Pleasant Valley

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

Since March 2020, there have been 1,990 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 3 deaths, at this facility.

Stories from Pleasant Valley

02/21
You’re joking
LISTEN
0:00
0:00

You’re joking

HEAR THE FULL STORY

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

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
Consumed by COVID
LISTEN
0:00
0:00

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

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
Out of breath
LISTEN
0:00
0:00

Out of breath

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.

02/21
Like a sauna
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Like a sauna

HEAR THE FULL STORY

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

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 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.

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.

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