This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Vacaville.
At the onset of the pandemic I had noticed a couple of news segments in of the coronavirus. Just like everyone else probably, I didn’t pay too much attention. I think there were like 1,500 cases worldwide at about this time.
I was sentenced to prison by a Sacramento County Superior judge. I had lost trial and was sent shackled on the first thing smoking to San Quentin state prison. Moreover, San Quentin is a reception center for some Northern California inmates.
I was in San Quentin for about a month when an announcement was made – via the unit’s loud speaker – that we were on a statewide lockdown. In addition, masks were passed out and we were allowed to make emergency phone calls. The calls were given free of charge per Governor Gavin Newsom.
It wasn’t until I spoke with my mother that I noticed the graveness of this issue. My mother told me that everything was being shut down. Namely, restaurants, sport arenas and amusement parks just to name a few. My mom said that it was so serious that people were in supermarkets fighting over toilet paper. I could hear a great concern in my mother’s voice; even when she ended with her goodbye I love you.
Mind you, reception center inmates aren’t allowed appliances such as TVs or radios; even phone calls for that matter; we were permitted emergency phone calls by the governor. Reception center inmates didn’t really have a good grasp on the severity of this virus.
At one point our unit was called to go and pick up our commissary at the canteen. A canteen worker yelled, “Hey you guys need to stay six feet apart. You guys don’t have TVs or radios like us mainline inmates. But people are dying man.”
Of course one thing we were allowed to were newspapers, and I looked around until I finally found one. It amazed me just how much effected the world was due to COVID. Literally, every article in the newspaper pertained to the coronavirus. Yes even Dear Abby! A myriad of people were passing away because of this plague.
Amid all of this I was sent to ad seg (administrative segregation) simply another word for solitary confinement. I was labeled as a gang associate and sent to the hole for institutional gang investigators. Fortunately, in the hole we are allowed wind up radios and I tuned in to various news stations. Incrementally, I learned more and more about the virus.
In June of 2020, the virus spread in San Quentin like wildfire. Many inmates who worked alongside staff were quickly infected. And since ad seg contained about 50 cells with solid doors; it was imperative to quarantine infected inmates in ad seg. Without warning of any kind these exposed inmates began spreading COVID via the showers.
Furthermore CDCR staff were instructed to disinfect showers after each use; per their superiors. By and large COs disregarded this protocol in fear that they be exposed themselves. Harping on this issue, I recall asking one CO to spray down the shower for me, and he became upset; told me no; and even cut my shower off quickly.
Occasionally I would see outside volunteers in protective gear (that looked like astronauts) cleaning our unit. It should be noted that besides ad seg, the adjustment center (the hole for death row inmates) and the hospital the rest of the cells at SQ were made up of bars; ergo COVID ran rampant.
Suddenly I felt symptoms that included coughing and a runny nose. As soon as I reported it I was immediately quarantined and tested for COVID-19. I was relocated in the adjustment center. I had never felt sicker in my entire life while vomiting, I felt as though there was something evil inside me trying to escape. I was dehydrated even after drinking plenty of water – and my concern began to grow.
Inside adjustment center the telephones are rolled to us on a dolly, and we talk on the phone inside our cells. While speaking to my mother, she told me to repeat this prayer after her, “Dear Lord, I accept you in my life as my personal savior. I believe that you died on the cross for my sins and rose on the third day.”
A few days later the doctor came and told me I tested positive for COVID-19. He told me, “Typically if your body is healthy enough you can fight off the virus, on the flipside there’s the possibility of death.” After no treatment was offered I became belligerent, arguing that I wasn’t being given any medication.
I was told that – were I to be prescribed pills – my oxygen levels would become low. Nonetheless the doctor prescribed me the meds anyways and my oxygen levels did become low. The nurses kept telling me to “breathe again,” “breathe harder,” “take deeper breaths.”
Inmates around me were just sick as well, and their morbid sounds were just as hideous as mine. Ambulances could be heard and seen transporting inmates to outside hospitals. “Man downs” were reported about fifteen times a day, and the ER at SQ was filled to capacity.
I made it a point to stay tuned in to radio news and found that CDCR inmates were dying at a fast rate; mainly San Quentin. Activist and protectors were in front of our prison campaigning for us. In turn, a tear rolled down my cheek as I heard a woman on the radio saying, “People are dying in there, please help them.” Her compassion allowed me to see the good in such people.
Consequently, CDCR began six month early releases to reduce population density, and the mortality rates. In so far that San Quentin was constantly on the news my family became worried and the emails started pouring in. A service provided by J-pay for a small fee while the pandemic is active.
Luckily for inmates, college prison projects and LSPC (Legal Services for Prisoners with Children) began to intervene they sent us care packages comprised of tasty morsels and stationary supplies. LSPC kept us abreast of new laws being implemented with regard to due process rights. For a while there we even had food caterers sending us luscious food from the streets and staff were provided with a food truck serving complementary burritos.
In retrospect, the most difficult – of my plight with COVID – was being shunned by everyone. I’d be escorted somewhere and the CO escorting would say, “I got a positive guy here.” People would back away as if an outlaw entered a saloon with his gun drawn.
All in all, 28 inmates and one staff member died at San Quentin. The smoke eventually began to clear and the virus was more controlled and held at bay. Yard; critical workers; and mental health groups are the only movements taking place; as well as medical.
In October of 2020 the courts mandated SQ to transfer or release inmates to lower the population. CDCR opted for transfers in lieu of releases. I now find myself at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville California. Upon transfer I was quarantined at once.
After 14 days, I was re-housed in a regular mainline. I was surprised to find that Vacaville inmates were practically all vaccinated (when SQ was still working on people 65 and older). And SQ was in a far much worser condition. Incidentally, all visiting is done virtually for 30 minutes each weekend.
I have since been given the first dose of the Moderna vaccine. Due to a bad reaction to it I will not be taking the second dose (of my own volition of course). I believe that as my patriotic duty, “I at least tried.”
Harking back, I will say that there were actually some perks to the coronavirus. Many inmates received an 84 day time reduction off of their sentence. Coupled with six month accelerated releases some inmates went home as much as nine months early. Stimulus checks were also given to eligible inmates. And possible civil suits could be lucrative due to the virus.
Interestingly enough, today I’m within 180 days of my release date. I’m hoping with fingers crossed (since I’ve been disciplinary free) to be called for an early release. In any case if there’s one thing I learned from this experience is that this place was nearly a death trap for me; and was so for many others.
In society people had the choice of adverting this disease, and to exercise safe practices. In here we didn’t have an option. Due to the tentativeness of this powder keg turned ugly many questions went unanswered and it was definitely a scary situation.
Not being able to take a full gasp of air into my lungs was frightening. But one thing we must realize is that after every storm comes a beautiful bright day; with a rainbow from God even. That colorful spectacle should serve as a reminder of God’s presence.
Just as a beautiful rose has its thorns, life is much the same things aren’t always perfect. Seasons change from balmy to harsh winters, things wither, beauty fades, but beauty invariably returns. Just as the butterfly does to the flower, we could always see the aesthetics of life; just as God intended. Author, California Medical Facility.
Just wanted to send this piece with regard to Covid-19. Thank you for allowing me to share my story on your website. I’m quite bookish and the pleasure is all mine. Creative writing is actually right up my alley. I also draw artwork, thus I’ll be forwarding you something nice to incorporate.
Thank you for the encouraging words and believing in me. As I mentioned in my attached writings, it is good to know. I couldn’t really expound on visiting as I don’t receive visits. I do miss my family; still my release date is 10/21 and look forward to my reunification with them.
I’m 45 years of age, single and excited to be going home. I have decided to revolutionize my life for the better and turn over a new leaf. I believe education is the key to rehabilitation and will stay committed to this catalyst. I hope I was able to shed some light from a single perspective. Thank you and have a nice day!