This letter was written by a person incarcerated at Vacaville.
PrisonPandemic, hello to you and the members of your group, thank you for this opportunity. It’s nice to see people such as yourself reaching out to those behind these walls of darkness, who are subjected to this draconian life we must live. What is to follow is my own thoughts and feelings, nothing more. What I see and what I’ve seen from my incarceration.
I fully get the fact that this project, which sounds great, wants to collect stories about the pandemic. Again, I will do my best to share the plight of this institution as I see it, but after 26 plus years in this darkness, it has all been a pandemic in my eyes.
Early on in 2020, the CMF staff begun taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by requiring inmate to wear face coverings, themselves not so much. Unfortunately the virus found its way inside the institution. Towards the end of 2020 the quarantines begun, which were a good thing, but in many ways not at all.
For the most part my portion of the institution is single celled, yet it became very questionable why many of us were taken from our single and isolated cells and put in dorms where known cases of infections were. Myself, I was tested twice, not sure of the outcome of the first test. A week later I was given a second nose swab, despite having no symptoms, I tested positive.
Like three in the morning I was moved out of my single cell and into a large 150 man dorm. A few weeks later many of us were rotated into tents outside on the yard, each tent held 10 to 12 people, mind you it was freezing cold outside at this time of the year. A few weeks later I was moved yet again, this time to a much smaller dorm, another 10 man dorm.
This was just a short stay, but here’s the kicker, once I made it back to my single man cell, maybe a week later I get the results of my second nose swab, turns out it was negative. I was not an isolated case, many inmates tested negative, but wouldn’t find this out until months later. For now I will move on, I will return to this issue shortly.
Since you found me in a database, you may know I am a third striker, another subject you be writing about. Like myself, just about every third striker has been incarcerated for decades for nonviolent crimes, being subjected to crimes ourselves on a daily basis, from radical laws, unsafe prison conditions, to underground rules passed off as regulations institutional staff enforce on us.
Briefly, since 2021 California voters has passed three major prison reform acts geared toward nonviolent inmates, yet all CDCR has done is use ambiguous language, backed by the courts, to keep us from regaining our freedom. Over the years I have seen prison conditions go from bad to worse, but only for the inmate population, whereas nothing but improvements for the [redacted].
Yeah they may say otherwise, but how do you explain new equipment each year? New vehicles every few years, all the overtime they can stand. They’re around here working multiple shifts weeks on end, despite laws that say they can’t. CDCR seems to be unchecked by anyone and have carte blanche on anything they wish to do.
Since the pandemic has begun here at CMF the inmates has been getting cell fed. I am one of three people that brings food carts to this end of the prison, in all it’s about ten food carts. Don’t mind the work, do mind the nine dollars a month I get for doing the work, can anyone say “Labor Law Violations.”
The reason I bring this up is because I see first hand, that because the food is so bad no one wants to eat it, and those that do, has very little choice. We are throwing so much food away it’s crazy. This is for a number of reasons though, really one or two, the way it’s cooked and the fact they are forcing inmate to eat basically the same food day in and day out.
For a while I worked in the main kitchen here, as well as at other prisons and the one word or term I could use to describe the conditions in these kitchens would be “filthy.” Yes inmate clean as much as possible after cooking the meals, but staff has never given us the time to actually do it properly. I even wrote an appeal a couple years ago, requesting for an overnight cleaning crew be put in place.
It was denied, citing a lack of funds and staffing. There’s mold, bugs, rats and Lord knows what else in these kitchens, the machines use to wash the trays are barely functional. All in all, the conditions in this kitchen alone would get any restaurant shut down by any health inspector on the streets.
If one were to look closely you would see just about everything here is about money. We’re getting the cheapen end of everything, food, cleaning, supplies, clothes, canteen, everything. Again, I get like nine dollars each month. The problem is, the canteen and the package companies we’re force to use to continue to raise prices just about every time we look up, but each time I ask for a bump in pay, I’m either laughed at or told “I’ll see what I can do.”
Criminal justice reform: Propositions 36, 47, and 57 were supposed to reduce California’s prison population and there are more laws coming that is further to reduce the population. Maybe this is why within the last years custody staff here are writing inmates up for just about any and everything you can think of.
Example: both inmates and staff were told to write each other up if you’re caught not wearing your face covering, good ideal I suppose. One might guess what happen next, inmates are being found guilty for not obeying, while staff members are saying it’s not true that they were not wearing their mask, and the appeal inmates are writing are denied outright for a lack of evidence.
What I’ll say has never been good to speak on by inmates, but it needs to be said, especially now. For more than a year there has been no contact visits for the inmate population, yet drugs and cell phones are still showing up in the institution and inmates are being nailed to the walls if they are caught with either, again, staff not so much.
As with the COVID-19 and the drugs coming into this place the inmates are being blamed for it and punished. Everything here is a one way street, and it’s a dead end for you know who, inmates. I don’t use hard drugs or alcohol, but if I get me hands on a cell phone, I want it. Yeah I’m looked at in a major bad, bad light, was even denied parole last year at my first board hearing for five years, the phone made me violent in the board’s eyes.
However I see it like this. If you place a bowl of candy on a coffee table with a three-year-old in the house, how long will it be before the child makes he way into that bowl of candy? And would you cut the child’s hands off when you’re the one that placed that same temptation in his reach?
Now I’m no child, I fully know right from wrong, but I also I know I want my freedom back. Because of the way the way the world is ran nowadays, through technology, being able to use a cell phone is the closest way I can seem to get to regaining my freedom, being able to reach out to people.
Collect calls and writing letters is an lost art. No one seems to want to answer letters without being able to email, CDCR knows this, but the one reason they give for not allowing cell phones, we might commit a crime against someone. To me it’s just one more reason or why to keep me from regaining my freedom and away from the outside world as a whole.
Drugs, fighting, people OD’ing, rape, shootings, stabbings, gambling, you name it, I’ve probably seen it. Schools, vocations, self-help groups, people coming in to tutor inmates, friends outside, angle tree, many groups who try, try to ease the darkness for inmates, you name it and I’ve probably seen it, but I’m tired of seeing it all.
In 1992 I committed two robberies on innocent people, I went to prison, as well I should have, problem was I didn’t learn anything from it, so not longer after I was released I did it again. This time instead of a four year sentence I was given two life sentences. Did I deserve to come back, yes! Yes and hell yes!
Let’s say because to the amount of time I was given I sobered up real quick like. I was placed in school, I finished their three tier educational program. Following that I completed six vocational trades, I’ve worked on two major construction crews, learned a lot from that.
I have countless certificates from self-help groups, even wrote and published two books. My typing could use a little more work, but I taught myself this as well. Yet none of this was enough when I went. I went before the parole board.
There has been much talk about criminal justice reform, yet somehow that same reform has eluded me and many other nonviolent three strikers. I could be wrong because there’s no real way to prove it, but all I say and all I see it has being about money. Trust me when I say this, using the term “draconian” is not an understatement.
Over the years I’ve heard that the department of correction in California has no money to operate, BS. You can’t drive a broken car and this vehicle is moving like an well oiled machine. “Follow the money.” CDCR’s funding is so good, hell if three prisons were to close and the same funding was to stay in place, that funding could house every homeless person in the state. Just a thought…
I’d like to thank you again for allowing me to share my thoughts and opinions. I could type out another dozen pages on the conditions inside this place, but for now I hope this will suffice and something good will come from these few words.