This story was told by a person incarcerated at San Joaquin County Jail.
UCI: Oh, great. Okay. So, tell me about your experience.
Caller: Well, wow. Where do I start? So, it’s been, well, we just got done doing a 26-day lockdown. We just came out of our cells like really literally the other day after being locked down.
Which I think is just the nurses just pulling their weight in a sense, because I didn’t test dirty for COVID, and my cellie didn’t have COVID.
But they just said, “Oh. Well, we’re doing precautions.” And I’m like, “Well, what’s the precaution? There’s nothing wrong with us.” And so, they slammed down, I’d say, like 20 of us.
And we’re all sitting down while everybody’s outside of our cells and everything. We’re just sitting in cells for 24 hours a day. It was ridiculous. And then, on top of that, I just started getting a visit.
My girlfriend just came to come see me, and they opened up visiting. I only seen her one time, and then they shut down visits again. And it’s just been stressful now.
It’s like I’m going to prison any day now, and it’s just been like. I’m like, I don’t know what it’s going to be like at prison. If it’s like this at county jail, what is it going to be like in prison? I’m going to be going down south and not going to be able to see my family at all.
And if they do want to make the journey, I don’t even know if they’ll be able to even come see me.
UCI: Hmm. How has the COVID-19 and the shutdown then affected your court dates?
Caller: Oh. Right when I got here, they just postponed my court date for backed up, backed up. I’d say it took about a good month and a half for me to actually even get into a courtroom. And there my family wasn’t able to see me neither.
I haven’t seen my mother in almost seven months, and she’s getting older. She just got out of the hospital for a scare of COVID. She didn’t have it, but you know what I’m saying? It’s just stressful. It’s been stressful.
UCI: Absolutely. And so, you said they re-started visitations. Tell me what that’s been like as they slowly opened it.
Caller: Oh. So, the anticipation was, the rumor was that, oh, in April, they’re going to open up visits. For some reason, I asked the correctional officers about it, and they say, “No, that’s not true. That’s not true.”
But, surely, it just seems like the inmates are more well-informed than the prisons, or excuse me, the jail staff, the sheriffs, because, sure enough, they opened up the visits. My girlfriend came to see me one time and was planning on bringing my mom and my family to come see me. And then as soon as they opened them up, they shut them down again. And now it’s ’til further notice again.
UCI: And this was back in April, right?
Caller: Yeah. They opened it up in April, and then they shut it down, May, the beginning of May again. It was just like a tease, in a sense. I got to see my girlfriend.
It’s crazy, how – I don’t know. Having a visit – I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to explain if you’ve never been here. But seeing somebody that you love and care for, you get this feeling in your heart, right? And your blood pressure and everything starts to raise. It’s anticipation of seeing them.
And to have that stripped from me once I just started seeing my girlfriend again was so deflating, like ugh! Just thinking about it is just deflating, I guess.
UCI: Absolutely. And was there any warning given about the going back on visitation? Or was it just all of a sudden and they canceled everything?
Caller: Me and my cellie, we woke up in the daytime. Everything’s all good. And the CO looks at me and says, “We’re on lockdown. Ain’t nobody coming in. Ain’t nobody going out.”
“No visits, no nothing,” just plain like that. At 3:00 am in the morning, just brought us breakfast in our cells. And I was just like, “Wow,” just like that. And I was like, “Well, I’m supposed to be scheduled to go to prison.”
She’s like, “Well, you’re not going now.” And I’m just like, “Man, I don’t want to be here no more in this County Jail.” They’re locking us down 24 hours a day. I hate to say this, but prison’s sounding like a – way better than here.
And I don’t know what prison’s like, actually. Sheesh.
UCI: Yeah. No, I mean coping has been really tough for a lot of people, and I think that comes with the uncertainty that you’ve experienced of one day you can, and the next day you can’t. And so, you’re thinking, is this going to happen again anytime soon?
Caller: I doesn’t look like it.
UCI: Absolutely. And have you been able to find any coping mechanisms during your quarantine of, you know, those 20 days?
Caller: You know, really the only thing that keeps me going is the phone, because I have a tablet. But here’s the thing. I’m kind of like, my family gives me money, obviously. And I pretty much burn it up on this dang phone all day.
I wouldn’t even, it’s stressful. It’s stressful. I want to talk to my mom because she’s older. I want to talk to my dad. I want to talk to my biological dad that’s in Arizona.
And he’s telling me they’re hit with COVID really hard. My sister lives in Florida, and she caught COVID, her and her son, my nephew. So, COVID has impacted my life a lot, actually. It’s like everywhere.
Because I’ve got family scattered out through everywhere.
So, it’s like not only am I wasting money. I wouldn’t really even call it wasting because I’m talking to my family, but I’m burning up money trying to see if my mom’s okay, to see if my sister’s okay, see if my nephew’s okay, see if my dad’s okay. That’s the only way.
It’s almost more stressful to make calls, actually. But that’s what I do all day every day, is make phone calls and pretty much read. That’s about it.
UCI: Yeah. I mean especially with, you know, not being able to physically see your mom or your girlfriend, I imagine the phone is the only way to feel comfortable and to hear their voice. Are you able to write letters or anything of that sort?
Caller: You know what’s crazy? I’m old school when it comes to writing. I do like to write, but here’s the thing. A lot of people don’t like to write back.
So, I send a couple letters to my pops in Arizona, and he’ll write me. But it’s just so much easier just to make a phone call. I could get what I need to say to him, check up on him, check up on his wife. You know, it’s just easier. But I do like to send letters.
UCI: Yeah, good. And have you noticed any issues with getting mail out or receiving mail because of the pandemic? Not just you but maybe other individuals as well?
Caller: Well, getting out mail is actually, is because it gets to the people a lot faster than it ever has. At least for me it has. But receiving mail?
They stopped giving us physical mail months ago, stopped giving us actual letters to open up. My favorite thing to do was to get a letter. And I wouldn’t read it in the daytime. I’d set it up on my desk, get a cup of coffee and have something sweet, and sit there, open up my letter, take my time reading it.
It’d take about a good hour for me to read the – not read the letter but read the letter, write a letter. And I enjoyed that. And they took away the physical aspect of that by taking it and scanning it on a computer. So, it gets sent to a tablet, and now I have to look at it like that.
I just, I don’t like it. It really hurt me because I’m old school when it comes to writing. I could write paragraphs.
UCI: Well, that’s very interesting, how they’re doing mail. So, when you received our letter, then it was on your tablet.
Caller: Ha! You know what’s funny? Your guys’ letter did not come like that. Your letter came physical. And I don’t want to say it, but I mean I was about to say that irks my chain right there because I can get your guys’ letter, but I can’t get a letter from my woman or my mom.
My mom is a Christian, and she full-fledged writes me faithfully. But I hate this tablet stuff. You know what I’m saying? It really bothered me. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy getting the letter from you guys, because you guys want to hear our stories.
But I mean I wished I could get the physical aspect of opening up a letter from my mother.
UCI: Yeah. I mean family trumps us any day. I totally understand that. And now with, are they opening programming up again?
I mean you said you just came out of this mandatory lockdown. So, what has it been like going back?
Caller: Right. Oh. Well, it’s just uncertain. I have no idea what to do. They told me I was going to prison three days ago.
Woke me up at four in the morning. I’m sitting there. I had to pack up all my stuff, and I’m sitting there. 8:00 comes.
I’m like, “Hey, what’s going on?” “Oh. You’re not going now.” I’m like, “What the hell?” Then they’re just, They don’t even know.
I ask the COs something, and they’re like, “Oh. We don’t know. We don’t know. I have no idea.” To me, this is stupid. To me, this is stupid, but we’ve got to do it. It’s ridiculous. It is ridiculous.
UCI: Interesting. And do you think–
Caller: I just take it. Yeah.
UCI: Yeah. Do you think that’s the courts and the because of COVID, and do you think they’re just dragging their feet?
Caller: You know what? I hate to be, like, mad at them, but I think it’s just them taking as much precautions as humanly possible. But I think that it’s just gone too far. I think it’s just gone too far.
They say that it,The correctional officers here tell me that it’s above them, that it’s the nurses putting us on lockdown. It’s the nurses doing this, the nurses doing that. Well, I feel like, well, the nurses are just clocking in overtime, because I don’t know one person in this whole building that had COVID, not one time.
UCI: Really? You don’t know anyone that’s tested positive in your area.
Caller: No, not in my building. My building is big, but I mean I don’t know nobody – yeah. No, nobody gots it here. And, yeah. But I mean, of course, there’s people that do have it but just not here.
So, I mean I don’t understand it, but I get it. Precautions and but I mean enough’s enough. Like, come on.
UCI: Yeah. That’s very interesting, especially because you had , you know, a whole block of you that just went on quarantine for 20 plus days.
Caller: Yeah. And the crazy thing about it, and listen to this, is the quarantine is us just locked in our cells while the whole group of people are just right outside of our doors, coming up to our doors, sliding us food, talking to us through the door. The cops ain’t stopping it. And they’re pretty much, if we had it, they would get it. The quarantine was bogus. It was bogus.
We’re just sitting here. These inmates are literally not even three feet away from us in the TV area. I’m looking outside my cell, and there’s a TV not even five feet away from me, and they’re all just huddled up right there, like, all day every day when I was on quarantine. It was ridiculous.
UCI: Wow. That’s really intense. That’s very interesting.
Caller: Frustrating more is the word for me.
UCI: Absolutely, you know, especially your last point, that if you all did have it or if somebody was asymptomatic, you could’ve easily transmitted it to somebody else. And there would’ve been a whole thing.
Caller: Oh, yeah, for sure, for sure. There would’ve been, that’s why I feel like it was just the nurses. Well, if the correctional officers have nothing to do with it. Well, then the nurses maybe are just clocking in some overtime and just pushing the pandemic to making it bigger than it is here. I don’t know.
You know what I’m saying? I’m just going off of what I think. You know, but from what I’ve learned is that us inmates kind of have a little better idea of what’s going on than most of these COs.
UCI: Yeah. I mean, for as much as you hear that the nurses are kind of taking these precautions, do you all see a nurse regularly, you know, doing symptom checks? Or, I mean, how does that work?
Caller: Oh, yeah. So, while we were on that COVID lockdown, it was 26 days. And they tested me five times. And five times negative. And they still locked us down for that whole time.
Not five times in a row. Let’s just say it’s total. I’m not sure. Don’t quote me.
But they tested us every Monday for COVID, the same test. Boom. Boom. And none of us had it, but they still were testing us. And they’re like, “We have to keep testing the next round, the next round.”
I’m like, “No. This is bull. Something’s going on.” I don’t know what it was.
UCI: Hmm. Did they do that with–
Caller: And then, on top of that, I got vaccinated here.
UCI: Oh, interesting. Okay.
Caller: Yeah, and I just now thought about that.
UCI: Have there been a lot of people that have gotten vaccinated?
Caller: Well, you know, the younger group, kind of, yeah. But the older group kind of tends to be like, “Nah. Nah. Nah. Nah. Nah. I don’t want to.”
But for the majority, a lot of younger people have. I know I did. I was like, “You know what? I don’t want no impairments to keep me from going to this, to keep me from going to that.”
I figured, if I got vaccinated, I’d be able to go to a less locked-down facility. I felt like it would open up more doors, essentially, for me. That’s why I got vaccinated. But I feel like it was just – I don’t know, honestly.
UCI: Yeah. I mean, using your logic, you feel like it might have been a waste of your time because it really hasn’t helped you in that sense. Were there other blocks or areas getting the same treatment as your area? Or was it just you all?
Caller: You know, the COs said that there was other buildings. And I kind of believe them. I kind of believe them because you tend to know which one of the COs, after a while, you get familiarity with people. And, you know, some of these guys don’t have to lie or bull us, you know? So, he said that the other places were on similar treatment. I don’t know how similar, but I mean it sounded to me like it was about the same.
UCI: Really interesting. That’s really different from a lot of, you know, sometimes what you hear of, you know, people, one person testing positive, and then they just kind of throw a bunch of people in. And nobody knows what’s going on. But, instead, it seems like they’re just taking sections of the buildings and putting you all on lockdown.
Caller: That’s what it felt like.
Caller: And all our air vents. All of our air vents are connected. It’s like there’s no brainwaves here. All of our air vents are connected. If it passes through the air, well, we’d be all screwed.
UCI: Yeah. Are you still required to wear masks?
Caller: You know, yes and no. Some of the cops are just like, “Oh, we don’t care.” They see it for what it is, some of the cops. They see it as, “Oh, this is just bull.
They’re just doing this. They’re making our jobs harder. You can walk around with it or without it. It’s your choice.”
Mainly the older cops, they’ll be like, “Wear your mask. Wear your mask.” But, yeah, as of right now it’s supposed to be mandated.
UCI: Supposed to be mandated. Wow. I mean super interesting. I mean, as we kind of come to an end with our call, is there anything that you would want the public to know about what’s going on?
Caller: Well, the only thing that I could say is that we may be locked up, but I mean we just want to reach out to our families and stuff like that. Other than that, I mean I just hope that everybody just stays clear of it. And I just wish the best for everybody. You know, I’m here. I’m paying my debt to society, but I’m a good person really when it comes down to it. Just made a bad decision.
UCI: That’s awesome. And when you do get transferred, always feel free to call us back and tell us what it’s like at the prison, because it’s so different for everybody. And everybody experiences everything so differently, and all the facilities are different. So, we always value just a different perspective.
But we’re also here if you have any questions or anyone else wants to call. And we just really appreciate you taking the time and calling us.
Caller: Okay. Yeah, of course. Thank you. I do have one question, though.
UCI: Sure. Yeah.
Caller: So, this pandemic. Is it going to be over? Is it still, like, going on?
UCI: It is. There’s – I don’t know how much access to news you have, but there’s a new variant going around. And for a lot of the individuals who aren’t vaccinated, it’s very, very deadly and sad. And, unfortunately, this variant is affecting a lot of children. We see a lot more children being hospitalized with this variant. So, I don’t know–
Caller: Is it in California?
UCI: This is – California, I don’t know our numbers too well. I don’t think we’re as bad, because I think we have 70 percent of the population vaccinated, or close to that. But this is in areas with – you know, going off what your sister had – you know, Florida, Texas are really bad, just kind of like that South side of the–
Caller: Oh, okay.
UCI: That area is really, really bad because those states have very low numbers in vaccines. But, you know, the more people get vaccinated, the more it’s likely to just kind of get settled. But that’s just kind of where the world’s at right now. Like I said, it’s mostly children that are being affected by this round of the COVID. So, there’s a big push for everyone to get vaccinated.
Caller: Right. Right. Well, thank you for that insider information. Yeah, I wouldn’t have known that.
UCI: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. And, again, if you guys have any questions, we’re here. So, always feel free to call or write us, either way.
Caller: Okay. Thank you so much. You have a good night.
UCI: You too. Bye-bye.