San Quentin Under the Coronavirus Pandemic – An Update

I hope all you readers are all doing well in this new and crazy world of ours.

As of April 22, 2020, it appears that San Quentin State Prison is still keeping COVID-19 from running amok inside its walls. I know there could easily be folks who are asymptomatic or haven’t started to show symptoms yet, but so far, so good. I’m impressed, and I won’t lie, I’m also pleasantly surprised.

Daniel Wozniak has been keeping me updated on how San Quentin has been handling the death row inmates during the pandemic. The prison has some practices in place to keep everyone healthy and safe, but there are still so many ways the virus could quickly spread if it got a foothold.

In the last post, I mentioned a guard who had recently come off a cruise full of passengers who’d tested positive for COVID-19. Rumors had been flying around that he’d been allowed to work, but this was false. He was sent home to quarantine.

Death row inmates are put in handcuffs whenever transferred from one area to another. The likelihood of the cuffs being disinfected between inmates is quite low. On the other hand, since the prison was closed to visitors in March, the inmates only come in contact with guards and other personnel. So, they must be doing a decent job of screening and cleaning overall.

Nothing is perfect.

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On March 27th, the inmates received a memorandum from Warden Ron Broomfield that a member of the staff tested positive for COVID-19. Warden Ron Broomfield’s letter to the inmates was informative and reassuring, and the prison has put out other helpful memos to keep the entire population of San Quentin safe and healthy. They’ve been especially aware of the higher risk inmates.

When the memo about the positive staff member circulated, quite a few alarms could be heard going off on different tiers. On Daniel’s tier, one of the older guys was taken away wearing a mask.

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Still, San Quentin seems to be holding everything together using some makeshift tactics and seemingly illogical practices.

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They check the inmates’ temperatures daily and have provided hand sanitizer for extra caution… but the sanitizer must remain in their cells, even though they most need it when out on the yard with prisoners. A very detailed information leaflet was distributed along with squeeze bottles of sanitizer; starting with how to properly open the bottle and ending with the regulation to keep the bottle in the cell.

I asked Daniel about this, and he said the yards do have one sink available for hand washing, but there could be up to forty inmates who would need to use it. I have to ask him if he’s allowed to take bar soap outside.

Dan told me that every couple of days, a guard goes from cell to cell handing out bars of soap and saying, “I have to give this to you, and I need you to give me an empty cup.” Even though Daniel didn’t specifically say so, I have to assume the inmates don’t have any choice in the matter. The empty receptacle is then filled up from a large bottle of disinfectant.

While Daniel and I were talking on the telephone earlier this week, he noticed a guard coming along the tier and handing out what looked to Dan like a sleeping mask. Dan asked his neighbor about it, and the guy said it was “a mask-mask.”

Unlike the hand sanitizer, the mask came with no instructions, and Dan doesn’t know if the mask is allowed to be taken out of their cells either. If not, he’s going to use it as a sleep mask.

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Telephone calls are still available to the inmates, and hopefully this helps alleviate some of the loneliness and stress experienced while being separated from the outside world. GTL, the company that controls California’s incarcerated telephone connections, is now allowing days where all calls are free. This must be a welcome break for the families and friends of inmates, who normally have to pay pretty high rate charges for all the collect calls they receive. Even some free phone calls are helpful in this time when so many people have lost their livelihoods.

I hope you all are taking care of yourselves out there.

Did anyone happen to see Steve Herr on the Dr. Oz show a week or so ago? His heartbreak is evident to anyone who hears him speak about his son Sam.

When I write about Daniel Wozniak’s experiences from behind bars, I never forget how he ended up there. I never forget about Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi.

When I write of the difficulties of the lives of inmates, I’m looking at the big picture. I’m not just focused of Daniel’s life.

I think we can all agree we want this pandemic over sooner rather than later. Us regular folks will be let out of our version of prison, and the family members and friends of the incarcerated will be allowed back in again.

5 thoughts on “San Quentin Under the Coronavirus Pandemic – An Update”

  1. I enjoy your emails. I’m getting an idea about life on death row. I don’t think he’ll ever be put to death, but for what he did, he’s right where he should be.

  2. I started reading your blog from the beginning yesterday and couldn’t stop reading it. I think the world needs people like you to pursue the truth and heal at the same time. I think knowing the different perspectives gives people more resolve on what they decide or for them to understand the reasons. I’m taking an ethics class and we are on the topic of the death penalty and a video showed Daniel which led me to reading your blog. I’ve had the stance of pro death penalty but after reading this Im questioning more about if it truly deters criminals if their motives will drive them through laws. I believe that rehabilitation and reintegration programs would push them to grow and keep them in control of their actions and lead them to make something more of their lives. Granted not all would fit for this but I believe there are some who could overcome the adversity. We treat criminals with punishment but really it could be mostly mental health, environment, and genetics combined with lacking skills to cope and fight cognitive distortions that lead them there or keep them as repeat offenders. There would be more success if it was more focused on the punishment balancing with rehabilitation and reintegration programs.

  3. Working on the “Front Line” in a local Southern CA hospital, COVID-19 pandemic does not discriminate. ICU MD, ER RN or Prison Guard, we all risk our lives and those of our families from possible asympomatic exposure. It is interesting to read about the point of view from a man who willingly, premeditatedly murdered 2 people. Such a dichotomy worrying about catching a virus that Healtcare Professionals and ALL essential workers risk catching but continue to work, and hearing about Death Row Innmates who are segregated and actually self-isolating. Love your blogs and have been following from Day 1. Waiting for your Book! Stay safe.

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