This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Chino.
Hello UC Irvine,
The other day I received this little form letter, asking me About my experience with this COVID-19 fiasco. I set it aside, sort of forgot about it. Not purposefully, but… Well, and then I realized earlier today, when I re-found it, that I’m uniquely qualified to respond! Years back there was a big story written about me, titled “On the Inside with Santa Barbara’s [redacted].” Yep, writer. I’m doing life for two sprees of bank robbery, under the three strikes law.
I’m from Santa Barbara, born 1972. I grew up on the beach, surfing before school, and after. Imagine San Clemente and its beach culture. That’s me. I love the ocean, surfing, so much. I’ve surfed Trestles, the pier, T-street. I had a place to crash in S. Clemente, so I’ve got a soft spot for Orange County. I realized I had to write you guys back. If you had the time and interest to contact me, I better be glad, grateful, for the chance to speak my piece.
And with me, well. I’ve really been on a rollercoaster with this. Let’s back up to July 2018. One day, out of the blue, I get some tests done on my liver, and boom. The next day I’m called in to my counselor’s office, told that I’m being transferred, due to being ‘high-risk medical’. I was confused, caught off guard, and figured there was a mistake. But within days, I’m seen by a doctor, told I’m terminal, that I’m stage four end-stage liver disease, stage four cirrhosis. And referred to a pysch because of the terminal diagnosis.
Now, for some background. I keep myself in amazing shape, run about 20 to 32 laps five times a week, which is five to eight miles. I do hours of cardio and working out daily. And I’m known as a really fit guy, body super cut-up, eight-pack, etc. To be told that I’m dying was crazy, so out of the blue. I felt good, just really didn’t understand. And I was scared to tell my family, not wanting to worry them.
But I did tell my best friend, this amazing girl who’s been in my life for years. She was really surprised by it, and wanted to tell my family, said I needed to. But, being stubborn, and scared to break my poor mum’s heart even further, I didn’t, not at first.
So I get transferred to a prison that’s got the medical level of care I need, and then get moved again seven to eight months later. Now I’m at San Quentin, loving it, but also really hurting inside, knowing that I’ve only got a couple years to live. And fast forward, I get moved to here, Chino. I was heartbroken to leave S.Q. but there was nothing for me to do. I had to accept it and move on.
A few weeks later there’s little bursts about this virus, out of China, a new thing. Nobody really seemed to know much about it, or really worried over it, just something from across the planet that we would never see or have in our lives. Wow, did it ever sneak up on us. It begins to pick up speed, and the things that really caught my attention was that it all really began up in the Bay Area, where my best friend lives.
And I had just left San Quentin, my friend lives in Oakland, but travels quite often. And she had to cancel a trip. We talk a few times a week on the phone, And we’re talking about her possibly flying down here to visit me. At this point it’s still not real, just a far off thing.
March rolls by, and then the nightmare starts. I get a letter from an old buddy who hasn’t written me for about five years. He left California for Argentina and we lost touch. He’s a little nutty, and his letter was brief. Basically, he said, “Hey bro, here’s a little money to help you out. Things are about to get crazy, in there and out here. The prison officials are going to use this to hold you guys down, so keep your head up. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. If I can afford to send you some more money, I will, stay strong! Here’s my new address. If you want to write, go ahead.”
So I’m happy for the letter, but confused. And glad to have some money for store. But I sort of thought to myself that my buddy had lost his mind. I would soon learn that he was not only not crazy, but right. Late April, by now we’re all well aware of this pandemic.
For a couple weeks, there’s nothing but news about it all day long, people begin dying, hospitals are overflowing with sick people. Footage of mass graves in New York, with news anchors crying. It’s impossible to ignore. We know it’s coming. But we still only see it afar.
Late April the captain of our yard begins to speak of moving people to a hub, or some ill-defined place. But nobody wants to be moved. We all hope it’s not us. Please, let it be the next guy. Our yard schedule has been changed. We’re basically isolated by unit, not mingling with people in other units. And on TV, it gets worse and worse. April 30th around 10 in the morning, the cop on our unit begins calling names over the loudspeaker, lots of names.
As the names out loud I hold my breath, so far so good, about 20 names in, I hear it, of course, my name. Oh shit. About five guys in my unit are handed plastic trash bags, told to pack our stuff. I’m crushed, Just my luck. I’d been moved two times from prison to prison to prison, just spent from thing in the hole at San Quentin, with 12 staples in the back of my head, seven stitches in my lip. I was assaulted, bad, out on the yard one night. And since I refused to tell who did it I was put in the hole, transferred to Chino.
I had a cellphone there, a great job. I saw my friend at visits every few weeks. I was eating LSD on the yard with some buddies, getting out of prison for a day once in a while, I loved it there. And I had finally told my family, everybody, that I was I am dying. It was so hard to do, but my friend said I needed to, give my family a chance to come see me, etc.
Just a rough time, but good also. Coming to Chino was like ripping my heart out and feeding it to a wild boar. Awful. As I packed my stuff my heart sank. There was no way it was going to be good, and it wasn’t. 125 of us, off this yard, were moved to central, to cells with no power, no program, no shit. Just sit in your cell, alone, and wait.
We have all our property, but can’t use it, no way to plug our TVs in, or fans, all of the regular comforts we have were gone. And within two weeks I tested positive for COVID-19, had a fever, lost my voice, sore throat, but I didn’t really get very sick. And I was put down as high risk to die because of my underlying conditions.
They acted like they moved us to protect us, but really it was just shuffling people around, with no real plan, or way to stop the virus. The guys that were sent here to San Quentin, in the name of protecting them, were the reason 29 guys at San Quentin ended up dying. 28 here died, two-thirds of us have gotten it. I’ve been moved from yard to yard to yard, back to yard, from cell to cell to cell, three months like that, test positive twice, shut away in a cell with no yard, at times not even showers, for weeks. And it got hard, mentally, to keep positive.
April 30th, a three-month nightmare began. And when we came back to this yard in late July, like July 28th, we were put in tents on the yard. Four months of living in tents. We had to be evacuated due to a really high winds at one point. It was crazy. The winds blew our tent walls in and we had to leave all our stuff and be evacuated, back to cells with no power. And wow. It was hectic, surreal.
And during all of this, we’re still in prison so at times the guard turn a natural disaster into punishment, at the slightest hint of us not obeying them or whatever, or questioning the unjust treatment. I’ve done a lot of hard time. And I’m not a whiner, but when I got moved back to the unit I left from April, I was so relieved.
Out of the tents, back to somewhere normal, I’m praying that I don’t got it again. They test us every week and I’m scared to test positive again, because the shuffle will begin all over again. And I’m tired. My life has an expiration date, time is not on my side, at all.
I just want to be left alone, to not watch any of my bros die from this, or suffer the crazy things the prison people decide needs doing. When I call home, I’m always hopeful, And put on a brave face, I lost my grandpa, 104 years old, earlier this year. And I know my grandma is going next soon. It’s a terrible feeling, to have all this regret over my terrible choices. The least I can do is try to outlive them so I don’t break their hearts anymore than I’ve already done. Thank you for giving me a chance to speak.