Pleasant Valley

PLEASANT VALLEY STATE PRISON IS LOCATED IN COALINGA, CA,
HOUSING 3,131 PEOPLE.

Since March 2020, there have been 1,991 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 3 deaths, at this facility.

Stories from Pleasant Valley

02/21
You’re joking
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You’re joking

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

“You’ve tested positive,” stated flatly a guard at my cell door.

“You’re joking,” I responded, as he shook his head no.

I had been sick for awhile, sore throat, head and body aches, a lack of energy, but could still smell and had no fever. I packed my property. And along with 20-odd prisoners, awaited carts to move to the quarantine housing unit.

I first heard of COVID-19 just after the Super Bowl where my beloved San Francisco 49ers had lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, but it was far away in China and did not impact my everyday in California prison.

I watched 60 Minutes and not the words but the visuals shot in a Wuhan hospital brought the crisis into focus. The medical staff looked beyond overwhelmed, as they treated patients stacked everywhere among the dead bodies and vomit splattered on the floor.

The full story

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

“You’ve tested positive,” stated flatly a guard at my cell door.

“You’re joking,” I responded, as he shook his head no.

I had been sick for awhile, sore throat, head and body aches, a lack of energy, but could still smell and had no fever. I packed my property. And along with 20-odd prisoners, awaited carts to move to the quarantine housing unit.

I first heard of COVID-19 just after the Super Bowl where my beloved San Francisco 49ers had lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, but it was far away in China and did not impact my everyday in California prison.

I watched 60 Minutes and not the words but the visuals shot in a Wuhan hospital brought the crisis into focus. The medical staff looked beyond overwhelmed, as they treated patients stacked everywhere among the dead bodies and vomit splattered on the floor.

As the pandemic arrived on the shores of the United States and the nightly news reported the COVID-19 deaths and showed pictures of the deceased, I noticed that a large percentage of the people were overweight.

There was nothing I could do about the risk factors of underlying health conditions or my age of over 60 years old, but I could shed a few pounds. I started rising early each morning for 20 and then 30, 35, and finally 40 minutes of cardio exercise to improve my lung capacity and shed some pounds.

As the months went by without COVID-19 entering Pleasant Valley Prison, I went from 194 pudgy pounds spread over my 71 inches to a leaner 168.

We were issued face masks. The prison stopped using the dining hall, cell feeding, visiting was cancelled, and then a confusing array of changes to the program ensued to minimize person-to-person contact.

Sometimes the changes reduced contact, but other times it puzzlingly increased contact. San Quentin, Avenal, and other prisons were consumed by COVID-19. Many prisoners I’d done time with passed away.

At first only staff were tested for COVID-19 but then inmate kitchen workers were tested. And finally everyone was given weekly tests. Prisoners started disappearing to COVID-19 quarantine due to contact tracing or positive tests.

One night 75 prisoners from another facility did not receive a cellmate but the next day compacted voluntarily with another prisoner who a week later was taken to quarantine due to contact tracing.

A prisoner was moved into my cell from the quarantine unit. He had finished his 14-day quarantine, but was still coughing and sneezing. That night I imagined COVID-19 raining down on me from the top bunk.

A week later, I became ill but tested negative for COVID-19, so I thought maybe I just had a cold. The following week I was tested again and this time the test came back positive and the guard popped up at my cell door.

My property stacked on a dayroom table, I told my neighbor in the next cell that I had tested positive and volunteered to cell with me in quarantine, “Let’s take the last cart. I’m in no hurry to get over there and don’t want my belongings mixed in with other prisoners.”

The third time the carts came back, we loaded up and wheeled our way to the COVID-19 housing unit. Just pushing the cart 100 yards or so, we were both out of breath and feeling tired. We were given PPE to wear in the housing units, masks, gowns, face shields, assigned cells on the top tier of the mostly empty housing unit. We stacked our property on the tier and I could see water marks on the cell wall and thought the cell must leak when it rained.

“Don’t shut the door,” I told my cellmate.

“Why?”

“We don’t want to be here, so the cops aren’t going to kick us out. Since we got COVID-19, they’re not going to push up on us either,” I reasoned. “Let’s run around a bit.”

Leaving our property on the tier, I headed for the shower and my cellmate went and used the phone. We then ran around to find out who else was in quarantine.

“How did you get out?” asked prisoners from their cells who had come over with us.

“Never shut our door,” we answered.

Finally locking up, unpacking, I realized the cell’s vent was blasting fiery hot air. The toilet would not flush, and when we used the hot water faucet it would not turn off. That night, my cellmate did not snore, but he wheezed loudly. I thought he might have pneumonia.

At around 2 a.m., water started pouring through the back wall of the cell, and I used towels to mop up the water, wringing it out in the sink. Much to my surprise when I looked out the back window, it wasn’t raining. The water was coming from plumbing inside the walls.

Breakfast trays were delivered to the cell. My cellmate wasn’t hungry. I encouraged him to eat anyway but he refused, so I ate his tray. For some reason I was ravenous.

When medical staff came by to check our temperatures and oxygen level in our blood, we told them about my cellmate’s wheezing, lack of appetite, and that he felt his chest was heavy. I also told the guards about the water pouring through the back wall, the toilet not flushing, the hot water continuously running in the sink, the hot air blasting out of the vent, and they said they weren’t plumbers.

How about placing us in another cell?

No response.

A friend of mine came out of his cell for a phone call, fell out, hitting the floor. The ambulance was summoned and he was gone. For the next four days, we slept most of the time. I’d awaken, scrub up the water, and fall back asleep.

The heat from the vent blasted into the water, making the cell seem like a sauna, hot and humid. My cellmate’s wheezing just got worse and he continued not to eat. He was losing weight and I was eating and eating, gaining weight.

Finally, my cellmate was examined by medical staff, diagnosed with pneumonia, received medication and within hours was better and eating. A plumber came to the cell, said it beyond his ability to fix right away, recommended the cell be redlined, condemned, but we remained in the cell.

I phoned of minutes before six, told her about the cell, she phoned the warden’s office, and registered a complaint.

“Did you file a complaint?” an enraged guard snarled at my cell door.

“No, but I phoned someone outside and told them to file one,” I responded. The guard started yelling at me.

“We’ve told you about this cell for five days,” I cut him off. “We’re both sick and this can’t be good for us.”

“You’re not getting moved,” he barked and walked away. Hours later, another guard came to our cell and moved us. This cell was ice cold, but the toilet and the sink worked. Although water came in through the front door, we stuffed a rag under the door and lived with it.

My quarterly package was delivered to my cell. I had boxes of caramel cookies, and when I went to shower I went around to all the prisoners on quarantine and gave each a few packs. We were all sick, all miserable, so I thought to spread a bit of cheer.

He returned from the outside hospital where he was treated with Remdesivir. The guy in my room died, he told me. The body was still there when they brought my tray. Man!

With a few days to go, the guards started asking us to sign a chrono waiving our rights to be removed from quarantine and remain in the housing unit.

“You’ve bumped your head,” I answered icily. “There’s no way I’m staying here.” On day 15, we were packed and ready to leave.

“Your boss called on you to work in the library,” a guard told me. “You can’t go to work from here.”

“Ship me out.”

“The computer network’s down.”

Damn! That night medical staff came by to check my vitals. “I’m off quarantine.” I refused to test.

“Just give them your vitals,” the guard barked at me.

“First, I’m not talking to you,” I replied. “You don’t have anything to do with my medical condition. Second, we were supposed to be out of here today.”

“What harm can it do to give your vitals?” the guard said in a softer manner.

“I don’t want to be on some list of prisoners giving vitals, so I’m not on the move out list tomorrow.” I didn’t give my vitals.

The next day, the librarian called the lieutenant to ask why I hadn’t reported to work. The lieutenant asked the sergeant, and the sergeant came to my housing unit.

“The computer was down yesterday,” the guard tried to explain.

“It was down for an hour. What about the rest of the day? Move him!”

“You need to tell your boss to stop calling about you!” The guard yelled at me.

“Send me to work, and I’ll tell him.” An hour later, we packed and returned to our housing unit, and I went to work.

“I’ll never let them test me for COVID-19 again,” I told my boss. “Never! Ever!”

The end.

11/20
Not out of the woods
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Not out of the woods

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

Once back I realized the whole week I was in the hospital, D-yard was in disarray. And everybody who tested positive for COVID-19 was being moved into four block and those that we’re in contact were put into five block. The yard as we knew was on lockdown and program was now shut down.

The first week in 3 block, I couldn’t contact no one in my family. No phone or outgoing mail. Nothing!

That changed about seven days in. I was now placed on a 20 day observation status. I was still experiencing some side effects but more than anything, I was really feeling very lonely. In all of my incarceration, and I have been through some tough situations and circumstances, trust me I have!

This one was so different psychologically.

My spirit was on zero and I felt so unsteady. The everyday normal activities were difficult and just plain hard to complete. So, every morning I clean my floor with a wet towel, which is what every man, in every cell in the state uses to clean their floor with anyways. That is something I do everyday and have done since day one, and well, I had a hard time doing that.

I was breathing hard as hell as if I had worked out, when I stood up I lost my balance and was unsteady. I never felt like that. All I could think about was “why did the doctor, who well knew that, I had underlying health conditions still decided to send me out to get exposed?”

So, about two weeks back, I received via prison-mail my results from the November 19th COVID-19 test and sure enough it came back negative. Surprise-surprise. Here I am, some three months later, and really trying my best to put my experience behind me. But I can’t help but still feel like I’m or we’re not out of the woods yet.

I still feel wheezing in my lungs. I still feel shortness of breath. I still feel a little stressed and lonely throughout the day. But I strongly believe it’s just a matter of time before we all get past it. It won’t last forever.

The full story

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

February 22, 2021

Dear PrisonPandemic,

Hello mija, how are you doing today? I hope and pray just fine. And these few lines find you, and all those that concern you strong in mind, body, and spirits. As for myself, I’m okay.

Taking one day at a time, remaining positive and focused as much as possible. Each day moving forward.

First and foremost, it was both an honor and pleasure to meet you. And I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to share in your concern about me and what we’re all going thru in here at PVSP. Honestly, I don’t even know where to begin.

I guess I can start by telling you a little about myself and some of my experiences.

I say some ’cause if I told you all of it I’d be writing you a book long story. So, I am a young half a century year old, but my spirit is twice that and my disposition is that of the sun. Bright and full of light.

I’m a single father of four and a grandpa of six. I’ve been incarcerated for 26 years. I have eligibility for parole date on September 4, 2024.

I do plan on pushing it a lot sooner, so I’ll probably go back to board like 2022 or 2023. We’ll see. But again, I have to complete one or two things as well as continue to positive program.

I have come a long way, and have made a complete 180 degree change in my life. Today, I have just about five years clean and I am 100 percent dedicated and committed to my sobriety which I am now going on four years, four months on. That might of sounded a bit confusing to you right?

Well, the five years thing I was referring to was write-up free. Four that stands for basically rules violations. My first 20 years of incarceration I carried both a mindset and belief system of that of a gang member, and the same as I was from the day I committed my crime.

Today, however I am on a Level four behavioral override, and have been since November 2017.

I’ve been doing, and have been involved in various self help groups such as CGA, stands for Criminal and Gang Members Anonymous, NA, Prisoner of Peace, Substance Abuse Program. And Long Offender Program which carried r-six courses, such as Victim Impact, Criminal Thinking, Family Relations, Denial Management.

And I also did a stint with (YAP) Young Adults Program that worked with at risk kids from the community.

Each l-top course was three to six months, 225 hours each class. So like I mentioned, I am driven and determined and dedicated to my change. I look at it like if I can heal and change, then I can show all these youngsters coming up both in the system right now and hopefully once I get out there that anyone can change!

Most are stuck on not knowing “How to?!” Well, I have, and carry that remedy, and it’s looking right back at you! Hopefully, moving forward, I’ll get the chance to tell you my story, cause trust me, it is a very powerful one.

Well, let me get back on track. Okay, so on this COVID-19 issue; this is what happened to me, and what I experienced. It all started on November 19, 2020.

It started out like any other day, but it would not end that way. At 10 am that day, the nurses came into my block D-four, and tested me for COVID-19. They stuck a long q-tip up my nose that made me feel a little uneasy and disoriented. So, what I forgot to mention is, I have been battling pneumonia and valley fever since like July.

So at 3 pm I was called to the D-yard medical to see a doctor. She goes to tell me that she wants to test me for possible TB. And at first I was like, “okay sure”. But then she goes on to tell me that she wants to send me to the outside hospital, and immediately my antennas went up, and I said, no, absolutely not!

I said, “You can test me here, on the yard, but I am not going to the outside of the hospital with the underlying health conditions that I have right now!”

So, she goes on to say she’ll see if she can test me here on the yard, but if she does, then I am going to have to be quarantined in my cell for seven days. I was perfectly fine with that, and I let her know that.

So she sent me back to my cell, and said, she was going to order the TB test, and they’ll call me back once it comes from the pharmacy. So again, I go back to my block, and I jump in the shower. I’m in the shower for about five minutes and the CO in the tower tells me that they want me back at medical.

At the time, I don’t think too much of it, so I just throw on my shorts, and a blue shirt.

Normally it’s required to wear your blue’s at medical or you won’t be allowed in. Well, once I get there, the RN tells me I have to go back, and put my blues on, ’cause I have to go to (CTC) Center Treatment Clinic and they’re gonna do the TB test over there.

I looked at her, and I instantly knew she was lying, so I said, “no, I’ll wait here” for the test.

She said, “stop, just go over there, they’re already waiting for you!” I was a little hesitant ’cause I felt it in my gut that something was fishy. And I even commented on that. The doctor stuck her head out of her office and I asked her, “what was going on?” She just dismissed me and said “go to CTC”.

To avoid any problems, cause unnecessary attention, and/or have the COs come and escort me, I went ahead and followed directions. I got to CTC, and the RN had a COVID-19 test in her hand, and said, “You’re here for a COVID-19 test and transport to the hospital.” I instantly said, “No, I’m not!”

And just so you know, I already tested for COVID-19 earlier today in my block. I went on to tell her that I’m just here for a TB test! She basically ignored me, and the COs put me in a holding tank and told me to put on a plastic jump suit, and face mask.

I was pretty adamant at informing them that I cannot chance going out to the outside hospital. In fact I feared going out, cause I knew I’d be put into risk of contact.

I refused, and referred, and refused, but my refusal fell on deaf ears, about 20 minutes into the back and forth. Finally the COs said, “Look, to avoid any unnecessary bs, just get in the van, so we don’t have to spray you. Either way you will be going, and you can refuse once you are there.”

Again, the last thing I can afford is a write-up so that was what I was thinking and feared at that moment. So I followed directions like I was told, and dressed for transportation. All the way to the hospital I kept telling the COs that this was a bad idea, and I was being put at risk of catching COVID-19.

They just kept saying, “You’ll be alright”.

So, once we arrive, I did not feel right and I begged the COs to please don’t take me in there. But again, my pleas fell on deaf ears and they kept saying, “you’ll be alright, you’re just gonna get a TB test, and you’ll be out of there.” As we’re walk in, I’m escorted into a room in the ER and I swear, it was a scene out of a movie.

There were people everywhere and it was packed. People were literally sleeping in the hall way, and make shift beds were side by side with plastic separating each person. It was both sad and scary all at the same time. So, I’m now in a back room with the two COs when a nurse who was nice and hella sweet came in and the first thing she asked was “what?”, and “why?” I was there.

When she finished reading my paper work, and realized what I was doing there, her jaw dropped, as she couldn’t believe that I was actually there for a TB test. Her exact words were, “you are kidding me, why couldn’t they administer the test at the prison?” My response was, as I looked at the COs was, “My words exactly?”

So, it was around 10 pm when I was admitted. I was put in a room on the fifth floor with what I believe was a zero pressure room. So, the first couple of days went some what normal, they kept drawing my blood, having me spit in a little cup for like three days straight.

The only good thing was the food was hella good and it was the first time I had seen cable TV, specifically ESPN and FX.

It has been like 26 years since I last seen ESPN, so that was cool. That really helped me keep my mind off of the circumstance I was facing. I thought that I would be okay considering the fact that I had my own room but I was only being naive.

I had at least 10 people a day and night coming and going in, and out of my zero pressure room on the fifth floor. So there I was hoping and praying against all odd’s that I wouldn’t be exposed and have to fight for my life. It was not to be! On the day I was to be transferred back to PVSP, which was four days into my stay at the hospital.

Oh! I almost forgot, I tested negative for tuberculosis which was the whole reason, and concern for the visit. I was administered a COVID-19 test, I explained to the nurse that I had started feeling a little sick and hot. They took my temperature and sure as all out doors, I had a high temp of 99.1.

I was scared shirtless to say the least. One of the RNs that came in tried to instill some calmness and told me not to panic cause that will only make it worse. He said that he’s been treating just about everyone in the hospital that’s tested positive and that those that remained both calm and optimistic got better faster and healed sooner.

And those that panicked got a lot more sicker, and worsened their situation.

So, from that moment on I basically just tried to refrain from thinking negative and kept praying and talking to my higher power. I knew, if I stayed in control of what I can control I’d be a lot better off than not. So, I just put my big boy pants on so to speak and did the very best I could to leave it in God’s hands.

I had a high temp. The night hot flashes. Cold chills made my night miserable. I woke up to a stomach ache and body aches that felt like I had gotten ran over by a truck.

I had diarrhea like Niagara Falls, nothing would stay down and I started to throw up pretty much whatever I ate that day.

I felt, straight up, like I was going to die.

But one thing I have learned about myself is, that I am a fighter. I was fighting for the wrong purpose, and for the wrong reasons most of my life. It was now on and for all the right reason to stay in this battle. All I could think about were my grandkids, and the special women in my life who I promised, I would never give up.

Yes, it was an experience I would never wish on anybody, and it’s been one pandemic that has changed life as we all once knew it. But it was one I weathered and made through only to come out stronger. On Thanksgiving Day around 9 pm I was released from the hospital and sent back to PVSP.

Yes, I made it but I felt so different. I was still feeling symptoms, shortness of breath, and headaches. Not to mention confusion.

Once back I realized the whole week I was in the hospital, D-yard was in disarray. And everybody who tested positive for COVID-19 was being moved into four block and those that we’re in contact were put into five block. The yard as we knew was on lockdown and program was now shut down.

The first week in 3 block, I couldn’t contact no one in my family. No phone or outgoing mail. Nothing!

That changed about seven days in. I was now placed on a 20 day observation status. I was still experiencing some side effects but more than anything, I was really feeling very lonely. In all of my incarceration, and I have been through some tough situations and circumstances, trust me I have!

This one was so different psychologically.

My spirit was on zero and I felt so unsteady. The everyday normal activities were difficult and just plain hard to complete. So, every morning I clean my floor with a wet towel, which is what every man, in every cell in the state uses to clean their floor with anyways. That is something I do everyday and have done since day one, and well, I had a hard time doing that.

I was breathing hard as hell as if I had worked out, when I stood up I lost my balance and was unsteady. I never felt like that. All I could think about was “why did the doctor, who well knew that, I had underlying health conditions still decided to send me out to get exposed?”

So, about two weeks back, I received via prison-mail my results from the November 19th COVID-19 test and sure enough it came back negative. Surprise-surprise. Here I am, some three months later, and really trying my best to put my experience behind me. But I can’t help but still feel like I’m or we’re not out of the woods yet.

I still feel wheezing in my lungs. I still feel shortness of breath. I still feel a little stressed and lonely throughout the day. But I strongly believe it’s just a matter of time before we all get past it. It won’t last forever.

I do want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to share with me and let me know that there is people, regardless of the fact that we know them or not, who actually care about us in here. I can’t say it enough how much that means to us. I appreciate it to the end of the earth and back.

And to all of you at UCI and the pandemic project, I tip my hat and I am so proud of you. That’s right! Continue putting it down and pushing for what is right out there and in here. Take care, and may the main-main and women up above continue to shine bright on you as we all move forward.

Long love and respects,

PS, smile, your thought of the day- of today and always.

PS

Hey PrisonPandemic, just so you know, I shared you letter with my SUDT class which has like 11 students and your project info is posted in the day room of all five buildings on our yard. I received your letter postmarked 2-6-21 on 2-19-21. Hope to hear back asap.

If I send my drawing can I get a laser copy of it back?

You guys will get more dudes to send them that way, just saying.

Chin up mija.

02/21
Consumed by COVID
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Consumed by COVID

HEAR THE FULL STORY

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

We were issued face masks. The prison stopped using the dining hall, cell feeding, visiting was cancelled, and then a confusing array of changes to the program ensued to minimize person-to-person contact.

Sometimes the changes reduced contact, but other times it puzzlingly increased contact. San Quentin, Avenal, and other prisons were consumed by COVID-19. Many prisoners I’d done time with passed away.

At first only staff were tested for COVID-19 but then inmate kitchen workers were tested. And finally everyone was given weekly tests. Prisoners started disappearing to COVID-19 quarantine due to contact tracing or positive tests.

One night 75 prisoners from another facility did not receive a cellmate but the next day compacted voluntarily with another prisoner who a week later was taken to quarantine due to contact tracing.

A prisoner was moved into my cell from the quarantine unit. He had finished his 14-day quarantine, but was still coughing and sneezing. That night I imagined COVID-19 raining down on me from the top bunk.

A week later, I became ill but tested negative for COVID-19, so I thought maybe I just had a cold. The following week I was tested again and this time the test came back positive and the guard popped up at my cell door.

The full story

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

“You’ve tested positive,” stated flatly a guard at my cell door.

“You’re joking,” I responded, as he shook his head no.

I had been sick for awhile, sore throat, head and body aches, a lack of energy, but could still smell and had no fever. I packed my property. And along with 20-odd prisoners, awaited carts to move to the quarantine housing unit.

I first heard of COVID-19 just after the Super Bowl where my beloved San Francisco 49ers had lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, but it was far away in China and did not impact my everyday in California prison.

I watched 60 Minutes and not the words but the visuals shot in a Wuhan hospital brought the crisis into focus. The medical staff looked beyond overwhelmed, as they treated patients stacked everywhere among the dead bodies and vomit splattered on the floor.

As the pandemic arrived on the shores of the United States and the nightly news reported the COVID-19 deaths and showed pictures of the deceased, I noticed that a large percentage of the people were overweight.

There was nothing I could do about the risk factors of underlying health conditions or my age of over 60 years old, but I could shed a few pounds. I started rising early each morning for 20 and then 30, 35, and finally 40 minutes of cardio exercise to improve my lung capacity and shed some pounds.

As the months went by without COVID-19 entering Pleasant Valley Prison, I went from 194 pudgy pounds spread over my 71 inches to a leaner 168.

We were issued face masks. The prison stopped using the dining hall, cell feeding, visiting was cancelled, and then a confusing array of changes to the program ensued to minimize person-to-person contact.

Sometimes the changes reduced contact, but other times it puzzlingly increased contact. San Quentin, Avenal, and other prisons were consumed by COVID-19. Many prisoners I’d done time with passed away.

At first only staff were tested for COVID-19 but then inmate kitchen workers were tested. And finally everyone was given weekly tests. Prisoners started disappearing to COVID-19 quarantine due to contact tracing or positive tests.

One night 75 prisoners from another facility did not receive a cellmate but the next day compacted voluntarily with another prisoner who a week later was taken to quarantine due to contact tracing.

A prisoner was moved into my cell from the quarantine unit. He had finished his 14-day quarantine, but was still coughing and sneezing. That night I imagined COVID-19 raining down on me from the top bunk.

A week later, I became ill but tested negative for COVID-19, so I thought maybe I just had a cold. The following week I was tested again and this time the test came back positive and the guard popped up at my cell door.

My property stacked on a dayroom table, I told my neighbor in the next cell that I had tested positive and volunteered to cell with me in quarantine, “Let’s take the last cart. I’m in no hurry to get over there and don’t want my belongings mixed in with other prisoners.”

The third time the carts came back, we loaded up and wheeled our way to the COVID-19 housing unit. Just pushing the cart 100 yards or so, we were both out of breath and feeling tired. We were given PPE to wear in the housing units, masks, gowns, face shields, assigned cells on the top tier of the mostly empty housing unit. We stacked our property on the tier and I could see water marks on the cell wall and thought the cell must leak when it rained.

“Don’t shut the door,” I told my cellmate.

“Why?”

“We don’t want to be here, so the cops aren’t going to kick us out. Since we got COVID-19, they’re not going to push up on us either,” I reasoned. “Let’s run around a bit.”

Leaving our property on the tier, I headed for the shower and my cellmate went and used the phone. We then ran around to find out who else was in quarantine.

“How did you get out?” asked prisoners from their cells who had come over with us.

“Never shut our door,” we answered.

Finally locking up, unpacking, I realized the cell’s vent was blasting fiery hot air. The toilet would not flush, and when we used the hot water faucet it would not turn off. That night, my cellmate did not snore, but he wheezed loudly. I thought he might have pneumonia.

At around 2 a.m., water started pouring through the back wall of the cell, and I used towels to mop up the water, wringing it out in the sink. Much to my surprise when I looked out the back window, it wasn’t raining. The water was coming from plumbing inside the walls.

Breakfast trays were delivered to the cell. My cellmate wasn’t hungry. I encouraged him to eat anyway but he refused, so I ate his tray. For some reason I was ravenous.

When medical staff came by to check our temperatures and oxygen level in our blood, we told them about my cellmate’s wheezing, lack of appetite, and that he felt his chest was heavy. I also told the guards about the water pouring through the back wall, the toilet not flushing, the hot water continuously running in the sink, the hot air blasting out of the vent, and they said they weren’t plumbers.

How about placing us in another cell?

No response.

A friend of mine came out of his cell for a phone call, fell out, hitting the floor. The ambulance was summoned and he was gone. For the next four days, we slept most of the time. I’d awaken, scrub up the water, and fall back asleep.

The heat from the vent blasted into the water, making the cell seem like a sauna, hot and humid. My cellmate’s wheezing just got worse and he continued not to eat. He was losing weight and I was eating and eating, gaining weight.

Finally, my cellmate was examined by medical staff, diagnosed with pneumonia, received medication and within hours was better and eating. A plumber came to the cell, said it beyond his ability to fix right away, recommended the cell be redlined, condemned, but we remained in the cell.

I phoned of minutes before six, told her about the cell, she phoned the warden’s office, and registered a complaint.

“Did you file a complaint?” an enraged guard snarled at my cell door.

“No, but I phoned someone outside and told them to file one,” I responded. The guard started yelling at me.

“We’ve told you about this cell for five days,” I cut him off. “We’re both sick and this can’t be good for us.”

“You’re not getting moved,” he barked and walked away. Hours later, another guard came to our cell and moved us. This cell was ice cold, but the toilet and the sink worked. Although water came in through the front door, we stuffed a rag under the door and lived with it.

My quarterly package was delivered to my cell. I had boxes of caramel cookies, and when I went to shower I went around to all the prisoners on quarantine and gave each a few packs. We were all sick, all miserable, so I thought to spread a bit of cheer.

He returned from the outside hospital where he was treated with Remdesivir. The guy in my room died, he told me. The body was still there when they brought my tray. Man!

With a few days to go, the guards started asking us to sign a chrono waiving our rights to be removed from quarantine and remain in the housing unit.

“You’ve bumped your head,” I answered icily. “There’s no way I’m staying here.” On day 15, we were packed and ready to leave.

“Your boss called on you to work in the library,” a guard told me. “You can’t go to work from here.”

“Ship me out.”

“The computer network’s down.”

Damn! That night medical staff came by to check my vitals. “I’m off quarantine.” I refused to test.

“Just give them your vitals,” the guard barked at me.

“First, I’m not talking to you,” I replied. “You don’t have anything to do with my medical condition. Second, we were supposed to be out of here today.”

“What harm can it do to give your vitals?” the guard said in a softer manner.

“I don’t want to be on some list of prisoners giving vitals, so I’m not on the move out list tomorrow.” I didn’t give my vitals.

The next day, the librarian called the lieutenant to ask why I hadn’t reported to work. The lieutenant asked the sergeant, and the sergeant came to my housing unit.

“The computer was down yesterday,” the guard tried to explain.

“It was down for an hour. What about the rest of the day? Move him!”

“You need to tell your boss to stop calling about you!” The guard yelled at me.

“Send me to work, and I’ll tell him.” An hour later, we packed and returned to our housing unit, and I went to work.

“I’ll never let them test me for COVID-19 again,” I told my boss. “Never! Ever!”

The end.

02/21
Out of breath
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HEAR THE FULL STORY

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

My property stacked on a dayroom table, I told my neighbor in the next cell that I had tested positive and volunteered to cell with me in quarantine, “Let’s take the last cart. I’m in no hurry to get over there and don’t want my belongings mixed in with other prisoners.”

The third time the carts came back, we loaded up and wheeled our way to the COVID-19 housing unit. Just pushing the cart 100 yards or so, we were both out of breath and feeling tired. We were given PPE to wear in the housing units, masks, gowns, face shields, assigned cells on the top tier of the mostly empty housing unit. We stacked our property on the tier and I could see water marks on the cell wall and thought the cell must leak when it rained.

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.

“You’ve tested positive,” stated flatly a guard at my cell door.

“You’re joking,” I responded, as he shook his head no.

I had been sick for awhile, sore throat, head and body aches, a lack of energy, but could still smell and had no fever. I packed my property. And along with 20-odd prisoners, awaited carts to move to the quarantine housing unit.

I first heard of COVID-19 just after the Super Bowl where my beloved San Francisco 49ers had lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, but it was far away in China and did not impact my everyday in California prison.

I watched 60 Minutes and not the words but the visuals shot in a Wuhan hospital brought the crisis into focus. The medical staff looked beyond overwhelmed, as they treated patients stacked everywhere among the dead bodies and vomit splattered on the floor.

As the pandemic arrived on the shores of the United States and the nightly news reported the COVID-19 deaths and showed pictures of the deceased, I noticed that a large percentage of the people were overweight.

There was nothing I could do about the risk factors of underlying health conditions or my age of over 60 years old, but I could shed a few pounds. I started rising early each morning for 20 and then 30, 35, and finally 40 minutes of cardio exercise to improve my lung capacity and shed some pounds.

As the months went by without COVID-19 entering Pleasant Valley Prison, I went from 194 pudgy pounds spread over my 71 inches to a leaner 168.

We were issued face masks. The prison stopped using the dining hall, cell feeding, visiting was cancelled, and then a confusing array of changes to the program ensued to minimize person-to-person contact.

Sometimes the changes reduced contact, but other times it puzzlingly increased contact. San Quentin, Avenal, and other prisons were consumed by COVID-19. Many prisoners I’d done time with passed away.

At first only staff were tested for COVID-19 but then inmate kitchen workers were tested. And finally everyone was given weekly tests. Prisoners started disappearing to COVID-19 quarantine due to contact tracing or positive tests.

One night 75 prisoners from another facility did not receive a cellmate but the next day compacted voluntarily with another prisoner who a week later was taken to quarantine due to contact tracing.

A prisoner was moved into my cell from the quarantine unit. He had finished his 14-day quarantine, but was still coughing and sneezing. That night I imagined COVID-19 raining down on me from the top bunk.

A week later, I became ill but tested negative for COVID-19, so I thought maybe I just had a cold. The following week I was tested again and this time the test came back positive and the guard popped up at my cell door.

My property stacked on a dayroom table, I told my neighbor in the next cell that I had tested positive and volunteered to cell with me in quarantine, “Let’s take the last cart. I’m in no hurry to get over there and don’t want my belongings mixed in with other prisoners.”

The third time the carts came back, we loaded up and wheeled our way to the COVID-19 housing unit. Just pushing the cart 100 yards or so, we were both out of breath and feeling tired. We were given PPE to wear in the housing units, masks, gowns, face shields, assigned cells on the top tier of the mostly empty housing unit. We stacked our property on the tier and I could see water marks on the cell wall and thought the cell must leak when it rained.

“Don’t shut the door,” I told my cellmate.

“Why?”

“We don’t want to be here, so the cops aren’t going to kick us out. Since we got COVID-19, they’re not going to push up on us either,” I reasoned. “Let’s run around a bit.”

Leaving our property on the tier, I headed for the shower and my cellmate went and used the phone. We then ran around to find out who else was in quarantine.

“How did you get out?” asked prisoners from their cells who had come over with us.

“Never shut our door,” we answered.

Finally locking up, unpacking, I realized the cell’s vent was blasting fiery hot air. The toilet would not flush, and when we used the hot water faucet it would not turn off. That night, my cellmate did not snore, but he wheezed loudly. I thought he might have pneumonia.

At around 2 a.m., water started pouring through the back wall of the cell, and I used towels to mop up the water, wringing it out in the sink. Much to my surprise when I looked out the back window, it wasn’t raining. The water was coming from plumbing inside the walls.

Breakfast trays were delivered to the cell. My cellmate wasn’t hungry. I encouraged him to eat anyway but he refused, so I ate his tray. For some reason I was ravenous.

When medical staff came by to check our temperatures and oxygen level in our blood, we told them about my cellmate’s wheezing, lack of appetite, and that he felt his chest was heavy. I also told the guards about the water pouring through the back wall, the toilet not flushing, the hot water continuously running in the sink, the hot air blasting out of the vent, and they said they weren’t plumbers.

How about placing us in another cell?

No response.

A friend of mine came out of his cell for a phone call, fell out, hitting the floor. The ambulance was summoned and he was gone. For the next four days, we slept most of the time. I’d awaken, scrub up the water, and fall back asleep.

The heat from the vent blasted into the water, making the cell seem like a sauna, hot and humid. My cellmate’s wheezing just got worse and he continued not to eat. He was losing weight and I was eating and eating, gaining weight.

Finally, my cellmate was examined by medical staff, diagnosed with pneumonia, received medication and within hours was better and eating. A plumber came to the cell, said it beyond his ability to fix right away, recommended the cell be redlined, condemned, but we remained in the cell.

I phoned of minutes before six, told her about the cell, she phoned the warden’s office, and registered a complaint.

“Did you file a complaint?” an enraged guard snarled at my cell door.

“No, but I phoned someone outside and told them to file one,” I responded. The guard started yelling at me.

“We’ve told you about this cell for five days,” I cut him off. “We’re both sick and this can’t be good for us.”

“You’re not getting moved,” he barked and walked away. Hours later, another guard came to our cell and moved us. This cell was ice cold, but the toilet and the sink worked. Although water came in through the front door, we stuffed a rag under the door and lived with it.

My quarterly package was delivered to my cell. I had boxes of caramel cookies, and when I went to shower I went around to all the prisoners on quarantine and gave each a few packs. We were all sick, all miserable, so I thought to spread a bit of cheer.

He returned from the outside hospital where he was treated with Remdesivir. The guy in my room died, he told me. The body was still there when they brought my tray. Man!

With a few days to go, the guards started asking us to sign a chrono waiving our rights to be removed from quarantine and remain in the housing unit.

“You’ve bumped your head,” I answered icily. “There’s no way I’m staying here.” On day 15, we were packed and ready to leave.

“Your boss called on you to work in the library,” a guard told me. “You can’t go to work from here.”

“Ship me out.”

“The computer network’s down.”

Damn! That night medical staff came by to check my vitals. “I’m off quarantine.” I refused to test.

“Just give them your vitals,” the guard barked at me.

“First, I’m not talking to you,” I replied. “You don’t have anything to do with my medical condition. Second, we were supposed to be out of here today.”

“What harm can it do to give your vitals?” the guard said in a softer manner.

“I don’t want to be on some list of prisoners giving vitals, so I’m not on the move out list tomorrow.” I didn’t give my vitals.

The next day, the librarian called the lieutenant to ask why I hadn’t reported to work. The lieutenant asked the sergeant, and the sergeant came to my housing unit.

“The computer was down yesterday,” the guard tried to explain.

“It was down for an hour. What about the rest of the day? Move him!”

“You need to tell your boss to stop calling about you!” The guard yelled at me.

“Send me to work, and I’ll tell him.” An hour later, we packed and returned to our housing unit, and I went to work.

“I’ll never let them test me for COVID-19 again,” I told my boss. “Never! Ever!”

The end.

02/21
No response
LISTEN
0:00
0:00

No response

HEAR THE FULL STORY

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

Finally locking up, unpacking, I realized the cell’s vent was blasting fiery hot air. The toilet would not flush, and when we used the hot water faucet it would not turn off. That night, my cellmate did not snore, but he wheezed loudly. I thought he might have pneumonia.

At around 2 a.m., water started pouring through the back wall of the cell, and I used towels to mop up the water, wringing it out in the sink. Much to my surprise when I looked out the back window, it wasn’t raining. The water was coming from plumbing inside the walls.

Breakfast trays were delivered to the cell. My cellmate wasn’t hungry. I encouraged him to eat anyway but he refused, so I ate his tray. For some reason I was ravenous.

When medical staff came by to check our temperatures and oxygen level in our blood, we told them about my cellmate’s wheezing, lack of appetite, and that he felt his chest was heavy. I also told the guards about the water pouring through the back wall, the toilet not flushing, the hot water continuously running in the sink, the hot air blasting out of the vent, and they said they weren’t plumbers.

How about placing us in another cell?

No response.

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.

“You’ve tested positive,” stated flatly a guard at my cell door.

“You’re joking,” I responded, as he shook his head no.

I had been sick for awhile, sore throat, head and body aches, a lack of energy, but could still smell and had no fever. I packed my property. And along with 20-odd prisoners, awaited carts to move to the quarantine housing unit.

I first heard of COVID-19 just after the Super Bowl where my beloved San Francisco 49ers had lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, but it was far away in China and did not impact my everyday in California prison.

I watched 60 Minutes and not the words but the visuals shot in a Wuhan hospital brought the crisis into focus. The medical staff looked beyond overwhelmed, as they treated patients stacked everywhere among the dead bodies and vomit splattered on the floor.

As the pandemic arrived on the shores of the United States and the nightly news reported the COVID-19 deaths and showed pictures of the deceased, I noticed that a large percentage of the people were overweight.

There was nothing I could do about the risk factors of underlying health conditions or my age of over 60 years old, but I could shed a few pounds. I started rising early each morning for 20 and then 30, 35, and finally 40 minutes of cardio exercise to improve my lung capacity and shed some pounds.

As the months went by without COVID-19 entering Pleasant Valley Prison, I went from 194 pudgy pounds spread over my 71 inches to a leaner 168.

We were issued face masks. The prison stopped using the dining hall, cell feeding, visiting was cancelled, and then a confusing array of changes to the program ensued to minimize person-to-person contact.

Sometimes the changes reduced contact, but other times it puzzlingly increased contact. San Quentin, Avenal, and other prisons were consumed by COVID-19. Many prisoners I’d done time with passed away.

At first only staff were tested for COVID-19 but then inmate kitchen workers were tested. And finally everyone was given weekly tests. Prisoners started disappearing to COVID-19 quarantine due to contact tracing or positive tests.

One night 75 prisoners from another facility did not receive a cellmate but the next day compacted voluntarily with another prisoner who a week later was taken to quarantine due to contact tracing.

A prisoner was moved into my cell from the quarantine unit. He had finished his 14-day quarantine, but was still coughing and sneezing. That night I imagined COVID-19 raining down on me from the top bunk.

A week later, I became ill but tested negative for COVID-19, so I thought maybe I just had a cold. The following week I was tested again and this time the test came back positive and the guard popped up at my cell door.

My property stacked on a dayroom table, I told my neighbor in the next cell that I had tested positive and volunteered to cell with me in quarantine, “Let’s take the last cart. I’m in no hurry to get over there and don’t want my belongings mixed in with other prisoners.”

The third time the carts came back, we loaded up and wheeled our way to the COVID-19 housing unit. Just pushing the cart 100 yards or so, we were both out of breath and feeling tired. We were given PPE to wear in the housing units, masks, gowns, face shields, assigned cells on the top tier of the mostly empty housing unit. We stacked our property on the tier and I could see water marks on the cell wall and thought the cell must leak when it rained.

“Don’t shut the door,” I told my cellmate.

“Why?”

“We don’t want to be here, so the cops aren’t going to kick us out. Since we got COVID-19, they’re not going to push up on us either,” I reasoned. “Let’s run around a bit.”

Leaving our property on the tier, I headed for the shower and my cellmate went and used the phone. We then ran around to find out who else was in quarantine.

“How did you get out?” asked prisoners from their cells who had come over with us.

“Never shut our door,” we answered.

Finally locking up, unpacking, I realized the cell’s vent was blasting fiery hot air. The toilet would not flush, and when we used the hot water faucet it would not turn off. That night, my cellmate did not snore, but he wheezed loudly. I thought he might have pneumonia.

At around 2 a.m., water started pouring through the back wall of the cell, and I used towels to mop up the water, wringing it out in the sink. Much to my surprise when I looked out the back window, it wasn’t raining. The water was coming from plumbing inside the walls.

Breakfast trays were delivered to the cell. My cellmate wasn’t hungry. I encouraged him to eat anyway but he refused, so I ate his tray. For some reason I was ravenous.

When medical staff came by to check our temperatures and oxygen level in our blood, we told them about my cellmate’s wheezing, lack of appetite, and that he felt his chest was heavy. I also told the guards about the water pouring through the back wall, the toilet not flushing, the hot water continuously running in the sink, the hot air blasting out of the vent, and they said they weren’t plumbers.

How about placing us in another cell?

No response.

A friend of mine came out of his cell for a phone call, fell out, hitting the floor. The ambulance was summoned and he was gone. For the next four days, we slept most of the time. I’d awaken, scrub up the water, and fall back asleep.

The heat from the vent blasted into the water, making the cell seem like a sauna, hot and humid. My cellmate’s wheezing just got worse and he continued not to eat. He was losing weight and I was eating and eating, gaining weight.

Finally, my cellmate was examined by medical staff, diagnosed with pneumonia, received medication and within hours was better and eating. A plumber came to the cell, said it beyond his ability to fix right away, recommended the cell be redlined, condemned, but we remained in the cell.

I phoned of minutes before six, told her about the cell, she phoned the warden’s office, and registered a complaint.

“Did you file a complaint?” an enraged guard snarled at my cell door.

“No, but I phoned someone outside and told them to file one,” I responded. The guard started yelling at me.

“We’ve told you about this cell for five days,” I cut him off. “We’re both sick and this can’t be good for us.”

“You’re not getting moved,” he barked and walked away. Hours later, another guard came to our cell and moved us. This cell was ice cold, but the toilet and the sink worked. Although water came in through the front door, we stuffed a rag under the door and lived with it.

My quarterly package was delivered to my cell. I had boxes of caramel cookies, and when I went to shower I went around to all the prisoners on quarantine and gave each a few packs. We were all sick, all miserable, so I thought to spread a bit of cheer.

He returned from the outside hospital where he was treated with Remdesivir. The guy in my room died, he told me. The body was still there when they brought my tray. Man!

With a few days to go, the guards started asking us to sign a chrono waiving our rights to be removed from quarantine and remain in the housing unit.

“You’ve bumped your head,” I answered icily. “There’s no way I’m staying here.” On day 15, we were packed and ready to leave.

“Your boss called on you to work in the library,” a guard told me. “You can’t go to work from here.”

“Ship me out.”

“The computer network’s down.”

Damn! That night medical staff came by to check my vitals. “I’m off quarantine.” I refused to test.

“Just give them your vitals,” the guard barked at me.

“First, I’m not talking to you,” I replied. “You don’t have anything to do with my medical condition. Second, we were supposed to be out of here today.”

“What harm can it do to give your vitals?” the guard said in a softer manner.

“I don’t want to be on some list of prisoners giving vitals, so I’m not on the move out list tomorrow.” I didn’t give my vitals.

The next day, the librarian called the lieutenant to ask why I hadn’t reported to work. The lieutenant asked the sergeant, and the sergeant came to my housing unit.

“The computer was down yesterday,” the guard tried to explain.

“It was down for an hour. What about the rest of the day? Move him!”

“You need to tell your boss to stop calling about you!” The guard yelled at me.

“Send me to work, and I’ll tell him.” An hour later, we packed and returned to our housing unit, and I went to work.

“I’ll never let them test me for COVID-19 again,” I told my boss. “Never! Ever!”

The end.

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