Inmates Say Poor Conditions, Medical Care Continue At San Quentin

Kathy Novak
July 09, 2020 - 9:50 am

    Advocates are planning to gather outside San Quentin Thursday afternoon to call for more prisoners to be released amid the COVID-19 outbreak there.

    David Johnson says when the group of prisoners arrived from the California Institution for Men in Chino, which spared the outbreak, he was housed nearby. “We’re sharing the same ventilation so obviously it came right over to me,” he tells KCBS Radio.

    After testing positive for the virus, he was isolated in a solitary confinement cell. 

    “I started getting severe headaches, I have no taste or smell,” he said. “I’ve seen a doctor one time and I’ve been here almost a month now.”

    Johnson is one of a number of men who contacted KCBS Radio, complaining that for days food has been limited to small boxed lunches. 

    “I understand the kitchen, there’s no way to feed us a hot meal… the issue is we’re not being fed nearly enough food. We should at least be getting two boxed lunches instead of one,” and he says the hunger is making his fatigue from the virus even worse.

    His partner Brandie Shannon has been keeping up with the news from afar.

    “It’s mind boggling that anybody would okay a transfer of infected people,” she said.

    The Department of Corrections says it has stopped transfers into or out of San Quentin and any state prison except for emergencies, but did not respond to a request for comment on Johnson’s concerns.

    “It’s scary because I don’t know if he’s coming home,” said Shannon, who is worried about him making it through the last 10 months of his sentence. “That’s my main concern, is I want him to home come. I don’t want that to be his resting place or whatever, I want him to come home.”

    Gov. Newsom has committed to releasing 7,000 inmates who are close to the end of their sentence for non-violent crimes, but the process has been slow. A federal judge is putting pressure on the state to act quickly as the coronavirus spreads through California’s prison system. Newsom and the judge toured a facility in Vacaville but it is not clear if the state plans to ramp up its efforts. 

    In the meantime, Johnson’s message to his family is, “I love them very much… try to stay positive and I’ll try to stay positive, and we’ll try to get through this.”