By Julietta Bisharyan and Nick Gardner
This week, we are highlighting a narrative from Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, New York.
Adapting to life in a 30-man communal cell has not been easy for Corey Devon Arthur. As a maximum security prisoner for over two decades, Arthur had inhabited a single-person cell— an environment free from the lack of privacy, stress, and smells of his new residence.
“A cell was and is where I feel most at home,” said Arthur in an editorial published by the Marshall Project.
But Arthur’s living condition changed significantly following his reclassification as a medium A security prisoner. In the eyes of prison officials, Arthur is no longer considered dangerous enough to warrant his own cell.
Arthur’s new residence requires him to share showers, cooking facilities, and recreational rooms with 30 other men. He describes spending time cleaning up after others and adjusting to life with far less privacy than he enjoyed for over 20 years.
But Arthur’s main concern is not the messiness or lack of privacy afforded by his new dormitory. Rather, Arthur worries for his own safety among a large group of dangerous men.
“How am I supposed to sleep with killers, robbers, rapists and drug addicts having free access to me?”
Artur mentioned how the stress of communal living has pushed incarcerated individuals towards violence, a threat posed by those in his cell that lack “higher-order thinking skills.” In the past, these skills have helped prevent Arthur from “committing the unthinkable.”
Over the summer, Arthur was temporarily relieved from his dormitory following a COVID-19 positive test of a coworker at FCF’s general library. Arthur was required to quarantine for 14 days in a solitary confinement cell, a COVID mitigation strategy that has resulted in outrage and civil rights issues from incarcerated individuals and activists across the country. For Arthur, however, his time in solitary confinement was a luxury.
“I smiled inwardly when I was told to pack up my property,” Arthur wrote. I was headed to a single-man cell where, for the first time in years, I would be a man at peace with himself. Solitary confinement can be torturous, but for a prisoner like me it’s a vacation.”
Upon arriving in his new temporary residence, Arthur examined the space for the attributes of a good cell: stash spots, a built-in shower, and areas blind to patrolling guards.
Arthur’s new cell was only 5 steps across. As a longtime maximum security prisoner, Arthur enjoyed the cell. However, he knew that it was no space for a human to live. This is how it was designed.
But for Arthur, the cell is home.
“To someone like you, this sounds insane. But please don’t judge me for relishing in these simple, inhumane pleasures. If I have to remain in prison for the rest of my life, I want very much to stay in a cell. For someone like me, little else is true.”
CDCR Confirmed COVID-19 Cases and Outcomes
As of Oct. 9, there are a total of 15,045 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the CDCR system – 1,118 of them emerged in the last two weeks. 7.9% of the cases are active in custody while 3% have been released while active. Roughly 88.6% of confirmed cases have been resolved.
There have been 69 deaths within the CDCR facilities. 34 incarcerated persons are currently receiving medical care at outside health care facilities across the state.
On Oct. 4, an incarcerated person from Chuckwalla Valley State Prison (CVSP) died at an outside hospital from what appear to be complications related to COVID-19.
On Oct. 5, Pelican Bay State Prison recorded its first confirmed case, after several months of heavy testing without reporting any positive cases. The next day, the number fell back to zero, according to CDCR.
On Oct. 8, Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI) reported its first case of COVID-19, making PBSP the only CDCR facility without any confirmed cases.
Valley State Prison (VSP) has tested the most patients in the last two weeks –– 64% of its population. CA State Prison, Sacramento (SAC) has tested the least during this period, only 7% of its population.
Like PBSP, there was a decrease in confirmed cases, from 16 to 15, reported by SAC on Oct. 6
This week, Folsom State Prison (FSP) only reported ten new cases while resolving 152 cases, appearing to recover from its recent major outbreak.
Avenal State Prison (ASP) reported 76 new cases this week and has resolved 145 cases.
CDCR says its increasing communications efforts this year with CCHS to both staff and incarcerated persons regarding the importance of receiving an influenza vaccination during the pandemic.
There are currently 97,870 individuals incarcerated in the CDCR facilities – a reduction of 24,539 since the beginning of the prison outbreaks in March 2020.
Effect on the Public
The Deuel Vocational Institution in San Joaquin County is shutting down.
The CDCR has announced that the 67 year-old prison will officially shut down by the end of September 2021. 1,080 workers from the Tracy, Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon areas will lose their jobs as a result of the decision.
The decision comes as part of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s efforts to reduce the state’s incarcerated population amidst COVID-19 initiated budget cuts. Specifically, the state will save $182 million in annual operating costs, and will also avoid the $800 million that would be required to upkeep the prison and make crucial repairs.
The 1,500 men incarcerated at the DVI will be transferred to other institutions based on their custody status, housing requirements, and rehabilitation needs.
The facility, opened in 1953, was originally designed to house 1,641 individuals. At the peak of its capacity in 2012, the DVI processed 4,000 men— a feat made possible by converting the gym to a massive dormitory comprised of triple-stacked bunk beds. The bunk beds were limited to doubles following a riot, allowing guards to oversee them.
DVI receives individuals who have been placed in the state prison system over 29 counties in Northern California. Individuals are then processed and evaluated over a 90-day period. Evaluations are conducted on a person’s criminal history, interactions, education, life history, and medical and psychological conditions. These individuals are then transferred to an institution deemed appropriate based on the results of their evaluation.
DVI offers a variety of work opportunities for incarcerated individuals, such as enrollment in forestry camps or tasks on the institution’s 1,600-head cattle farm. Individuals are also given the opportunity to earn their General Education Degree or complete basic adult training classes. Classes cover career skills such as auto body repair, building maintenance, and air conditioning installment.
Over the past decade, California laws and ballot measures have resulted in a significant decrease in statewide prison population. At its peak in 2006, the CDCR oversaw 173,000 incarcerated individuals. As August 31, California’s prison population sat at around 97,000 — due largely in part to COVID-19 mitigation efforts that have seen the release of over 10,000 individuals.
A second prison is expected to close its doors in the near future, and speculations have pointed to San Quentin State Prison, which rests atop expensive waterfront property in the San Francisco Bay Area, or the structurally outdated California Rehabilitation Center in Norco.
There have been at least 3,839 cases of COVID-19 reported among prison staff. 10 staff members have died while 2,875 have returned to work.
On Oct. 4, one staff member from Wasco State Prison (WSP) died from complications related to the coronavirus. This is the first staff death in CDCR in two months.
CDCR Comparisons – California and the US
According to the Marshall Project, California prisons rank fourth in the country for the highest number of confirmed cases, following Texas, Florida and Federal prisons. California makes up 10% of total cases among incarcerated people and 5.7% of the total deaths in prison.
Division of Juvenile Justice
As of Oct. 8, there are no active cases of COVID-19 among youth at DJJ facilities. 68 cases have been resolved.