‘Will government officials be charged with murder?’ – COVID-19 Stories from High Desert State Prison

By Jaskiran Soomal & Mengyu Yang

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 6 of the Covid In-Custody Project’s series on COVID-19 stories from CDCR. Click here for part 5 and here for part 4. 

Jamal* is incarcerated at High Desert State Prison (HDSP) in Susanville, CA. His mother shared his story with us regarding CDCR’s negligence with handing COVID-19.

He was testing for Covid-19 recently, and was subsequently moved to “an infected-call, in an area where everyone was sick.” 

Jamal’s mother said, “My son has not been sick until his recent move. He was fine up till about a week and a half ago. They moved him on purpose. Whoever tested negative for Covid-19 are forcefully moved to the Covid-19 infected prisoners’ cells.”

Numerous stories have emerged from other CDCR facilities regarding the intermixing of positive and negative COVID-19 patients causing outbreaks to snowball.

Shortly after Jamal was moved, he contracted COVID-19. 

“Will these government officials be charged with murder or attempted murder?” she remarked. 

She painfully continued, “This is one of the most crucial events in our lives. And the police, the courts have all failed him. I have failed him. This needs to stop. Again, I will continue to fight for his freedom.”

Regarding medical care, she stated, “Inmates are yelling for help stating that they can’t breathe, a guard will show up 30 minutes later. Then walk away telling the inmates to file a grievance.”

Jamal expressed concerns about possible retaliation from prison guards, and therefore hesitated to report incidents of negligence using 602 grievance forms. 

In addition to these inhumane conditions, there are widespread food shortages being reported across CDCR, arising from a shortage in supply and absence of kitchen staff. Many CDCR outbreaks were linked to poor safety conditions in prison kitchens, which resulted in operations being cut down.

When the prison was under a 24/7 lockdown, everything Jamal did was within his cell. They had to depend on “whatever or whenever the guard decided to bring food or water, and nothing else.”

His mother added, “He just wanted his canteen; he was hungry.” She called and verified that the canteen order was shipped to the prison, and had been sitting there for over a month without being distributed. 

Since there was only one person managing the canteen for the entire facility, Jamal’s mother stated, “If they get their canteen, they get it; if they don’t, then they just don’t.  These are hundreds/thousands of dollars in orders from the inmates.” 

“My son is hungry,” she concluded.


* Name changed to protect identity

About The Author

The Covid In-Custody Project partners with the Davis Vanguard to report on the pandemic's impact on California's county jails and state prisons. See www.covidincustody.org for more information.

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