By Christopher S Bryson
On January 6, 2022, the CDCR announced measures to protect the health of the incarcerated community from exposure to Covid-19 and Omicron. To accomplish this, it will minimize inmate movement throughout the State of California. As of January 9, 2022, a mandatory 15-day program motivation was implemented at each of the State institutions.
The news came to Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) was already in the midst of a modification program on several of its facilities due to Covid-19 and staff shortages. Residents’ fears of a reoccurrence of the nightmare scenario of 2020 were palpable. Inmates still vividly recall the sights and sounds of the previous Covid outbreak at MCSP. One inmate solemnly remembers “people were going ‘man down’ every hour! Some we never saw again.” Another inmate, Nall Matthew, recalled being forced to move multiple times. “I never want to go through that again. I lost my property, job, everything…”
Many inmates point to the lack of mandatory staff vaccination to blame for the outbreaks. Others attribute the spread to inconsistencies in protocol once a staff member has been identified as symptomatic or having tested positive. Inmates directly exposed to the staff member were tested and isolated but that is often after the inmate has intermingled amongst the population unaware that he has been exposed.
Recently, a Housing Unit Officer who espoused anti-vaccination sentiments, tested positive for Covid, prompting testing of the entire building of inmates. Multiple positive tests followed, resulting in a lock-down of the building. Within 72 hours, there were positive tests in 2 adjacent buildings as well. Inmates describe feeling helpless against Covid.
Despite vaccinations, nearly 1500 cases are reported among the inmate population statewide according to California Correctional Healthcare Services (CCHS). 80 percent of inmates and 69 percent of employees are fully vaccinated.
On January 6, 2022, CDCR and CCHS also reactivated their Covid-19 Departmental Center. It is the central location where leadership and experts monitor information, prepare for known and unknown events, and exchange information in order to quickly provide guidance to institutions.
The most significant modification by CDCR is the denial of all in-person visits to California institutions thereby adding another layer of hardship to the incarcerated populations’ way of life. Not only will inmates be unable to visit in-person with family and friends, all rehabilitation, educational, and programs will be suspended. Once again leaving inmates exhausted and emotionally stressed with the sense of déjà vu of the previous Covid-19 outbreak.
Christopher Bryson is incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison