This letter was written by a person incarcerated at San Quentin.
I hope and pray this finds you and all your loved ones in the very best of health and spirits, and safe from COVID-19. Please find enclosed a small portion of life inside during the pandemic. I hope it is useful.
Please take good care and be safe at all times, especially during the holidays.
Peace and blessings.
I wake up about 7 a.m. every day. After morning ablutions, prayers and reading, for the prayer and reading carry the testimony, I stand near the barred door of the cell and write. I pause for my prayers to read, and to eat, but mostly I write day in and day out. I’m in bed about 11:30 p.m.
See, I am in the cell with a phenomenal artist, and he reads and draws most days. We get along fairly well because we respect each other’s space, even though our space is tiny.
Let me see if I can paint the picture for you. Take an apartment bathroom and, instead of a bathtub, put a steel bunkbed in it. Then you and another adult lock yourselves in it. That’s the space. Then, you only can come outside for an hour and a half at the guard’s whim.
What I mean by that is, there’s a pattern for releases for showers, yard, and phones, but the guards here are lazy and some of them are racist and hateful. So they do the bare minimum so they don’t get in trouble, but sometimes that means two or three days between program times.
So you’re in this tiny bathroom with a steel bunkbed and can come out for 90 minutes every couple of days. That’s been the jam only for about four months or so. Before, there was less than that, and in the early stages, nothing.
A prison is about causing chaos to justify needing their budget to keep us incarcerated humans in line. Whenever there is a security issue, they lock us up, isolate us first, figure things out second, punish, punish, punish. Even in this pandemic, we are treated as the ones who brought COVID-19 to San Quentin, when that would be impossible. Staff comes and goes every single day. We are here.
So to combat my fears of infection and to work through my claustrophobia, I write all the time. Up to 15 hours spent writing and rewriting articles, essays, poetry, and strange tales. I have about four penpals I write to. Sometimes I send them stories.
I’ve sent my writings to prison reform and social justice organizations and collaborated with activists and even helped with class curricula with my writings. I work as a peer literacy mentor, so I write lesson plans and book reviews via correspondence. I attend college classes and self-help groups through the mail. People stop by the cell and see me in the throes of scratching out something strange or useful.
Mostly, I write to keep my sanity. I don’t receive visits from the outside, and I haven’t looked at my bosses for months. The little time we get to move around is equally divided between showers, a phone call, and some form of movement to maintain my health.
I am terrified of the complete breakdown of my mental faculties. I test negative every time I test for COVID-19, but I worry that the chunks of my fractured mind will crumble and I will be left a babbling puddle on the floor.
So what do I do? I write. That’s how I cope with a life of sequestered days of punitive stress. That’s how I keep myself from attacking myself by lashing out at others who have nothing to do with my issues, and especially at those who have caused them.
These are my issues and I have to be responsible about them. So all those feelings of anger, fear, and falling apart? I write about them. That’s my daily routine.