The tests came back, Daniel Wozniak, along with at least 159 other death row inmates, is infected with COVID-19.
Daniel is, so far, completely asymptomatic. He took the actual test more than five days ago, so it’s unlikely he will end up experiencing any symptoms from the virus.
Soon after the results came back, a guard with a large roll of red tape walked up and down the tiers, marking the cells of the infected inmates. A friend of Daniel’s who was being walked to the showers commented on seeing that tape on every tier.
Now a nurse comes to his cell twice a day to check his temperature and ask if he’s having any symptoms.
Nurses, guards, and all other non-inmates staff at San Quentin are now dressed in full protective gear at all times.
“They look like Dustin Hoffman in the movie Outbreak,” Daniel remarked.
Daniel hears alarms going off almost hourly. He’s been hearing calls of “man down” from areas throughout the building, but he has no idea if inmates are being removed from their cells. He’s not sure where they would be taken, anyway, since the prison’s hospital is full.
It’s impossible to say how many inmates at San Quentin are actually infected with COVID-19. Daniel Wozniak has no idea of the circumstances on the prison’s mainline. Clearly there are hundreds of positive cases, and overcrowding has to be exacerbating the problem of keeping the healthy separated from the sick.
Perhaps some readers have trouble sympathizing for men who have been condemned to die, but this prison is filled with so many more people than the 740 or so who are on death row. There are almost 50 sick guards, and the ones that are still healthy are working double and triple shifts to cover for guards who can’t come to work.
This situation is terrible for everyone in and out of that prison.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Still, San Quentin seems to be holding everything together using some makeshift tactics and seemingly illogical practices.
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.
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.