Valley State

VALLEY STATE PRISON IS LOCATED IN CHOWCHILLA, CA,
HOUSING 2,999 PEOPLE.

Since March 2020, there have been 1,732 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 2 deaths, at this facility.

Stories from Valley State

02/21
Freely infect others
LISTEN
0:00
0:00

Freely infect others

HEAR THE FULL STORY

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

Meanwhile, I noticed some things about how the pandemic has been handled in prison. First, many staff members refused to wear masks for months. Inmates didn’t want to in many cases, but we were ordered to long before the officers were ordered to.

Next, when people were exposed to the virus, they were all moved to another building. I noticed that as they gathered on their original yard to await escort to the quarantine building, officers took all their IDs and put them together in one plastic bag. This procedure had never been done before.

When they got to the quarantine building, their IDs were redistributed. I kept wondering why, since many of them did not have the virus, why would they put all their IDs in one bag? It was a foolish thing to do if you did not want the virus to spread.

Eventually, I tested positive for the virus. So I was not moved to the same building as ‘exposed’ people. I went to a building for only people who tested positive. What I learned was this: To get out of that quarantined building (with no program all locked down), a person needed to report no symptoms for two weeks.

I hate to say this, but many prisoners are not completely honest. What did they do? Of course they did not want to stay locked in a room for 24 hours a day, so regardless of how they felt, they reported twice each day that they had no fever, they were released from quarantine after two weeks to freely infect others.

This was done with the knowledge of the federal medical receiver assigned to oversee California’s prisons. For some reason, instead of requiring a negative test to get out of quarantine, the receiver OK’d the word of each prisoner to self report symptoms other than vitals taken by nurses.

So they dumped still-sick inmates back into the population. That’s how I got the virus. A person in ‘so-called’ remission was placed in my room. Was all that intentional? I don’t know. Was it negligent? Yes.

The full story

Go Back

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

PrisonPandemic,

A friend of mine gave me a letter which invited inmates to share their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. I would like to share the following, and I understand it could be publicly posted anonymously.

I have been incarcerated for more than 17 years with a 26-to-life sentence for murder. Otherwise, I had no record. I have been at Valley State Prison since it was converted to a men’s prison in 2012.

We inmates pay attention to the news, and we knew the pandemic would affect us although we did not know how. We remain vulnerable to overcrowding between 100 percent to 200 percent of design capacity, which, in turn, makes us extremely vulnerable to disease transmission.

Early in 2020, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations or CDCR reduced program dramatically in effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We, except for few critical workers, were no longer allowed to go to work, attend school, or attend self-help groups.

Our time for recreation on the yard became reduced to two hours per day so that only one building would be on the yard at a time. The CDCR reduced our access to dayrooms to two hours per day so that only one of four hallways would be in the dayroom at a time.

These changes reduced our ability to use telephones, and all visiting was cancelled. This caused our ability to contact family and friends to decrease greatly.

The CDCR took other measures to help in these areas. They worked with our telephone monopoly, GTL, to give us two days per month of free phone calls. They gave all of us without recent write ups a credit of 84 days off of our sentences.

Eventually, they allowed short video visits. Unfortunately, telephone access was reduced to half for social distancing, which made it very hard to sign up for a phone call.

Time dragged on as it usually does for prisoners except even more slowly. Reduced programming in prison and increased isolation is damaging to inmates unless they can find a way to protect their psychological and emotional systems.

To protect myself, I needed to stay busy being productive, so I started studying Hebrew and Spanish. I had in my possession a college textbook for learning how to read Hebrew, and later, I borrowed a Spanish book from the ‘Dummies’ series from a friend of mine.

I started with Hebrew and skimmed the book once and then started over methodically with a will and an overflow of time in my life to study. I studied for a few hours each day, sometimes as little as two and sometimes six or more.

After several months of study, I can read the Old Testament in Hebrew, and I know about 85 to 90 percent of all Old Testament Hebrew roots. Speaking the language would be a different story since I’ve never heard a conversation in Hebrew, but reading it has been a breakthrough to me.

I’ve been around Spanish speakers for much of my life, so I know a few words and phrases, but I started studying the Spanish for Dummies book, and I do recommend it. I recently started writing friends of mine in Mexico in Spanish! I’m starting to practice oral skills too.

Meanwhile, I noticed some things about how the pandemic has been handled in prison. First, many staff members refused to wear masks for months. Inmates didn’t want to in many cases, but we were ordered to long before the officers were ordered to.

Next, when people were exposed to the virus, they were all moved to another building. I noticed that as they gathered on their original yard to await escort to the quarantine building, officers took all their IDs and put them together in one plastic bag. This procedure had never been done before.

When they got to the quarantine building, their IDs were redistributed. I kept wondering why, since many of them did not have the virus, why would they put all their IDs in one bag? It was a foolish thing to do if you did not want the virus to spread.

Eventually, I tested positive for the virus. So I was not moved to the same building as ‘exposed’ people. I went to a building for only people who tested positive. What I learned was this: To get out of that quarantined building (with no program all locked down), a person needed to report no symptoms for two weeks.

I hate to say this, but many prisoners are not completely honest. What did they do? Of course they did not want to stay locked in a room for 24 hours a day, so regardless of how they felt, they reported twice each day that they had no fever, they were released from quarantine after two weeks to freely infect others.

This was done with the knowledge of the federal medical receiver assigned to oversee California’s prisons. For some reason, instead of requiring a negative test to get out of quarantine, the receiver OK’d the word of each prisoner to self report symptoms other than vitals taken by nurses.

So they dumped still-sick inmates back into the population. That’s how I got the virus. A person in ‘so-called’ remission was placed in my room. Was all that intentional? I don’t know. Was it negligent? Yes.

Beyond that, most people don’t know that one of the most stressful things you can do to an inmate is move him to another cell, room, building, yard or prison. He won’t feel safe while he’s being moved. He doesn’t know if danger awaits him in the next room he moves to. It’s very hard and stressful.

Overcrowding makes us vulnerable to disease. While the CDCR may report that Valley State Prison is at some lesser percentage, most buildings and rooms are at 175 to 200 percent of design capacity. How can they report a lower number?

Because they count rooms and buildings they should not. For example, the ‘hole’ on ad seg building represents 100 cells that are not normal housing. That shouldn’t count as open cells. Another entire building of 32 rooms with eight beds each is reserved for sick people.

These rooms should not be counted as capacity. My room, as most others, contains eight people but was designed for four! It’s a breeding ground for disease.

The problem is that the federal judges allows the CDCR to be at 137.5 percent of design capacity overall. That counts ad seg or punishment isolation, or administrative segregation, condemned areas, quarantine areas, etc.

During the time with the most cases here, inmates were housed in the gymnasium, chapels, and classrooms with porta-potties and cold portable showers! These were inmates with COVID-19!

To be ready for a pandemic, every prison throughout the state should be capped at 90 percent design capacity, and that capacity should never include ad seg, condemned areas or non-standard housing. Then the state would have the ability to move people around if needed and to create quarantine areas.

Until that happens, we cannot be kept safe regardless of how hard the wardens and staff work. They have been given an impossible situation to deal with. I’ve survived COVID-19, but others did not.

02/21
Reduced programming
LISTEN
0:00
0:00

Reduced programming

HEAR THE FULL STORY

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

Early in 2020, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations or CDCR reduced program dramatically in effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We, except for few critical workers, were no longer allowed to go to work, attend school, or attend self-help groups.

Our time for recreation on the yard became reduced to two hours per day so that only one building would be on the yard at a time. The CDCR reduced our access to dayrooms to two hours per day so that only one of four hallways would be in the dayroom at a time.

These changes reduced our ability to use telephones, and all visiting was cancelled. This caused our ability to contact family and friends to decrease greatly.

The CDCR took other measures to help in these areas. They worked with our telephone monopoly, GTL, to give us two days per month of free phone calls. They gave all of us without recent write ups a credit of 84 days off of our sentences.

Eventually, they allowed short video visits. Unfortunately, telephone access was reduced to half for social distancing, which made it very hard to sign up for a phone call.

Time dragged on as it usually does for prisoners except even more slowly. Reduced programming in prison and increased isolation is damaging to inmates unless they can find a way to protect their psychological and emotional systems.

To protect myself, I needed to stay busy being productive, so I started studying Hebrew and Spanish. I had in my possession a college textbook for learning how to read Hebrew, and later, I borrowed a Spanish book from the ‘Dummies’ series from a friend of mine.

The full story

Go Back

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

PrisonPandemic,

A friend of mine gave me a letter which invited inmates to share their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. I would like to share the following, and I understand it could be publicly posted anonymously.

I have been incarcerated for more than 17 years with a 26-to-life sentence for murder. Otherwise, I had no record. I have been at Valley State Prison since it was converted to a men’s prison in 2012.

We inmates pay attention to the news, and we knew the pandemic would affect us although we did not know how. We remain vulnerable to overcrowding between 100 percent to 200 percent of design capacity, which, in turn, makes us extremely vulnerable to disease transmission.

Early in 2020, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations or CDCR reduced program dramatically in effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We, except for few critical workers, were no longer allowed to go to work, attend school, or attend self-help groups.

Our time for recreation on the yard became reduced to two hours per day so that only one building would be on the yard at a time. The CDCR reduced our access to dayrooms to two hours per day so that only one of four hallways would be in the dayroom at a time.

These changes reduced our ability to use telephones, and all visiting was cancelled. This caused our ability to contact family and friends to decrease greatly.

The CDCR took other measures to help in these areas. They worked with our telephone monopoly, GTL, to give us two days per month of free phone calls. They gave all of us without recent write ups a credit of 84 days off of our sentences.

Eventually, they allowed short video visits. Unfortunately, telephone access was reduced to half for social distancing, which made it very hard to sign up for a phone call.

Time dragged on as it usually does for prisoners except even more slowly. Reduced programming in prison and increased isolation is damaging to inmates unless they can find a way to protect their psychological and emotional systems.

To protect myself, I needed to stay busy being productive, so I started studying Hebrew and Spanish. I had in my possession a college textbook for learning how to read Hebrew, and later, I borrowed a Spanish book from the ‘Dummies’ series from a friend of mine.

I started with Hebrew and skimmed the book once and then started over methodically with a will and an overflow of time in my life to study. I studied for a few hours each day, sometimes as little as two and sometimes six or more.

After several months of study, I can read the Old Testament in Hebrew, and I know about 85 to 90 percent of all Old Testament Hebrew roots. Speaking the language would be a different story since I’ve never heard a conversation in Hebrew, but reading it has been a breakthrough to me.

I’ve been around Spanish speakers for much of my life, so I know a few words and phrases, but I started studying the Spanish for Dummies book, and I do recommend it. I recently started writing friends of mine in Mexico in Spanish! I’m starting to practice oral skills too.

Meanwhile, I noticed some things about how the pandemic has been handled in prison. First, many staff members refused to wear masks for months. Inmates didn’t want to in many cases, but we were ordered to long before the officers were ordered to.

Next, when people were exposed to the virus, they were all moved to another building. I noticed that as they gathered on their original yard to await escort to the quarantine building, officers took all their IDs and put them together in one plastic bag. This procedure had never been done before.

When they got to the quarantine building, their IDs were redistributed. I kept wondering why, since many of them did not have the virus, why would they put all their IDs in one bag? It was a foolish thing to do if you did not want the virus to spread.

Eventually, I tested positive for the virus. So I was not moved to the same building as ‘exposed’ people. I went to a building for only people who tested positive. What I learned was this: To get out of that quarantined building (with no program all locked down), a person needed to report no symptoms for two weeks.

I hate to say this, but many prisoners are not completely honest. What did they do? Of course they did not want to stay locked in a room for 24 hours a day, so regardless of how they felt, they reported twice each day that they had no fever, they were released from quarantine after two weeks to freely infect others.

This was done with the knowledge of the federal medical receiver assigned to oversee California’s prisons. For some reason, instead of requiring a negative test to get out of quarantine, the receiver OK’d the word of each prisoner to self report symptoms other than vitals taken by nurses.

So they dumped still-sick inmates back into the population. That’s how I got the virus. A person in ‘so-called’ remission was placed in my room. Was all that intentional? I don’t know. Was it negligent? Yes.

Beyond that, most people don’t know that one of the most stressful things you can do to an inmate is move him to another cell, room, building, yard or prison. He won’t feel safe while he’s being moved. He doesn’t know if danger awaits him in the next room he moves to. It’s very hard and stressful.

Overcrowding makes us vulnerable to disease. While the CDCR may report that Valley State Prison is at some lesser percentage, most buildings and rooms are at 175 to 200 percent of design capacity. How can they report a lower number?

Because they count rooms and buildings they should not. For example, the ‘hole’ on ad seg building represents 100 cells that are not normal housing. That shouldn’t count as open cells. Another entire building of 32 rooms with eight beds each is reserved for sick people.

These rooms should not be counted as capacity. My room, as most others, contains eight people but was designed for four! It’s a breeding ground for disease.

The problem is that the federal judges allows the CDCR to be at 137.5 percent of design capacity overall. That counts ad seg or punishment isolation, or administrative segregation, condemned areas, quarantine areas, etc.

During the time with the most cases here, inmates were housed in the gymnasium, chapels, and classrooms with porta-potties and cold portable showers! These were inmates with COVID-19!

To be ready for a pandemic, every prison throughout the state should be capped at 90 percent design capacity, and that capacity should never include ad seg, condemned areas or non-standard housing. Then the state would have the ability to move people around if needed and to create quarantine areas.

Until that happens, we cannot be kept safe regardless of how hard the wardens and staff work. They have been given an impossible situation to deal with. I’ve survived COVID-19, but others did not.

02/21
24-hour confinement
LISTEN
0:00

24-hour confinement

HEAR THE FULL STORY

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

I appreciate you taking the time to reach out to me regarding my experience during this ongoing pandemic.

Straight to the missive.

I was at San Quentin State Prison when out of nowhere you hear on the speaker, the correctional officer says institutional lockdown. We just got done with the institutional search state-wide months prior so heavily that obviously put everyone in a panic. A few hours later the porters of the building started to walk down the tiers passing out PSRs to inform us of what’s going on.

It turned out we were on medical quarantine due to the first positive cases of COVID-19. This medical quarantine consisted to 24-hour confinement to your cell, no visits, no phone calls, no canteen, and no showers. Finally, after this cruel and unusual punishment, CDCR gave us yard and a phone call every other day which they took away from us again due to the rapid increase of positive cases.

They started to treat us as though we did something wrong. They took away the little freedom we were entitled to as inmates. They had categories for everyone they had resolved. Which means you had COVID and got over it, they had a negative category which meant you keep coming up negative every time you test and they had unknown which meant you refused to test.

Depending on what category you were in determined whether or not you got showers or phone calls and when. Sometimes it took three to four days for us to even get a chance to come out of our cell.

Personally being on the inside looking out, I’ve learned a few things and that’s always be prepared, always let your loved ones know you love them and care, and most important, be firm in your religious beliefs.

Thank you for your time.

Stay safe and take care.

24-hour confinement

Go Back

02/21
Frustrating at times
LISTEN
0:00

Frustrating at times

HEAR THE FULL STORY

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

To whom it may concern,

I am currently serving a life without parole sentence. Now dealing with that is extremely difficult. I have been in prison for 17 years for murders I did not commit.

I am African American as well. I actually caught the virus back in September. I thought that I was going to die!

The prison I’m at moved me to a quarantine building with other inmates who got the virus as well. My greatest fear was I wasn’t going to say good-bye to my fiancé and my family.

While I was in quarantine, all the prison did was take our vitals, that’s it! Then after two weeks of quarantine, they moved me back in a building that keeps getting positive results from other inmates.

Then we can’t even call our loved ones for two weeks. It gets frustrating at times. And as far as no visits, I understand and we have video visits now, but I can’t wait to get our visits back.

I am going to be getting married as soon as this is over, or when they start allowing visits again. Well, I hope this letter helps in some way. Thank you and God bless.

Frustrating at times

Go Back

02/21
Quarantine again
LISTEN
0:00

Quarantine again

HEAR THE FULL STORY

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

I am writing about my PrisonPandemic experience. So right now I have been in jail since November 2019. I started out at Orange County jail.

I remember watching on the news about COVID-19 and when it hit America. We had a big breakout in the county around March of 2020. That’s also when I caught COVID.

The guards came in my cell around that time to do a cell search and tore our cell up. Now, around this time no one was wearing masks and gloves.

So two days later I got symptoms and went to the nurse to report my symptoms and they said I was fine and gave me some cough medicine. My symptoms at the time, I guess, weren’t known symptoms of COVID.

I had a bad cough, a headache, muscle soreness, and was very fatigued. This lasted about a week. Then my celly came up with a fever and was moved out.

Then days later I was also moved out also to quarantine where I tested positive. March was also the last time I’d seen my mom and son who was four at the time. It is going on a year since I’ve seen them at a visit.

They came to every visit until it was shut down. I then started to stress and my anxiety levels raised up so high. I also couldn’t go to court for another four months, so I just sat there.

I was then sentenced to five years with half time off. I came to prison reception. When I got there, I did two weeks of quarantine to be cleared to do to a regular dorm.

I then transferred to main line prison. This is when it got more stressful.

I did my first two week quarantine, then was released to the yard where I was off for literally one day then went right back on. Then I was on that quarantine for one month.

During that time, a celly of mines tested positive and I was moved and started quarantine all over again for another month. Since November, I have been moved around six times. This experience is very stressful.

I want to be home with my son and my family rather being here. I’ve coped with this time with watching TV, working out, reading books, and listening to music. I go home in May of 2022, so I’m just trying to get through this storm and wait until the sunshine again.

Thank you for reaching out and wanting to hear my story. I hope this is what people want to hear.

Much love.

Quarantine again

Go Back

Share These Stories
Shine a light on this crisis and share these
stories with your network today!