Taking its toll

This letter was written by a person incarcerated at CIW (California Institution for Women).

Thank you for your compassion and service. I was grateful when I received this letter because it felt as though society had turned its back on the women who are incarcerated. We are the last to be noticed.

From your letter, you would like to see how we are faring. Well, this has been a difficult and trying time. First as a mother and grandmother, I feel the disconnect. My visits are during the holiday and the month of March, which is when the pandemic was taken seriously. At this time, we have no face to face although we have access to a kiosk that allows videos, again men are allowed yet mothers are denied? Both of my sons are essential workers and I worry a great deal.

Also, I have one of those pre-existing health conditions that could be deadly if I contracted the virus. So, I self-isolate pretty much 24/7. That is starting to take its toll. As a woman who is isolated because of abuse, I feel it’s just a different form. Deprivation. My only form of dealing with my past anxiety was through smoking. However tobacco is illegal within these institutional settings, so I am left to cope alone. I have lost a friend beyond these walls, and two on the other side. I received photos of my youngest sister on a ventilator in April, with no way of obtaining support or saying goodbye. Pre-COVID I would have at least been allowed to see a video.

When it comes to safety, it varies. Some staff take this virus seriously, and some don’t. They look at the inmates like we are ones going out and passing the virus. Our staff cases are on the rise, which means the inmate population will also increase. There is no transparency. We find out about staff and inmate cases through word of mouth. One of the working details have had the staff supervisors test positive, yet they continue to mix the units.

As I write this, 27 workers have been quarantined because if this particular staff works with all units instead of one unit of inmates. Heaven forbid one of these inmates are asymptomatic, this is why in remain in my cell unless I am calling home. Oh, and the housing where the isolated are kept in the worst. We get Santa Ana winds a lot. The housing unit where the women go are filthy. Rat infested, broken windows, and should be condemned. It’s a health hazard in itself.

Finally coping with the crisis. I read, crochet, clean what isn’t dirty, listen to music, self studies, and pray for a parole date before I die behind these walls. I also write. Oh! I‘m trying to figure out this yoga, but my limbs don’t seem to want to adjust. The most important way I cope is with a sober mind. No glasses of wine to calm the nerves.

Thank you for your ear, and desire to want to see a healthy outcome from all of this. If you have any other further questions please feel free to ask. Be safe and stay protected. I will keep you in my prayers.