“My dinner was two spoonfuls of rice, beans, peas, carrots and casserole” – COVID-19 Stories from CDCR’s Valley State Prison

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By Jaskiran Soomal 

This account is Part 2 of the Vanguard’s series on COVID-19 stories from CDCR. Click here for Part 1. 

Blake* is incarcerated at Valley State Prison (VSP) in Chowchilla. The Vanguard received a copy of a letter he wrote to his loved ones detailing his experience with COVID-19 . 

“Covid sucks. Prison sucks. Covid in prison really sucks!” he writes in his letter.

After contracting coronavirus, Blake was moved to a new building for quarantine purposes. He says, “This building is for people who tested positive and full to capacity. They’ve had to use another building (A3) and the gym.” 

The prison houses a population of 2,781 people. It entered its second COVID-19 outbreak in November when active cases climbed from nearly 60 on Nov. 10 to over 480 on Dec. 8.

Blake writes, “Yeah the outbreak here is pretty bad. Came to find out the building I was in is not the only hotspot. In the last few days, they have been taking truck loads of bunks to the gym” 

He raises concerns about the scarcity of basic supplies like food and medical care due to the outbreaks. She says, “This is no exaggeration, my dinner was two spoonfuls of each of the following items: rice, peas and carrots, beans, chicken tamale casserole. Breakfast and dinner are like this everyday.”

Over the last few weeks, multiple reports have emerged on the widespread hunger and food shortage across CDCR, amidst growing COVID-19 outbreaks. 

In his experience, COVID-19 positive patients are not provided with medications to address their symptoms. They do not have access to basic over the counter medication like Tylenol. He adds, “Tablets were taken away from inmates that had them. These tablets were paid for by their families and loved ones, but now have gone to waste.”

Further, they are not allowed to access the commissary where they could purchase additional food or medicines. 

“You’re lucky if you have [access to the] canteen or a package before coming over here but not everyone is fortunate to be able to get a package or go to the store/canteen.” 

Blake reports that the prison officials are checking symptoms and vitals twice a day, however, many are reluctant to be truthful to avoid long durations of quarantine. Across CDCR, solitary-confinement has replaced quarantine or medical isolation, discouraging many from accepting testing or being truthful during symptoms checks.

Regarding his symptoms, he says, “The last two nights I had the chills again, but other than not having very much energy, all the other symptoms are gone.” 

Blake’s loved ones have attempted to advocate for better living conditions and medical care. They contacted the Office of the Ombudsman for CDCR, but reported being stonewalled multiple times. They recount feeling shocked that the Secretary of CDCR, a registered nurse, considers these conditions adequate. 

Before signing off his letter, Blake says, 

“I’ll survive. I’ve been through worse, but it’s going to be a rough two weeks.” 

 

* Name changed to protect identity

Note: A previous version of the article referred to Blake with female pronouns.


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About The Author

Aparna Komarla leads the Covid In-Custody project, which partners with the Davis Vanguard to bring reporting on the pandemic's impact on county jails and CDCR to the public eye. See www.covidincustody.org for more information.

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14 thoughts on ““My dinner was two spoonfuls of rice, beans, peas, carrots and casserole” – COVID-19 Stories from CDCR’s Valley State Prison”

        1. David Greenwald

          “She raises concerns about the scarcity of basic supplies like food and medical care due to the outbreaks. She says, “This is no exaggeration, my dinner was two spoonfuls of each of the following items: rice, peas and carrots, beans, chicken tamale casserole. Breakfast and dinner are like this everyday.” ”

          Doesn’t sound like she thought it was enough

  1. Ron Oertel

    I think I “learned my lesson” yesterday, regarding commenting in these types of articles.  Well, maybe not.

    How many inmates have been “killed by guards”, since that similarly-titled article appeared?

    1. David Greenwald

      The killed by guards comment was by one of the inmates, depicting the fact that the guards were intentionally moving inmates around into places where there were likely people infected by COVID despite specific requests to be able to distance and quarantine.

      1. Ron Oertel

        I gathered that it was related to concerns regarding Covid.

        “. . . depicting the fact that the guards were intentionally moving inmates around into places where there were likely people infected by Covid . . .”

        How do you know it was “intentional”, as if they had “other” places to put them?  That’s a pretty serious allegation, and implies that a crime occurred.

        And, how do you know if the places that they “were” had no Covid?

        1. Aparna Komarla Post author

          The purpose of this series is to highlight experiences and opinions from those inside. The Vanguard is not investigating their statements or making allegations against the prison or CDCR. We are simply giving people behind bars a microphone. You, as a reader, are free to make what you want of it.

        2. Ron Oertel

          I’m not sure that I would call this type of thing “reporting”, as in a complete and accurate picture. But, the Vanguard is certainly giving voice to it.

          Pretty sure that you can find a lot of allegations from within prison walls – and not just related to Covid.

          Wasn’t there also a recent allegation/story (including a video) that some prisoners were purposefully infecting themselves at a facility a few months ago? Reportedly, out of a belief that it could benefit them?

  2. Don Shor

    Thank you for this series. Here’s hoping it prompts an outside investigation by state officials. Regardless of why they’re there, we should be treating inmates humanely and they should have adequate food and medical care.

  3. Ron Oertel

     “Tablets were taken away from inmates that had them. These tablets were paid for by their families and loved ones, but now have gone to waste.”

    Is that ever allowed, under the rules? Families bringing in “tablets” for inmates?

     

  4. Eric Gelber

    It should be noted that it’s not only CDCR congregate facilities where COVID-19 has been mishandled and ineffectively mitigated. There is currently pending litigation against the Department of State Hospitals (DSH) for failure to protect mental health clients committed to Patton State Hospital. https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/system/files/file-attachments/Hart_v._Clenendin_Complaint.pdf

    Patton is a state psychiatric hospital with 1527 beds and 2400 staff.  An application for a TRO filed yesterday notes that, in the last two weeks alone, 137 staff and 87 staff and on site personnel have tested positive for COVID-19. https://www.disabilityrightsca.org/system/files/file-attachments/Ex_Parte_App_for_Temporary_Restraining_Order.pdf#page22

    The application notes, for example,

    Defendants have failed to: maintain adequate ventilation on the units; disinfect shared spaces regularly; provide necessary cleaning supplies to patients; adopt quarantine protocols that remove infected individuals from a unit without facilitating mass COVID-19 transmission; prevent staff from moving between infected and non-infected units; enforce the proper use of masks and protective equipment; and provide information and education to patients necessary to help them protect themselves.

    DSH has also failed to take adequate steps to discharge patients who could safely be housed in less restrictive settings or effect transfers of patients to safer facilities.

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