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MAY, 2022

Column 57

    Prison is tough in the best of times. The pandemic affects every little part of prison life. Not in a good way either, of course. It is like being trapped inside of a petri dish. A lot of prisons have had outbreaks of the coronavirus, but I am not aware of any who had it as badly as San Quentin did.

During the first months it was terrifying. Like most of the country, we were watching the rapid spread of the virus as it made its way around the world. I remember having a conversation with one of my neighbors. We were both guessing how long it would be until the virus made its way into the prison and how bad it would be once it did. Our worst case scenarios were not even close to what the reality was, once the virus did get to San Quentin.

The prison seem to be doing a good job of keeping the virus out of the prison, at first. Then the prison system transferred some Covid-infected prisoners to San Quentin from a prison in southern California. The prisoners were not put into quarantine, as commonsense would have suggested. Instead, the infected prisoners were put in a cell block with other non-infected prisoners. It was only a matter of days before the spread of the virus was out of control.

I am not sure of the exact numbers here in San Quentin, so I will just talk about what happened on the tier I live on. There are 34 cells in my area. After the outbreak, the medical people started testing all the prisoners in the prison. This was at the end of June 2020. The results of the tests came back within a day or two and the number of positive results was significant. It was very strange how the virus spread. We are all in an area with the exact same conditions as everyone else, yet only a few tested positive at first.

The prisoners out on the Mainline (regular prisoners) were quarantined in tents out on the prison recreation yard. The prison cleared out the prisonís Adjustment Center (A/C) of all the prisoners who were there for punishment. It was then used strictly for high security quarantined prisoners, like those on death row. I was one of those who tested positive at the very start, so I was moved to the A/C. I was quarantined until a doctor cleared me and I was returned to my regular living area.

When I returned my cell, I was shocked to see how empty my tier was. Many of those in my tier were now in quarantine in the A/C. I also learned two of the guys on my tier had died from the virus. Plus others were in the hospital for treatment. It was a very surreal time. There was not much information about the virus. We didnít know if we could be reinfected right away or if we had an immunity and, if so, for how long. We would see the medical people come to administer the Covid tests and they would be wearing what looked like hazmat suits.

At the start of the outbreak in the prison, we had to wear masks made of prison clothing material, so they were made out of fabric. After all the tests started coming back positive, we started being issued N95 masks and that seemed to help a bit. I know many people out there in the free world bitch and complain about having to wear a mask. I suspect if they were in here during the height of the pandemic, they would not have any problem wearing a mask. The mask saves lives. Why wouldnít somebody do that? It is bizarre.

I have more to say, but it will have to wait. I hope to be back a lot sooner than it took this time, if any of you are still reading this.

May 23, 2022

Dean Carter

P.O. box C-97919
San Quentin Prison
San Quentin, California 94974 USA