Crime Story has received permission to repost pieces by incarcerated writers working with the Prison Journalism Project. The Prison Journalism Project helps incarcerated writers and those in communities affected by incarceration tell stories about their world using the tools of journalism: gathering and testing facts, writing with nuance, texture and insight and reaching a thoughtful audience. You can follow the Prison Journalism Project’s work via their monthly newsletter.
My name is Gary. I am currently living at the Correctional Training Facility (CTF) in Soledad, California. I have hypertension due to a condition called left ventricular hypertrophy. The disease makes me more susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19, which I have contracted.
Despite the COVID-19 guidelines published by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in June 2020, testing here has not been taken seriously. Once every two weeks on the prospective test days, corrections officers (CO) and staff would come to work, begin their shifts inside the prison gates, go outside to the recreational yard for testing, and return to their shifts before receiving their test results.
As safety measures were ignored, inmates contracted the virus. CDCR said a website lists the current numbers of active cases and deaths, but beyond that not a lot of information has been made available to us. On Dec. 22, 2020, our local media reported nearly nearly 900 active cases and seven deaths. I suspect those numbers have risen.
Here, they move the infected inmates to a quarantine zone, usually made up of half a designated block. The facility is divided into three sections: South, Central and North, each with a different yard. In the North section, Yards A and B are divided into two halls, which consist of an A and B side, as well as a dormitory. The only thing separating the A-side from the B-side is an open sally port gate on either side — approximately 20 to 30 feet of space.
One side is considered a quarantine zone, while the other houses uninfected inmates. CTF also moves inmates, including ill ones, between the A Yard and B Yard, thereby further spreading the virus. There are two inmates in 7 foot by 6.5 foot cells, 150 cells per side of a block, and the dorm. So, the total population of the North facility is about 2,600 inmates.
I am currently one of the infected inmates. I have had the virus for more than 21 days. I still have headaches, constipation, a sore throat and a dry cough, but no fever. My body aches, and I am extremely fatigued. I also have chest pain, elevated blood pressure and shortness of breath. I have not been given any medication to help with the infection.
CTF has put some of the infected inmates in isolation, but others are still housed in the Yards. They have also begun erecting tents out in the Yard area in Central and behind my building in North.
The conditions here remain horrible at best. At the beginning of December 2020, our heat was out for almost two weeks. It gets cold at night, from the upper 20s to the mid-40s, and high winds blow through the Salinas Valley.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact checked.