This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Lancaster.
In early March 2020, the world suddenly changed for us living in the Untied States. People were whispering and rumors were flying. A new kind of virus began to spread rapidly, worse than the flu. Unseen and invisible, silently bounding oceans and speeding across continents. It seemed like the plot of a Hollywood horror film more than reality.
On March 19th, California became the first state in the union to issue mandatory “Stay at Home” orders. Businesses shut down, jobs were lost, sports cancelled, church closed, and college and schools shuttered. People began dying, resulting in total confusion as things collapsed around us.
Being incarcerated in a California state prison in Lancaster, I didn’t really understand the magnitude of the situation. Being as isolated as we are, the news sources available are limited. Telephone calls and letters to and from family members and friends are the best way to get important local information. My sister gives me updates on inmates and guards who have tested positive for the newly named “coronavirus” (COVID-19 for short). I’ve asked the medical people and prison personnel. No transparency whatsoever. No comment, I’m told. The only way we can get infected is by someone bringing the virus in. Some guards take it seriously, while others are lax.
Living in close quarters, germs, diseases, cold, and flus spread rapidly. All we can do is avoid those with possible contagious symptoms that are transmitted by the infected person. Medical health coverage in prison doesn’t compare to the excellent care offered by typical doctors or hospitals in the “free world.” To be fair, some prison health employees try their best.
I have a subscription to the “USA Today” newspaper. In the National’s Health section, there is a “News from the Fifty States” page. Lately, each state’s paragraph mentions the coronavirus. Nursing homes and prisons seem to be the hardest hit.
Does the typical citizen care about elderly residents? Do they care about convicted felons? In regard to the first question, I hope so. To the latter, I’m not so sure. “Let them die, so we don’t have to pay for their expenses,” could be the view of some. If you don’t personally know someone in either, your attitude may be less humane. A dozen Death Row inmates have died in San Quentin because of COVID-19. Perhaps, even a majority were happy about it.
The first notice we received was all outside visits were cancelled. Then, non-essential outside individuals were denied entry to conduct educational classes and religious services. Currently, all meals are brought to our rooms. We were packed into the “chow hall” like sardines. Rushed in and out. Now I can take my time and savor every bite. The quality and quantity hasn’t changed, surprisingly.
Masks were given out to each man, free of charge. If we leave our rooms, we must wear one. The guards were instructed to wear one and/or use a plastic face shield.
The RN’s came by twice a day to ask questions and to take our temperatures, and everyone was given the deluxe nostril swab test back in May. A long wire was inserted into a nostril, down your throat, twisted and removed. Los Angeles County, where I’m housed, has one of the highest number of cases – 210,000 – and deaths – 5,000 – related to the coronavirus in the country. The numbers continue to rise daily.
Prison officials continued to transfer prisoners, some against their will, to other prisons during this pandemic. They were not quarantined upon arrival at their destination. Infection rates soared. I understand the top health official who authorized the moves was “reassigned.” His faulty decision and error in judgment has cost men their lives. Why aren’t criminal charges being filed?