This story was told by a person incarcerated at San Quentin.
UCI: What facility are you currently housed at?
Caller: I’m sorry?
UCI: What facility are you currently housed at?
Caller: I’m in San Quentin State Prison in H Unit.
UCI: San Quentin, okay. So, how has the COVID situation been at San Quentin?
Caller: Well, after they brought the inmates from Chino and the whole outbreak here started, it was a huge mess. I think there have been about 28 deaths so far. And more than half of the population at one point or another was infected.
UCI: That’s a lot of people infected.
Caller: It is.
UCI: So, has staff been doing anything to help prevent the spread of COVID?
Caller: Essentially, they’re just doing what they’re being – they won’t do anything more than what they’re being forced to do by CDCR, which is the bare minimum. And in lots of cases, they’re not doing what they say they are.
UCI: Oh. So, about what month did COVID start to spread in San Quentin?
Caller: It was I think, my memory on that is not too sure. But I think it happened around May or June.
UCI: Around May or June, okay.
Caller: That was when the infected inmates were transferred here from Chino.
UCI: Oh, so prisoners have been transferring into the facility?
Caller: Yes. And what happened was the reason that that transfer caused the mass infection here at San Quentin is because after …
Well, first of all, the inmates that were transferred here from Chino were not tested for COVID-19 before the transfer. And after they were brought here, they were not quarantined for the mandatory 14 days after they were brought here to San Quentin, they were released into general population right away after arriving here.
Caller: Yes. So, like I said, they were not tested before the transfer. And once they arrived here, they were not quarantined for safety, for observation.
UCI: So, what do you think San Quentin needs to be doing to help stop the spread?
Caller: They are testing us weekly. Every Tuesday around maybe 10:00 or so in the morning we go outside of our dorm where they have tables setup.
And we swab our noses and give the swabs to a nurse who collects them in a vial and sends them out to be processed. They are requiring us to wear N95 face masks. And they will write us up, they will give us a 115 reprimand if we’re not wearing them in common areas such as the day room or on the yard.
UCI: So, how have you been dealing with everything that’s been going on?
Caller: Well, I suffer from bipolar disorder and depression. And one of the first things that happened after the outbreak here at San Quentin was they stopped all medical and mental health appointments that were non-emergency.
That were just routine checkups. They stopped those completely for several months. So, for a while I was not receiving any mental health care.
UCI: Nothing? Like just …?
Caller: Nothing. No checkups. No meetings with the therapist or psychologist.
I was still being provided my mental health medication, my psychiatric medication. But there were no med checks. Nothing to oversee my mental health.
UCI: So, have they resumed health care? Like mental health care? Or is it still not available?
Caller: They have begun seeing us through telehealth. That’s like a webcam meeting with mental health professionals. They have resumed those. Usually on average about once every three months you’re instructed to meet with a mental health professional over telehealth.
UCI: Once every three months?
Caller: But they have reduced somewhat.
UCI: So, you guys only get to see them once every three months?
Caller: Yes. That’s the standard duration for mental health wellness checks.
UCI: So, this … How’s it been affecting you not being able to see your family and loved ones?
Caller: Oh, it’s been stressful both on myself and my family. The telephone service that is used by San Quentin, the Global Tel Link, has provided some free phone calls to us. So, we’re still able to communicate with our loved ones. But it’s been very stressful not being able to see them face to face.
UCI: Yeah, I can understand that.
UCI: So, are there any …? Okay.
Caller: Are there what?
UCI: Are there any like activities for you guys to do, like classes or something?
Caller: No. Programs and classes have all been suspended. I was in the addiction to recovery counseling program, as well as printmaking, and they’re not allowing any programs or classes of any kind to take place right now.
And that’s been in place since about May or June of this year. No classes or programs.
UCI: Whoa, so just nothing?
Caller: No. Virtually no programming of any kind.
UCI: So, is there anything else that you want people to know about?
Caller: Just the CDCR is not doing, they’re not putting into place or they’re not enforcing the safety and the health wellness protocols that they claim to be. They’re not enforcing their own staff to wear masks or other personal protective equipment.
They’re not – it’s not possible at all in a dormitory to socially distance. And there’s absolutely – if one person gets infected here at H unit, because of the asymptomatic period, testing will not – the person will not be tested and found to be positive within a safe amount of time to protect the rest of the inmates.
UCI: So, how many people live together in one dormitory?
Caller: The number varies by 10 or 20 per dorm but like in our dorm for example there are about 95 inmates.
Caller: Yes. And there are typically 200. But since the virus has taken place, they’ve moved out half of the bunk beds and they’ve cut the population in each dorm down by half.
UCI: So, would you say that there is an issue of overpopulation right now in San Quentin?
Caller: Absolutely. It’s been overcrowded here at San Quentin since before the outbreak.
UCI: Since even before?
Caller: Yes. And CDCR has done nothing to quell the overcrowding, even after they claimed to be enforcing social distancing policies of six feet, but they’re not doing anything to perpetuate that.
UCI: Yeah. So … So, have you been tested positive for COVID?
Caller: I have not. There have been some false positives at H unit. And but in those cases, the people are not isolated or quarantined for observation until several days after they were tested.
So, like I say, if they really have the virus, then by the time the positive tests came back, everyone else would be already infected.
UCI: Yeah, it’d be too late by then.
Caller: Much too late. The danger in this virus is through the asymptomatic period where you can be contagious and not be showing any symptoms.
That’s what makes this virus so dangerous in my opinion.
UCI: Yeah. So, from the beginning of the outbreak to now, has there been any difference in how they’ve been handling it?
Caller: None whatsoever. The only difference is that when the outbreak first began, they provided us with only cloth face masks. Simple one-layer cloth masks that were handmade by prison industry authority.
But now they are providing us with N95 respirators.
UCI: At least you guys have better masks now.
Caller: Better than nothing.
UCI: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for calling. Thank you so much for calling us. It’s great to hear all of this about what, everything that’s been going on.
Caller: Thank you for listening.
UCI: It’s be great if you could tell other people to call in and tell us their experience.
Caller: It was actually a friend of mine that received the letter from you that gave the phone number to me and told me to call. So, I will pass this number along to other people.
UCI: Well thank you, that’d be very helpful.
UCI: Thank you so much.
Caller: Thank you very much, sir. You have a wonderful day.
UCI: You too.
Caller: All righty. Have a good evening.
UCI: Okay, bye.