“Guards laughed at incarcerated people for wearing masks” – COVID-19 Stories From CDCR’s CSP Solano

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By Jaskiran Soomal

This account is part 11 of the Vanguard’s series on COVID-19 stories from CDCR. Click here for part 10 and here for part 9. 

Michelle*spoke with the Vanguard regarding her partner Robert*’s experience with COVID-19 in CA State Prison, Solano. 

Upon testing positive for COVID-19 in December, Robert became very ill to the point where he developed debilitating symptoms. He received little to no medical care during his time in quarantine. 

During the initial months of the pandemic, CSP Solano had an extremely low cases count. Even in early December, only 50 active cases were reported within a population of 3000 people. This quickly changed. By Christmas Day, there were over 300 active cases in custody and over 800 total confirmed cases. 

“COVID can’t come to them. They are the perfect population in quarantine. The only way it could reach them was through people from the outside,” said Michelle.

She argues that the CDCR administration continued transferring individuals between facilities without following protocols and staff neglected safety measures, causing the virus to spread. Two men lost their lives during the December outbreak. 

“COVID was brought by staff and transfers,” she said. “These are the only “outside entities” that could interact with the prison population because in-person visits have been cancelled for months.” 

“Had they [prison staff] been conscientious of the protocols in the outside world – PPE, masks, etc. things could have been controlled. The guards did not do that. The guards laughed at the incarcerated people for wearing masks.”

Further, she says that CDCR transferred individuals from CSP Corcoran and San Quentin, facilities with massive outbreaks themselves, to CSP Solano discreetly. She questions why CDCR did not learn their lesson about the consequences of transfers after the mishap at San Quentin that caused over 28 deaths and 2,000 cases in July.

It is important to note that CDCR has not released any public information regarding the number of transfers between facilities or the total number of individuals transferred.

Robert and his cellmate were very meticulous in keeping their dorm clean, wearing masks appropriately, and following social distancing as best as they could. Robert wanted to do everything in his power to prevent the virus from affecting himself and his cellmate. 

Unfortunately, he inevitably caught COVID-19. 

From his observations, staff would not show incarcerated people their test results if it came back positive. They would be shuffled into quarantine buildings meant for those facing disciplinary actions, with no explanation.

The conditions within these buildings were extremely poor. Temperatures were extremely low, down to nearly 30 degrees at night, making it more difficult to battle their symptoms. 

On one night during quarantine, Robert and his cellmate were awakened by staff at 3am telling them to pack their belongings and move to the gym which was setup as an infirmary. There were rows of cots placed 2 feet apart with no heat or ventilation. A leak in the roof was bringing rain water inside. 

“Sick men are having to fight all of this. There is NO medical care whatsoever,” said Michelle.

Robert speculated that, “If someone was brought in there and did not actually have COVID, maybe it was a false positive, they would definitely contract the disease. The men were so sick.” 

Robert developed severe body aches, weakness and vomiting. He put in a request for a doctor who only gave him some Tylenol and Pedialyte to ease his vomiting. To make matters worse, he also has Valley Fever — an active infection in his lungs that increases his risk of developing complications associated with coronavirus. 

When he stopped vomiting and medical staff “deemed him well”, they moved him into the regular dormitory, but first stripped him of all his clothes and belongings. “They take all [our] belongings and put them in storage because it is considered to be contaminated,” said Robert.

Staff gave him shower slippers and a paper gown. Until his belongings were considered COVID-free, he was only wearing paper gowns and had no blankets to keep himself warm. 

When he asked the COs why they would not turn on the heat, they responded with, “It’s out of our control.” He believes they are simply trying to cut costs by using less electricity.

This is not the only example of negligence and disregard for their health. Staff are also putting men who are infected in buildings with those who are negative.

“They are shuffling people within the prison – mixing COVID positive and negative patients,” Michelle explained. 

It is important to note that Robert was not tested prior to being released from the infirmary to the general dormitory. He recalls seeing many sick men being released into the general population after quarantine, despite still showing symptoms.

Robert has served 30 years behind bars and has been to the parole board 14 times. The board continues to deny him parole. He was not granted release under any of the early-release programs authorized by Gov. Newsom back in July 2020. 

Michelle concluded by saying, “The inhumanity in the prison system has always been there. COVID is simply bringing it to the surface.”

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