Guest Commentary: Torn Apart

Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash

By John Mendoza

For two years now, inmates and their families have been denied regular contact visiting, which is a huge part of “rehabilitation and keeping safety in prisons,” i.e. by law (CCR Title 15 section 3170 (a)). However, the incarcerated population that has a higher vaccination rate than any nation in the world is prevented from connecting with their children and family; while prison staff with extremely low vaccination rates (that interact daily with their communities) are free to come and go as they please. Astonishingly, inmates are even unreasonably required to wear face masks during video visits and are also forced to vaccinate if they ever want to see their loved ones again; while officers that have been introducing the virus have no requirement. This “Big Me, Little You” double standard plagues the California prison system.

At CSP Solano in Vacaville CA, the lack of family contact coupled with the lies and deceit from Warden G. Matteson’s administration, has created an even more stressful and tense environment than ever before.

One unkept promise from Matteson was that if inmates took the Covid-19 vaccine they would no longer be required to move or go to “quarantine” if they were deemed to be in close contact to someone who tested positive. That promise was misleading. After over 80% of the population was vaccinated, Matteson took no time in overlooking that promise and authorized the forced, pointless and chaotic displacement of inmates all over her institution—vaccinated or not! Once placed in quarantine, inmates were denied not only access to physical recreation but also clean linen. When inmates refused to move, to hold Matteson accountable to her word, they received rules violations.

Throughout the entire pandemic inmates have also been forced to work with threats of discipline if they refuse. These inmates run the institutions and do all the cooking, laundry, trash runs, etc. and the institution would implode without their labor, yet they still get no respect. Essentially, inmates are slapped in the face with price increases in inmate canteens (that are predominantly “out of stock”), their pay never increases, and CDCR cancels the extra Covid package. All this at a time when Food Services are sacrificing quantity and quality of food “to pay for Styrofoam serving trays.”

Another failed promise of CDCR and Matteson was that tablets would be issued to the inmate population before the end of last year, i.e. 2021.  Unfortunately, the population is still waiting on into March 2022 while the tablets have been sitting in the warehouse since November 2021. As the inmates wait patiently, their access to family is further restricted as the phone company eliminated two of the six phones in buildings that have approximately 200 people wanting to call home.

With cabin fever intensifying and mental health deteriorating, the inmates have seen less and less of the outdoor activities due to “staff shortages.” It doesn’t go unnoticed to the inmate population that the institution is only conveniently short-staffed when it comes to providing inmates their basic programming.

With the combined natural immunity (from Covid exposure) and vaccination rates nearing 100% among incarcerated people, inmates and families agree it’s time to receive regular visits back. It is overdue that we focus on the things that actually help in rehabilitation and mental health rather than politics of pointless and arbitrary protocols that do nothing to prevent Covid spread inside institutions. CDCR Is so overcrowded that none of these policies make any rational sense anyway, and masks in “congregate” settings do nothing except increase stress. Nevertheless, we continue to look on in disbelief as 70,000+ unmasked people gathered for the Superbowl, while somehow inmates and their families gathering are deemed too dangerous to permit children to play with their parents in a visiting room.

John Mendoza is incarcerated at CSP Solano in Vacaville


About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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