This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Susanville.
Hello, I’m from San Jose, California, I’m 43 years old and, as you know, I am an inmate of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations. I just received your correspondence request at my experience, of this COVID-19 pandemic while in prison.
Unfortunately, I was well into my prison sentence when the news hit with the first case, of COVID-19. I was in a prison yard setting in Fresno County, the prison was called Pleasant Valley State Prison. In that particular prison and settings, I was permitted to have my very own TV in my cell. One of my favorite past times (while on the inside) is to watch the news early every morning.
At very first, right before the COVID-19 situation was formally called a pandemic, the introduction of its news was an interesting sensation. The COVID-19 news was a steady, and strong presence. As COVID-19 cases began to sprout in our local areas and in isolated places, it almost seems like a bio-chemical attack.
I remember very specifically in the first few weeks, that our federal government told us on TV, that China was the unintentional generator and primary source of it. They also told us that all those who have travelled from China are prospective potential carriers of the COVID-19 virus.
The reason some of us felt as if we were attacked was because there were areas stuck by COVID throughout California and the USA. In the very early days, where our citizens had absolutely nothing to do with China, or travelling (traffic) from there. I’m sure that there are other factors, to the other wise, pointing to the undeliberate theory.
But none the less, as every day went by, it did feel like the USA was under fire, and at war. It actually felt like an enemy force was actually breached out sacred borders, and for the first time, bringing death and destruction to our homeland.
While I was in my cell, I felt hopeless. The TV news was extremely overwhelming, always and constantly introducing some horrifying numbers of daily death tolls! Being that I was doing my part in a foreign country, I was blind to the extent of the effects in San Jose. I was only informed on the area the prison was located in. The only information I received of my hometown was when it was generated in brief reports.
At times, I felt as if I was drowning, with my hands tied to my back. I actually chilled to the bon for the first time in my life, both for my safety and for my family’s safety. As time went by, the world’s news channels and the other media outlets were systematically educating us of the COVID dynamics, and how it works, affects people.
My heart dropped further in fright and from concern as I discovered that COVID is a respiratory attacking germ, and that COVID is more dangerous towards elders. My mom whom I love with every fiber of my being and more, has minor issues with her lungs, due to being an ex-smoker of tobacco, this, coupled with her age, places her at “highly at-risk category.”
The mental scars, that which I’ve obtained from the daily bombardments from the broadcasted public death tolls were exhausting. Due to the financial limits, I only called home once a month, maybe twice, each time my collect call was being processed, I would always make a “dua” (prayer) to God. These calls only take seconds to process, but the suspense was sickening.
Every time I would hear my mom’s voice, it was a prayer answered. Every time my mother would go out running an errand and would not be able to answer my call, I would live life terrified, sometimes for weeks at a time, until the phone rotation allowed me to call again. Further, my wife is mad at me and won’t accept my calls. I have had zero contact with her and that also put a dent in my heart.
The prison placed the institution on lockdown and on modified lockdown, in order to prevent the introduction of COVID-19. The first thing to end were the visits, second were the rehabilitative programs that inmates needed very bad. Religious programs also were put on pause. The prison did try to kick start some prison programs with watered down and sometimes silly homework packets, but they tried.
All work assignments for prisoners were also hindered, only critical workers were allowed, to report to work, and let me emphasize the word “allowed.” Prisoner’s assigned work detail became a blessing. Being able to work was the only sources of exercise, and fresh air.
For a long time, I was part of the inmate day labor. I was part of a crew of prisoners who were assigned to completely tear down our roof and replace it with a new one. It was a very big construction project that lasted almost eight months.
All throughout the pandemic, we were being drilled with COVID precautions by the prison staff, still it took six months for the prison staff to finally issue masks. And it took a few weeks more for staff to wear them themselves!
Most of the CDCR staff are Donald Trump supporters and always had the Republican party’s disdain for COVID-19 and for mask mandated. A very large part of the prison guards actually became very petty and somewhat vindictive towards inmates because they were compelled to wear masks at the request of inmates.
The biggest stress on behalf of inmates was the fact that our lives were in the hands of the entire support staff who worked at the prison. We all knew that if COVID was going to penetrate our environment, it would be due to CDCR staff bringing it in to us. And we also knew that most of the guards thought that COVID-19 was a sham, thanks to the reckless encouragements Donald Trump was feeding them.
All in all, our lil’ strong hold, prison population was doing well. The COVID cases were sporadic and somewhat few at PVSP, until right after Christmas of 2020. I caught COVID-19 in later December. I was devastated, out of nowhere we were told that close to 700 inmates also got sick. In hindsight, maybe we contracted one of those variants, CDCR never gives us detail, so we just had to ride the wave.
On the first day being aware, that I was positive for COVID-19, I was totally shocked! I was a little bit frightened. I was undecided, whether I should inform family. I did not want to alert my family, especially my mother. I did not want to stress her out any way, shape, or form.
Also, I did not want to waste an opportunity to hear her voice, my wife as well, but I had no opportunity with her. Knowing that it was now my turn to experience the nightmare illness, which has ended so many lives in our country, I finally decided to keep quiet. I actually wrote a “just in case” letter, one to my mom and one to my wife. I placed them inside my Holy Koran.
With the feeling of being bounded, I continued with strength. I literally was waiting for a battle. I was anticipating a fight, but it never came. My symptoms were minor, very minor, of the portion of those infected.
My experience was merciful. I felt blessed and I still do. I’m proud of my experience and glad to share. I hope you find this useful.