Tehachapi

CALIFORNIA CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION IS LOCATED IN TEHACHAPI, CA,
HOUSING 3,696 PEOPLE.

Since March 2020, there have been 1,386 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 4 deaths, at this facility.

Stories from Tehachapi

12/20
Didn’t earn it
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Didn’t earn it

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This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Tehachapi.

Being inside a prison during the age of COVID has been like nothing I ever experienced before. I really can’t compare it to anything. The phone company that provides service for the prison has been giving us free phone calls on certain days, so that’s cool. And recently, me and bunch of other inmates got three months knocked off our sentence for good behavior during these rough times. It felt good to get the time reduction, but at the same time I felt bad because of the circumstances of everything. Like thousands of people had to die from a virus in order for me to get the three months knocked off my sentence. I didn’t really do anything to earn it. I just wish it came under different circumstances, that’s all.

Most of my days are spent inside of my cell reading books, and doing GED homework that gets sent to my cell. I don’t have a radio or TV at the moment, so I don’t know what’s going on out there in the world. Sometimes, I get extremely bored. The books help with that. I can’t physical go to the library because of COVID restrictions, so I use the half-decent book system they have, that consist of a bunch of authors and book titles and bar codes. I say it’s half-decent because it takes a week to receive your book. And then when your done it’s not like you could return it yourself, you have to wait for library people to come get it. And then you could only get one book. I’m done with that book in two days. So yeah I said half-decent but that might be too much praise.

As I write this letter, a nurse just came by doing temperature checks. It seems like the building I live in is going on a quarantine again. Some inmates are testing positive, so they’re gonna be moving to the isolation building. Everyday something new up here, you never know what’s gonna happen next.

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

Hello “UCI Student”

PrisonPandemic Project sounds great, and I would love to share some stories for the archive, for historical purposes with the goal they could lead to positive reforms. My grammar and sentence structure is not “college standard”, so bear with me. Maybe you could edit this for me if I make it on the website.

Well, I guess I should start at the beginning, when it all started. I was actually at a different prison, to be exact. I was getting ready to be transferred to Tehachapi, and then all hell broke loose. The same day I was supposed to get on a bus, and come down here, was the same day California had shut down. So yeah, I felt the effects of COVID-19 immediately. With the shelter in place in effect, the prison wasn’t doing any transfers, so I was held up for another 2 months.

During that time, I was holed up in my cell watching a lot of Stargate SG1, that’s how I was coping with all this. It’s actually a great show and Amanda Tapping is beautiful, but that’s another story for another day. I just wanna highly recommend that show as must watch TV show. Even though it came out 24 years ago, it’s all good, call it a classic.

So I’m stuck for a while, the world is shot down. Did I feel safe? Yeah, I felt pretty safe being locked inside of a prison during a worldwide pandemic. I was actually more worried for the people out there on the streets. I kinda felt like I was in my own personal fallout shelter or bunker. Or “Panic Room,” like the movie with Helen Hunt & Forest Whitaker. Yup, the perfect hiding place. Or was that Jody Foster? They actually look alike, I can’t confirm who that was at the moment, I’ll just go with Helen Hunt.

In 2020, they finally put me on a bus headed to Tehachapi. That was a real strange experience. Because due to COVID-19 restrictions, I got to ride on a big prison bus that usually carries like 50 inmates. But instead of 50, it was only three of us on the hour bus ride down here. During the ride, I got to look at the new world we live in. It really wasn’t much to see, everybody was inside, sheltering in place. When I got here, I had to deal with all the changes due to coronavirus. A lot of limited movement and things of that nature. Nothing that’s really noteworthy. Well, last month I actually tested positive for COVID-19, so I was put in isolation for two weeks. I never had any symptoms and I didn’t feel sick at all. And all that because I have a bad tooth that needs to be removed. I went to the dentist trying to get my tooth fixed, but you have to take a COVID test before dental will do any work. And that’s how I ended up in isolation for two weeks. Very frustrating because my tooth is still messed up.

Being inside a prison during the age of COVID has been like nothing I ever experienced before. I really can’t compare it to anything. The phone company that provides service for the prison has been giving us free phone calls on certain days, so that’s cool. And recently, me and bunch of other inmates got three months knocked off our sentence for good behavior during these rough times. It felt good to get the time reduction, but at the same time I felt bad because of the circumstances of everything. Like thousands of people had to die from a virus in order for me to get the three months knocked off my sentence. I didn’t really do anything to earn it. I just wish it came under different circumstances, that’s all.

Most of my days are spent inside of my cell reading books, and doing GED homework that gets sent to my cell. I don’t have a radio or TV at the moment, so I don’t know what’s going on out there in the world. Sometimes, I get extremely bored. The books help with that. I can’t physically go to the library because of COVID restrictions, so I use the half-decent book system they have, that consist of a bunch of authors and book titles and bar codes. I say it’s half-decent because it takes a week to receive your book. And then when your done it’s not like you could return it yourself, you have to wait for library people to come get it. And then you could only get one book. I’m done with that book in two days. So yeah I said half-decent but that might be too much praise.

As I write this letter, a nurse just came by doing temperature checks. It seems like the building I live in is going on a quarantine again. Some inmates are testing positive, so they’re gonna be moving to the isolation building. Everyday something new up here, you never know what’s gonna happen next.

Don’t worry, my letter doesn’t have coronavirus, I feel fine, but I’m sure your taking precautions as you should.

Way back in February, when the news was starting to talk about the coronavirus sometime, I had a radio that I listened to a lot. The news was talking about the virus, and nobody was really taken it seriously. I remember leaving a building where they do groups at. I was writing in a crowded hallway full of inmates, no masks, no social distancing, but it was only February. Nobody cared. So, this inmate I know walks up to me with his handout to say what’s up and greet me, instead of shaking his hand, I balled up my fist and gave him some “dap” or “first bump” and I said “hey man, corona”. He kinda looked a lil’ crazy. I guess I was little paranoid because I was listening to the news a lot. Now looking back at that moment, I had in retro-spect, I guess I was just prepared. I never knew it would come to this though.

It’s great that UC Irvine is giving inmates a pandemic voice, and an outlet to speak with the PrisonPandemic Project. I think it’s important to get a view of the pandemic, from a prisoner’s perspective. And it’s a good way to document history.

I actually never attended college, but I have been on a few campuses up north. And it’s always cool, I love colleges and the culture that surrounds it. So that’s why I was excited to get your letter and eager to write back. Thanks for reaching out. You came to the right place. If you need any more stories or anything else, you can write to me anytime you want.

Best wishes.

12/20
Getting us sick
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Getting us sick

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This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Tehachapi.

Everyone (inmates) around me are getting sick from coronavirus. CDC cannot do much to keep us safe. Staff are getting us sick. But I don’t think they can do anything to prevent the virus to getting to us. Unless they put everybody in cells. They (CDC) don’t have enough room for that. Family and friends are all gone. I had a pen-pal, but she lost too many of her family members to this pandemic, so she doesn’t write anymore. So life for me is not good for me at all! My future is just a big dark cloud. They try to say that “everybody’s life matters.” This is not true.

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

December 2020

To whom it may concern:

PrisonPandemic Project

Well, first of all, thank you, for getting in contact with me. I don’t know how you got my info, but it is alright, I don’t mind. I will share a small portion of my story behind bars. I don’t know how interesting my story will be to you. I have been incarcerated since July [redacted] 1995 for a traffic violation (VC) evading arrest. I have three strikes, non-violent. Everyone in my family has passed away, including my wife. I have no kids. I am a 55-year-old Black male. I feel that being incarcerated for 25-plus years is over the top.

I have tried every attempt through appeals and the court system. I was supposed to go my parole board hearing on February [redacted] 2020, but they (COs) found a cell phone by my bed area. It wasn’t mine, but nobody was willing to claim it. I am in dorm living, so many people (inmates) could have put it in my bed area. So I was denied parole for three years for the phone. I have non-violent RVRs (rules violating reports) since I’ve been incarcerated. I am housed in a lower level institution because of my positive programming. I have done everything possible to get out of prison. I have such horrible luck.

I live in Los Angeles. I came to California from New York City at the age of 12. I started associating myself with street gangs and that’s where my problem started. My mother was a single parent, trying to make ends meet. She had to work several jobs. But she took good care of me. I was just too wild and curious about the streets and that started my life of being locked up. Fortunately, I never used any drugs or harmed anyone seriously. I am not a violent person at all. I am just a person who does not make smart choices. I am doing my best to be a much different person. It just does not seem like I am ever going to be a free man, ever again.

Everybody (inmates) around me are getting sick from coronavirus. CDC cannot do much to keep us safe. Staff are getting us sick. But I don’t think they can do anything to prevent the virus to getting to us. Unless they put everybody in cells. They (CDC) don’t have enough room for that. Family and friends are all gone. I had a pen-pal, but she lost too many of her family members to this pandemic, so she doesn’t write anymore. So life for me is not good for me at all! My future is just a big dark cloud. They try to say that “everybody’s life matters.” This is not true. They are trying to make it seem like I’m too dangerous for society. 25 years for a traffic violation is too much time being locked-up. I know that I have made some bad choices in my life, but this is not right. And nobody cares!

Well, now that I am completely depressed, I will end this story. Don’t know if this is enough to make a story for you, but I would rather be free again than to keep getting my hopes high up again, just to be let down or disappointed! I have a copy of my criminal history, just in case you want to see if I am telling the truth. I hope you and your staff has a nice day. Thank you for your concern.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

12/20
No control of it
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No control of it

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This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Tehachapi.

UCI student,

May these words find you in conscious mind and sober spirits. I don’t know how you found me amongst thousands of incarcerated men and women, but the intent behind the reason why you did it is admirable and pertinent. So for that, I thank you.

As for me, the most impact that COVID-19 has had on me is the abrupt stop of visitation with my family and friends. I don’t necessarily mind the prolonged “in cell time” simply because I am a firm believer in taking advantage of my surroundings and using idle time to get things accomplished. It’s the not being able to see my family part that gets to me, and not knowing when I’ll be able to see them again. The ending of this pandemic and all it entails is nebulous as well as unforeseen.

What I can relay is that CCI Tehachapi are taking measures in assuring her health is up to par. In their power, they also have on the institutional prison channel about the said virus that indicates oneself of the signs, symptoms, and preventions.

If someone has been affected, then that individual is sent to another building located on the same yard for quarantine and a stripped away from the little privileges they once had. They also limited the food we can purchase from commissary (specifically soups and noodles) for a short period of time, but now that’s back to running regular.

But like I said before, it’s the no visits that weighs down on me heavily, to the point that I no longer think about it, because I have no control of it. All that said, I thank you once again for what you’re doing in allowing me to be a participant in your historical archives. Take heart and thrive!

No control of it

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12/20
Waiting
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Waiting

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This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Tehachapi.

U.C. Irvine Pandemic Project students,

Greeting with good health through the crisis. Your concern and project are something I appreciate. I am 51 years old (right in the COVID-19 range). I’ve been in prison for 21 years, and with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s history of medical failures, the beginning of the crisis had me stressed out a bit. Though it hasn’t been as bad as predicted.

So far here at CCI Tehachapi, the hardest hit of infections I’ve witnessed personally, what is a few months ago, 13 out of a compact of 40-bed unit, tested positive. They were all CTC (confined to cell), isolated until the infection passed. Of 13 infected, only one or two had to be moved to a medical isolation unit due to harsher symptoms.

So my experience seems removed from the drastic changes the pandemic’s hat on society. Which can be stressful, because it seems the waiting for the pandemic to hit harder. For those that have had a worse experience, I apologize, but so far, so good. I am keeping my mask on in any group setting.

I would complain about the duration of lockdowns, and program modifications, but this is a max-security facility, meaning the modifications (though much longer in duration) aren’t anything we haven’t experienced before. We definitely miss visits, etc. I am trying to cope. Just like everyone else. Thanks for checking in.

Testing has been regular. I am tired of the swab already.

Waiting

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12/20
I’m helpless
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I’m helpless

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This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Tehachapi.

The two people I love more than anything in this world are my grandparents who are in their 80s. Now that there is a pandemic, it puts their lives in jeopardy and I’m helpless. I can’t do anything because of the decisions I’ve made. My celly lost his grandmother to COVID-19. My brother had it and recovered. It seems like it’s getting closer and closer. It’s the most stressful time for me since I’ve been incarcerated.

On top of all that, the conditions inside are getting worse and worse. I hope I’m not offending you or anyone when I say this, but some people are so selfish when they choose not to wear a mask or social distance. It’s so stupid how they try and justify why they don’t. Only until they themselves experience this horrible disease. But I still pray they won’t have to, and realize the coronavirus is serious.

A few inmates in here have caught it, and so have a few of the correctional officers. The effect of this pandemic is reaching everything. A few days out of the week we have gotten a peanut butter packet as a substitution for our main course. It has also affected the food items we are allowed to purchase in the canteen. There’s practically a limit on everything. We can only order 24 soups each month. On top of that we stay on two-week coronavirus lockdown/modified program. We go on one, get off for a few days, they go right back on for two weeks. So because of that we are not allowed to shop at the canteen or receive packages.

My celly finally received a package that was sitting in R&R (receiving and release) where they store our packages, for almost a month after it got here. And when we started to eat some items out of that package, we realized, halfway through a honey bun, that it was rotten! It was extremely upsetting because my celly had ordered a lot of pastries, and almost all were rotten.

The biggest thing I’m afraid of is what would happen if I caught the virus. Well, more like what wouldn’t happen. Even when there wasn’t a pandemic, the most common remedy we receive for health problems, ranging from a cold to a full blown unknown sickness that causes you to vomit every 25 minutes, is an ibuprofen and to drink a lot of water.

I mean I’ve had those spells a few times in the last month where I wake up with a severe migraine, cold sweats, and vomit every 25 minutes. I thought it was my fault the first time, because I had been drinking. But the following two times it happened, I didn’t drink. I went to medical two out of there three times, but all they gave me was some Gatorade.

I’m not the type to complain and go to medical, but it was getting scary. The medical inside these prisons are a joke. They don’t care about us. Now that there’s a disease going around, with a vaccine still in its early stages, there’s really nothing they will do. Just quarantine us in our cell. Inmates have it the worst.

I do understand nobody is to blame, for why we are here, but ourselves. But it doesn’t give the people who are supposed to watch over us the right to treat us like animals. I don’t know, I don’t want to seem like I’m complaining, because I can do this. Unfortunately I’ve been living like this, in institutions like this since I was 13. I feel for those who haven’t.

Once again I really appreciate you for reaching out. There are no visits, for I don’t know how long. So it gets really lonely/ I had just started getting visits too, now I can’t see my family. It’s a horrible feeling. I pray the get this vaccine mass produced sooner than later. I can’t wait until everything’s back to normal, if normal is even possible.

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

December, 4th 2020

UCI student,

First and foremost, thank you for reaching out to me. Not a lot of people are thinking about us during this pandemic. I pray you, your peers, and your families are healthy, and staying safe while the world battles this disease.

I do not mind if you put my name out there as the author of this letter. Let me start by giving you a brief introduction. I am 27 years old, and have served about 6 1/2 years of a 34 years to life sentence for second-degree attempted murder. I was born and raised in Southern California, in the small city, Hacienda Heights. I was raised and adopted by my maternal grandparents. I was brought up right, had everything I needed, as well as things I wanted. The neighborhood was far from dangerous. If anything, it was safe enough to leave your home doors unlocked and never feel uneasy.

As I grew into my teens, I started to listen to rap music and honestly believe that played a major factor into my downfall. I wanted to be a gangster. I found the people who were gang-related and grew up in the ghetto. I have no idea why, but I was attracted to that lifestyle. I think it was the lack of respect for all types of authority, and the false sense of a reality where I could do whatever I wanted, illegal or not. Coming to prison was inevitable now that I look back.

Now that I’m here, reality is setting in. The world can be cruel, more now than ever. The two people I love more than anything in this world are my grandparents who are in their 80s. Now that there is a pandemic, it puts their lives in jeopardy and I’m helpless. I can’t do anything because of the decisions I’ve made. My celly lost his grandmother to COVID-19. My brother had it and recovered. It seems like it’s getting closer and closer. It’s the most stressful time for me since I’ve been incarcerated.

On top of all that, the conditions inside are getting worse and worse. I hope I’m not offending you or anyone when I say this, but some people are so selfish when they choose not to wear a mask or social distance. It’s so stupid how they try and justify why they don’t. Only until they themselves experience this horrible disease. But I still pray they won’t have to, and realize the coronavirus is serious.

A few inmates in here have caught it, and so have a few of the correctional officers. The effect of this pandemic is reaching everything. A few days out of the week we have gotten a peanut butter packet as a substitution for our main course. It has also affected the food items we are allowed to purchase in the canteen. There’s practically a limit on everything. We can only order 24 soups each month. On top of that we stay on two-week coronavirus lockdown/modified program. We go on one, get off for a few days, they go right back on for two weeks. So because of that we are not allowed to shop at the canteen or receive packages.

My celly finally received a package that was sitting in R&R (receiving and release) where they store our packages, for almost a month after it got here. And when we started to eat some items out of that package, we realized, halfway through a honey bun, that it was rotten! It was extremely upsetting because my celly had ordered a lot of pastries, and almost all were rotten.

The biggest thing I’m afraid of is what would happen if I caught the virus. Well, more like what wouldn’t happen. Even when there wasn’t a pandemic, the most common remedy we receive for health problems, ranging from a cold to a full blown unknown sickness that causes you to vomit every 25 minutes, is an ibuprofen and to drink a lot of water.

I mean I’ve had those spells a few times in the last month where I wake up with a severe migraine, cold sweats, and vomit every 25 minutes. I thought it was my fault the first time, because I had been drinking. But the following two times it happened, I didn’t drink. I went to medical two out of there three times, but all they gave me was some Gatorade.

I’m not the type to complain and go to medical, but it was getting scary. The medical inside these prisons are a joke. They don’t care about us. Now that there’s a disease going around, with a vaccine still in its early stages, there’s really nothing they will do. Just quarantine us in our cell. Inmates have it the worst.

I do understand nobody is to blame, for why we are here, but ourselves. But it doesn’t give the people who are supposed to watch over us the right to treat us like animals. I don’t know, I don’t want to seem like I’m complaining, because I can do this. Unfortunately I’ve been living like this, in institutions like this since I was 13. I feel for those who haven’t.

Once again I really appreciate you for reaching out. There are no visits, for I don’t know how long. So it gets really lonely/ I had just started getting visits too, now I can’t see my family. It’s a horrible feeling. I pray the get this vaccine mass produced sooner than later. I can’t wait until everything’s back to normal, if normal is even possible. This is World War III if you ask me. Please stay safe out there!

P.S. If you do decide to post my letter, can I please have a copy of the post? It would be greatly appreciated! If not, I understand, but contact me with the website it will be posted.

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