I am fortunate and privileged to live in a one-bedroom apartment with my partner. Yet, I often complain about feeling isolated and trapped, despite having 750 square feet to live, work and quarantine together. Meanwhile, just 20 miles away, in San Quentin State Prison, approximately 3,507 incarcerated people share a 5 feet by 7 feet cage with someone else. A man incarcerated at San Quentin risked all possible consequences and retaliation by releasing a video, begging for our help about what it’s like inside a prison during COVID. He ends the video saying “death from COVID-19 is imminent at San Quentin due to the lack of effective protocols that should have been implemented.”
Across the country, people in correctional institutions like San Quentin literally cannot quarantine or socially distance from one another, despite their medical conditions or status as high-risk. They do not have regular access to cleaning supplies or hand washing materials. They shower in large groups, elbow-to-elbow, usually once a week. They share telephones and common spaces including dining halls, and recreation yards. Officers purposely take off their masks and are refusing to update anyone about the pandemic.
To give perspective, San Quentin had 0 reported cases of COVID, until the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) purposely transferred 121 people from San Bernardino County (California Institution for Men “CIM”). At the time of the transfer, CIM had over 500 active cases of COVID and 15 COVID-related deaths. As a result, 1,132 people in San Quentin are COVID positive as of July 1, 2020. That number is predicted to reach 2,000 in the next week, meaning well over half of people in San Quentin will have COVID in the coming days. CDCR has responded by transferring some COVID positive people to local hospitals that are now at capacity. Others are moved into small triage tents on the prison recreation yard that is no larger than a couple of campground tents, making social distancing yet again, impossible.
State and federal correctional staff are using COVID as an execution method. We need to stop treating incarcerated people like “inmates” and start treating them as people. Until that happens, COVID or another crisis will continue to silently murder our incarcerated brothers and sisters.
This post was written by Point Scholar Gabby Sergi.
She is currently studying law at University of California Hastings majoring in Sociology with a concentration in Criminology, Law and Society, minoring in Child & Youth Studies and Legal Studies. Read more about Gabby here.