By Jaskiran Soomal
*Sam is currently incarcerated at CSP Solano. His fiancé, Jean*, reached out to Vanguard to share his experience with COVID-19 behind bars.
Sam has been exposed to the virus on multiple occasions during quarantine and after. He has underlying medical conditions that put him at an increased risk for developing complications associated with the virus.
He is in level 2 dorm at the prison, which isn’t separated into cubicles like other dorms at the facility.
Although he did not contract the virus, someone close to his bunk tested positive. Since he was exposed to a positive case, staff moved him to Building 7 for quarantine. The unit was meant to isolate those exposed to COVID-19 in single cells for 14-days, but as space became limited, staff began doubling up patients.
Building 7 was established to segregate individuals exposed to the virus from the general population. Many end up testing positive few days into their quarantine period due to their prior exposure. Ideally, patients with positive results should be transferred out as soon as the results are confirmed. Instead, Jean says, “They left a positive Covid inmate with my fiancé for 9 hours before they moved him to the gym with the other positive inmates.”
After this incident, many began refusing to have a cellmate while in quarantine.
Further, there was a water leak from the roof, which made the cell freezing cold. There was no supply of sanitation materials. Jean described the sanitation conditions and temperature during quarantine as “unlivable.”
Sam was in isolation for 23 days under these conditions.
On two occasions, he went four days straight without being able to come out of his cell to either use the phone or shower. “A normal collect call is 15 minutes, so he either would have to [choose to] call or shower, or do each very quick[ly] so he could at least let us know he was ok. On multiple occasions they didn’t even give them the whole 15 mins out of cell,” Jean added.
They had hand sanitizer at the phone station, but did not provide wipes to clean the phone if the previous user had not used sanitizer or worn a mask while taking a call.
Following this 23-day isolation period, he was moved to another dorm yard. Sam reports that prison officials keep bringing in “recovered” positive cases to the dorm. Jean contends that staff do not test positive patients for at least 90 days after a positive result. “How do they know these inmates aren’t still carrying the virus?” she asks. As a result, many “recovered” cases are still contagious. “They keep having to re-remove inmates for being positive.”
“When an inmate tests ‘positive’ they don’t show them proof, they just take them to the gym with no paperwork,” Sam shares.
Jean feels that the transfer of individuals from other CDCR facilities to CSP Solano, during November and December, triggered the outbreaks. “Within a week [Sam’s] dorm broke out with Covid-19,” she explains. In mid-January, “[CDCR] transferred a bus of inmates from Delano to Solano, and sent 17 inmates to Centinela State Prison.”
Despite these exposures, Sam has tested negative on multiple occasions. Yet, the anxiety and fear of contracting the virus, going into solitary-confinement style quarantine again, or facing severe medical negligence, continues on a daily basis.
* Names changed for anonymity