This letter was written by a person incarcerated at USP Atwater Federal Center.
I’ve just received your message today, but first and foremost I send to you my utmost respects and appreciation for this opportunity you have given me to tell my story. And most importantly I hope this will give you and others the insight you are seeking. Unfortunately for us that are incarcerated our voices go unheard and many times it is difficult to find people willing to be that voice we need.
When COVID first hit the US I was in state prison in Colorado. About a month later it had got into the facility that I was in. It was in a specific unit which also happened to be my unit. One person had some serious symptoms, showing a temp of 105, which led to a facility lockdown. Three days later the facility began COVID testing unit by unit and three days after that the results came back.
60 inmates in that one unit were infected including my three cellmates. My test came back negative at that moment. Everyone that tested positive was then sent to a quarantine unit. While my unit stayed on lockdown the five other units opened back up on normal operation. They were able to call family, friends, loved one while my unit’s communication was completely taken away.
The very next day after my cellys were placed into quarantine I started having COVID symptoms. Headaches, eyes burning, body aches, and the main symptom that told me everything, loss of smell and taste.
At the time so many people were unaware including myself of the outcome after contracting the virus besides the fact that it causes death. So the only thing that came to my mind was to write a letter to my family and say my goodbyes while I still had the chance. Just being prepared for the worst.
As I was going through all of this I was coming up for parole for the second time after six years under my belt. I believe due to COVID it played a part of the reason I got paroled for the simple fact I still had a detainer for the Feds ‘cause I was told that I would serve my full 12 year sentence for the state. Then my eight year sentence for my gun charge in federal would start once the 12 was complete. So in a way I’ve also took COVID as a blessing in that way. ‘Specially all the fucked up things that have come with it.
I was paroled 6-20. I spent 14 months going through transfer just to get here in Atwater due to COVID. I spent five months in an ICE facility in [redacted]. From there I went to USP Florence where I spent six months in the hole: “SHU” waiting to be transferred to Atwater USP. During those long, slow months I was locked in a cell 24 hours seven days a week with a shower in my cell so I did not come out of that cell for any reason.
I was allowed two 15 minute phone calls once a month and half the time I was never able to use both calls ‘cause the facility would be locked down more than eight times for stabbings. I was placed in the hole for transfer and was being treated as if I were being disciplined. I wasn’t able to order proper hygiene without having a medical condition. Chemicals to keep cells and shower clean came only once in a blue moon. Finally after four months I was able to order hygiene.
Medical requests were being ignored, mail was being rejected for no explainable reasons, mental health was doing nothing for anybody but ignoring any requests or concerns. Everything was always blamed on COVID-19 reasons why nobody can get help for anything.
I gave up altogether asking staff for anything. After three months it was clear nobody gave a shit ‘cause at the end of the day staff gets to go home to their families. More than half are only there for the paycheck.
It was a horrible experience. Food services were poor, portions were small. Some meals had fruit flies or just straight up two baked potatoes a piece of bread. Some veggies were considered a dinner. No toppings just two potatoes. And that like everything else was blamed on not having inmates to cook normal meals ‘cause they were locked down ‘cause of COVID procedures. So staff replaced inmates.
The AC systems would shut down for three/more days. Had no ventilation whatsoever. Work orders for backed up sewage systems would take three weeks for an answer. It was definitely mind-blowing the things that truly happen on this side of the fence.
Feels like the entire world has given up on us. ‘Specially because we all have a past. Eventually you just accept that you’re locked up so things like this become normal.
After my six month stay in Florence, CO USP I was transferred to [redacted] for transfer. I was there for one week. We got 20 minutes to shower and use the phone every other day so I would just bird bath in my cell so I can use my full 15 minute phone call home. All FBop facilities have provided free calls due to COVID but if you’re not in general population those calls become pointless ‘cause so much lockdowns.
After one week in [redacted] I was transferred again, this time to Victorville, CA USP for another quarantine/holdover. I got stuck for two months ‘cause I took the COVID vaccine Moderna. I got really sick from both shots (SMH).
30 minutes out of the cell for shower or phone every other day as well. This was when I finally lost a family member to COVID and almost lost my mother as well. She pulled through though pneumonia had only affected one of her lungs. Thank God.
It’s just unpredictable when COVID’s going to hit home. It’s really mentally fucked up. ‘Specially when you have nobody to talk to or nobody writes ‘cause you just become out of sight out of mind to the world.
Finally I was transferred to my final destination here in Atwater, CA USP. Finally no more holdovers. No more transfers. Now I can start programming to go home sooner than later. I took a total of 14 months just to get where I am at.
So now that I’ve been in general population for a month I am definitely treated differently. I can make all the calls I need. I am not free yet but I am thankful to talk to family more. All in all you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.
So again thank you for hearing my story and I appreciate the kind words of encouragement from you. And also as an inmate making me feel like someone is thinking of us after all.
Good luck to you. I hope I’ve been more than helpful. If you need anything else from me feel free to write me.