By Jaskiran Soomal
This report is written by the Covid In-Custody Project — an independent journalism project that partners with the Davis Vanguard to bring reporting on the pandemic in California’s county jails and Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to the public eye. Refer to our website to view and download the raw data.
This account is Part 2 of the Covid In-Custody Project’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.
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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