COVID-19 In San Quentin

You may have seen some news stories about how many prisons and jails have been dealing with outbreaks of COVID-19 making its way through the inmate population.

In what initially may have seemed like a logical solution, “healthy” inmates have been transferred to prisons with no verified COVID-19 cases. 121 inmates from Chino Prison were taken to San Quentin, and since they were not tested for COVID-19 before arrival… they brought the outbreak with them.

Petri Dish

Within two weeks, San Quentin went from having no cases to — as of this writing — having over four hundred. The number goes up every day.

The question on the mind of Daniel Wozniak and many other prisoners is where, exactly, are the infected prisoners being held? The many guards he’s asked have no answers.

Taking Measures

When it was discovered there were COVID-19 cases in San Quentin, the prison emptied out the Advanced Correction (A.C.) unit in order to safely isolate sick inmates.

The A. C. unit, also known as Solitary, was meant to house those who had broken rules. At San Quentin, that unit only holds a hundred inmates, so that doesn’t even come close to having enough space for all those currently sick, let alone ones who may yet become ill.

Where are the others?

Daniel has noticed that guards now wear clear face plates over their masks, and heavy duty gloves. In fact, while I was talking to him on the telephone yesterday, guards were spraying the air with what looked like a pesticide.

Unlike the San Quentin inmates in general population, Daniel Wozniak gets his own cell. He at least has a semblance of social distancing. Most inmates are stuck sharing cells, which would make it easy for Covid-19 to spread from prisoner to prisoner.

Daniel Wozniak isn’t necessarily concerned about his own health. He doesn’t want to get COVID-19, of course, but he is young and healthy and would likely be just fine. That cannot be said for many of the people around him.

In the Dark

Right around June 19th, 2020, the prison tested every inmate at San Quentin for COVID-19. Even though the number of reported cases continues to rise, as of the 24th, the inmates haven’t been given the results of their own tests.

What They Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Us?

I have to wonder if there are prisoners who don’t even know they are sick, but are being counted as infected when the numbers are released to the media. I’m not usually one for conspiracy theories, but having no place to safely house infected inmates could mean the sick are just staying put. If this were the case, would the inmates be kept in the dark for the sake of keeping them calm?

In the 1998 movie Armageddon, an asteroid “the size of Texas” hurtles toward Earth, and when it hits, all life will be obliterated. In the movie, the government chooses to keep this information hidden from the public in order to avoid the complete terror and chaos that would result from people learning of their inevitable destruction. Thankfully, Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck lead a misfit team of NASA recruits on a mission to destroy the asteroid and save the world. The people who were in danger never even knew how close they came.

You see where I’m going with this, right? I don’t think it would be that surprising if the warden at San Quentin would attempt to keep the peace for as long as possible.

We’ll see what the future brings. I’ll keep you updated.

And Now, This

On the HBO series Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver did an extensive story on how COVID-19 has been burning through our prisons and jails. He explained how prison outbreaks can be dangerous to so many more people than just the inmates.

I understand if some readers don’t have a great deal of sympathy for the incarcerated, but continued outbreaks of Coronavirus are a threat to everyone.

Here’s the Last Week Tonight segment:

One thought on “COVID-19 In San Quentin”

  1. On a site devoted to exploring the answers to dark questions, you’ve definitely given us some insight into what might otherwise remain a very black hole for most of us. I found you in January and ate it all up in a few weeks.

    It’s hard to feel sympathy for any of the death row inmates who suffer or succumb to a virus that has killed over 100,000 Americans, none of whom have been convicted of murder. It’s probably better than most of them deserve.

    However, that was not the intended sentence of their trials. The institutions are clearly failing here. The government is failing here.

    Is it immoral to be against the death penalty, yet hold out hope that these convicted killers’ deaths by COVID-19 both serve some cosmic justice AND provide a measurable benchmark to achieve some pandemic-preventative measures in the future?

    Probably.

    But they’re not far from the bottom on my list of concerns right now.

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