This story was told by a person incarcerated in Avenal.
UCI: What facility are you currently housed at?
Caller: Uh, Avenal State Prison.
UCI: Okay, Avenal. How is the–How is the current COVID situation going on at Avenal right now?
Caller: Uh, it’s pretty, it’s pretty bad. Majority of everybody in here, positive, tested positive, people who were negative. But even those negative people are still housed around all the people who came out positive, so you can be sure that all these guys, all the negative guys are coming out positive.
UCI: Yeah, that’s not–that doesn’t sound good. Has the–Has the facility done anything to help stop the spread of COVID?
Caller: Oh, no. They make it look good on paper for–They make things look good on paper for Sacramento. You know, so they can keep getting the funding and all that good stuff, hazardous pay, but nah, it’s the same, the same stuff.
UCI: So when did the virus start to spread in Avenal? Like about what month?
Caller: Uh, I wanna say like early March. Early March.
UCI: So once it started spreading, it just kind of exploded and a lot of people got infected at once?
Caller: Yeah, uh, yeah. They stopped visiting, uh, I wanna say late February. And uh, early March, they began testing people, and–somewhere around there, March, April. They started testing people and everybody just–majority of people tested positive. I don’t know. Almost everybody was asymptomatic. Few people died, few inmates died, but um. They’re just dealing with the whole situation wrong.
UCI: Uh, what do you think they should be doing?
Caller: Hm. I think they needa–I think they needed to be separating, grab all the negatives, people who tested negative, which was a small minority, and separate them from everybody who tested positive. But they didn’t. You know. They still have these people who tested negative around everybody. So, I don’t know, I think that’s kind of dumb.
And uh, they’ll test people on a Friday, and their results won’t come back in ‘til like four or five days later, which is like Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. So if one of those guys comes back–comes back positive, the four or five days that they were left here waiting for their results, it’s like, it was pointless, you know? They were already infected, we were all still around them so, and um, kinda dumb.
But on paper, like I said, I mean, it looks good on writing. They go on paper like “oh we removed the guy who tested positive, separated him from general population.” But they just don’t say “okay, well we tested him and meanwhile, while he was waiting for four or five days, he was spreading the virus, then we removed him when we got the results back.” They don’t say that.
UCI: Uh, do they have enough tests for everyone?
Caller: Do they have enough what?
UCI: Uh, COVID tests for everyone.
Caller: Uh, right now they’re just testing all the people who initially tested negative, every once a week.
UCI: Oh, so once a week?
Caller: Everybody else who tested positive back early in the year, they just tested them that one time and that was it.
UCI: Oh. So how have you been dealing with COVID-19?
Caller: Uh, I was one of the ones who came back positive initially. So, I’m just watching everybody, you know, slowly come out positive. And when they come out positive, they just go through, make them pack their stuff, quarantine ‘em in the cell by themselves for a few weeks, and then bring ‘em back.
And then, whoever was housed around them, they get moved too so. Even though they were still testing negative. But whenever one of the guys around them tests positive again, they all have to grab their stuff and move and come back, and it’s like, why are they moving the guys who already tested positive? I don’t understand that.
UCI: Yeah, how–
Caller: Yeah, watching–watching everything go down and how the virus has pretty much stopped and then from one day to another, boom, it comes back again. And it’s not the inmates bringing it in because we’ve been quarantined since March, you know, so. It’s kinda frustrating.
UCI: So, how did–what kind of symptoms did you experience while you had COVID, when you tested positive?
Caller: Uh, I wanna say fever blisters, like uh, I wanna say body aches, could barely breathe. Horrible cough, probably the worst cough I’ve ever had. Night sweats, chills, and uh, unfortunately there’s nothing you could do about it, just gotta ride it out.
UCI: Yeah, that doesn’t sound very good. So how does it feel not to be able to see your family and loved ones?
Caller: Oh no, that’s–that’s out of the equation. Nobody has seen their families, nobody has left. Nobody has, uh, completely like, no movement, no outside–no contact with the outside world, so that’s why I say it’s uh, it’s not us bringing it in, or our family members bringing it in, or giving it to us because we haven’t had contact with anybody, so.
I think if, uh, staff would take better care of themselves once they leave the facility, we wouldn’t keep having outbreaks, but unfortunately they don’t, so.
UCI: Yeah. So how have you been feeling mentally?
Caller: Mentally, I would say drained, exhausted, because uh, besides dealing with this pandemic, you have to deal with a lot of, uh, animosity and nit-picking. I mean, it’s like it’s almost gotten to the point where if we’re smiling on a certain day, it’s like we’re breaking a rule.
It’s like, we’re already stressed out about the pandemic, you know? We don’t gotta be worrying about like if we’re walking–If we’re walking in a straight line or if we’re, I don’t know, you know? You have to roll your sock leg down, or I don’t know, something. It’s always something around here. I think this is not the time to be nit-picking.
Caller: It’s pretty–They’re creating a pretty stressful atmosphere.