Update on San Quentin: Water Restored to the Condemned Housing Unit Just After Midnight.

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By Richard Valdez

The familiar whooshing sound of the stainless steel institutional toilets could be heard again in the East Block Condemned Unit early Wednesday morning. Local crews worked long into the early morning hours to try and restore water to the old building. The whooshing sound, and the sound of air and spattering water from the sinks, were joyous sounds to those who have been affected by this water crisis. It was the sound of some long overdue and well-needed relief from the added stress this has caused East Block’s nearly 500 plus longtime residents and San Quentin’s administration and staff.

Being one of the residents who was affected by this, I have to say: these past four days have been trying. Living under a sentence of death, despite a moratorium being in place, is hard and stressful enough as it is. But when you add another high-stress-inducing crisis on top of this, people’s nerves do get heavily frayed. I can’t even express the feeling I had just having water to wash my hands again, or just to be able to brush my teeth before I went to bed. I didn’t have to suffer the indignity of what was essentially begging to get someone to take me to use the restroom or to see if I could possibly get a cold five-minute shower in one of the other units. Yesterday, I was only taken one time to use the bathroom. The other times were by me lining my cleaning bucket with a plastic bag and relieving myself in it, then throwing it away when trash was picked up after the evening meal. I had been asked at around three in the afternoon if I needed to use the restroom, only to have the day go by and no one ever coming to take me nor any of the numerous others who needed to go, to do a normal function which most people take for granted on any given day.

This incident has highlighted a number of things: the first being that, prior to any plans that the governor has for this unit even moving forward, he might want to actually come to see this unit himself and find out firsthand how much work and money is actually going to be needed to transform the unit. Secondly, San Quentin’s administration should really learn from this and formulate a feasible plan of action for just such an emergency in the future. They were totally ill-prepared and demonstrated some of the same indifference shown during the COVID-19 outbreak that took place here just three years ago. Although none of East Block’s residents died during this crisis, the indignities that residents had to endure and the added worry placed on their families were closely similar. No one should have to suffer in such a way.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge those who did show us the dignity and humanity that anyone, no matter what their circumstances in life, deserves on any given day. Because this crisis wasn’t devoid of them. So thank you to those local workers who worked tirelessly over these past four days to get water restored for us. Thank you to San Quentin staff who can’t be named, but who should be at least mentioned, for trying to do what they could to help. Thank you to our family members and friends for making calls to the media and state officials about what was happening to us, and for enduring the endless messages and frantic calls from us. And thank you to the Vanguard Incarcerated Press for helping to bring light to issues like these and for allowing our voices to be heard.

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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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