me, I do not exit my cell for any reason since the whole outbreak started. When my doors opened for a shower, I declined the privilege so that my door can be closed promptly. I do not have a cellmate and since my conviction six years ago I’ve battled depression, anxiety, and at times panic attacks.

I figured I wouldn’t get sick if I stayed in my cell and for weeks I only had two views out of my cell, what I saw on TV and what I could see out of my cell door window. The first was filled with news stories of hospitalizations and a mounting death toll. The second, all I could see is nurses and staff members in full PPE testing people and moving those who tested positive.

I know for a fact that prison is not a safe place. As an inmate, you are not safe from violence, abusive authority, or illness. Many times you have no choice but to defend yourself from things that are out of your control. And after any attack of a physical nature, illness included, you will be punished for defending yourself. That’s just prison life.

During a world pandemic, you don’t stand a chance as a prisoner. It’s like standing in the middle of the road, watching a truck moving towards you and the only thing you can do is hope the impact doesn’t kill you, but you can’t move.

After a few weeks living in constant fear, looking out my cell door window watching this truck loaded with a dose of COVID-19 headed my way, it hit me. I got sick. At first I told myself it was something I ate because I only had a stomachache. But then my whole body hurt and I knew I was sick.

All the information I know about symptoms or effects of COVID-19 are what I see on TV. Asking staff any questions regarding what is going on or what to expect results in the same answer: “We don’t know, hang tight.” Television only shows hospitalizations and death rate. Not knowing and being kept in the dark about anything will make any situation more frightful, especially when it involves personal health.

I didn’t ask questions or advise anyone that I was not feeling well. I just sat there and allowed the virus to consume me. Besides there’s nothing that can be done. There is no cure. By the time I contracted the virus, I was so sad and tired from what I saw on TV. Every time I saw a person on TV crying at the loss of a parent or loved one I felt a pain in my gut and sadness in my heart. Emotionally I felt the pain of all of those images and stories.

How dare I ask for help or be scared to die during a pandemic. I have no right! I still feel a deep sadness for all those who have lost a loved one. And for the ones still suffering, my prayers are with you. Stay strong and care for each other.

You see I was sentenced to more than three decades of imprisonment. Because of my age I am very likely to die in prison an old man of health issues in the long run. A virus killing me in a pandemic of more than a century would only expedite the process.

No I do not want to die. Nor would I hurt myself. But if I could take all the COVID in the world, endure the pain and suffering for others and die with the virus, I would. As long as the virus dies with me and leaves the rest of mankind in the world to live free and without fear.

I was sick for more than a week and it was no cakewalk. By the time my body had fought off the virus and my health was back to normal, an officer came to my door and said, pack your stuff, you’re moving to the isolation building due to a positive COVID test. See it’s true when people say that the police always show up after something bad has happened. Hey you’ve got to find the humor in a bad situation, right?

The building I was moved to housed all the positive and sick people. For those who are not sick but tested positive, they became sick once they were housed with sick people. For some reason my new cell came with freezing temperature and bad plumbing. It was constantly flooded with gray water.

After 30 days I was returned to my housing unit. Nothing has changed. We are still not allowed out of our cells other than for showers, which I still don’t go out for, I birdbath in my cell. I lost track of the count but I know it’s been over 60 days. The holidays have passed while we’ve been confined to ourselves. My birthday is in two days.

I suffer from depression amongst other mental health issues but I have made it past this virus and so can you. If you lost someone in this pandemic, keep them alive in your heart. Care for yourself as well as others. If you are struggling to stand with hope, think of me. I don’t know you but I will keep getting up every day and will stand with you in mind and spirit from the side of an electric fence.

On my worse day of my COVID illness, I laid in bed alone in a prison cell struggling to breathe. Scared. Very scared. Would it matter if I don’t make it, I thought to myself. Who cares if I live? Nobody cares that I am factually innocent. It does not matter that I was falsely accused. The fact that I didn’t harm another person to get here in this prison is of no importance at this point. And my last thought, why am I fighting so hard to stay alive???

Stuck in a bad situation under terrible conditions, in a pandemic, I found the strength to live in. So can you! Maybe I’ve survived so that my strength could be extended to you by sharing my experience. Whoever you may be I will keep getting up every day with the fighting spirit and a helping hand for you and those who need it. Please do the same for someone else.

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