This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Solano.
I received your correspondence and was surprised by the contents. My first question is, how did you come upon my name, number and address? I don’t recall being in contact with anyone at UCI, so I’m very curious as to how I came to your attention. It’s not everyday that I get a random mail from anyone, let alone UCI.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to know more about you and your team. I definitely have things to share with regards to living through this pandemic, but before I do, can you humor me and tell me a little about yourself?
What is the objective of the PrisonPandemic Project? How did you become interested in it? What is your major? How many people are in your group? Does the group promote prison reform? How do you feel about people that are incarcerated? These are just some general questions, but I’m also interested in who you are as an individual.
Here is a little about me. I’m 58 years of age. I’m from South Los Angeles. I’ve been incarcerated for 40 years. I’m African-American and Native American. My interest range from political science to pro sports, hip hop music to soft rock, soap operas to PBS (Frontline, POV etc.).
As you may see, I’m pretty opened minded. My questions may not be in line with the purpose of your correspondence, so if I don’t hear back from you, I’ll understand. But I do look forward to a response. Before I conclude, I will conclude I will include a short missive about living with this pandemic.
When I first became aware of COVID-19, I worked here in the education department. The classroom held 10 to 20 individuals. I recall two particular guys in the class having what appeared to be a cold or flu. I was a little leery of it and decided to stay as far away from them as I could, but this was difficult because of the size of the classroom, very small. This was in March of 2020!
Eventually all classes were cancelled. One of the individuals that I noticed in the class with the cold or flu symptoms actually turned out to have COVID. Fortunately no one else in the class tested positive.
The institution eventually passed out cloth mask that were made of the same material use to make prison clothing. My level of anxiety began to get a bit higher. Most of the inmates didn’t take the crisis serious until word from other prisons began to filter in. In particular, the numbers of infected inmates at Chino really put a face on the situation that could no longer be ignored.
Correctional staff and inmates began to take this serious. But how do you facilitate social distancing in a prison setting without completely locking it down? That was the dilemma. Many solutions were put forward, but until videos of prisons settings, taken by illegal cell phones, began showing up on social media not much was changing. Political correctness!
Ironically, the infection rate here at CSP Solano remained low, probably the lowest in all of California prisons. This remained so until inmates began to be transferred here from other institutions. When I heard about San Quentin’s infection rate skyrocketing after inmates were transferred there from Chino, I began to worry.
Why would inmates in a COVID-19 hot spot be transferred to another institution with low infection rates? I really began to fear for my safety at this point. Our lives depended on the decisions made by people that made a decision to send sick inmates to another institution. Inmates were dying there at an alarming rate at SQ as a result of this decision. So this virus became real.
By now all visiting had been cancelled and recreational activities had been sealed back to almost nothing. We were confined to our cells 23 hours a day. Inmates housed in lock up units were getting more activities than general population inmates. There was certain segments of correctional staff that didn’t want to comply with wearing mask, but that changed as the infection and death rates skyrocketed.
As unbelievable as it may sound, there are still some who don’t believe this virus is real. After 40 years of incarceration, nothing prepared me for this crisis. I’ve witnessed horrible acts of violence over the years but this virus was the only thing that made me question whether I would live long enough to complete my sentence.
Whenever you call home, you’re praying that you won’t be told a family member has contracted the virus. My mother, who is 76 years old, had been putting off neck surgery for almost eight months due to the pandemic. She was rescheduled for it in November 2020.
During her recovery, one of my nephews, that resided with her, ended up contracting the virus and exposed her to it. She tested negative, but my anger and anxiety was all that time high. My anger stemmed from his carelessness. He wasn’t constantly wearing a mask and stayed hanging out in crowds. She eventually told him to move.
My mother is a very social person and the isolation was wearing on her. Whenever I would call her or other family members they would ask me how I was able to deal with the isolation for as long as I have. I would chuckle at these questions because we weren’t even a year into the pandemic and it was wearing folks out.
Vaccines and ventilators don’t cure or guard against the mental and emotional toll that this pandemic takes on a person. I’ve gained a new respect for health care workers and first responders. It takes a special kind of person to put themselves in the line of fire of this virus.
There seems to be light flashing at the end of this pandemic tunnel but I’m still cautious. It’s times like these when you get to see what people are really about. I’ve been both surprised and disappointed, throughout this crisis, and at the actions of people. It’s been an eye opening experience, to say the least.
I’m looking forward to the next chapter of this story. What would you say has had the most impact on society; crack cocaine, AIDS, Trump, or COVID-19? Stay tuned.
I have numerous things and experiences to write about, but I’ll await your response. Take care.