San Quentin Inmates, Family Criticize Conditions And Lack Of Transparency

KCBS Radio Morning News
July 01, 2020 - 10:17 am

    Over 1,100 inmates at San Quentin are now infected with the virus, a prison that is already at 117% capacity.

    Tents have gone up on the prison grounds in anticipation of a 125-bed mobile hospital, something that has inmates worried. While officials say they have added workers and increased testing, reports from family members and those inside paint a picture of fear and frustration. 

    Thirty-five year old Edgar Figueroa arrived at San Quentin in February and was waiting to be transferred to a minimum security prison in Riverside for felony assault. But three weeks after prisoners were transferred to San Quentin from a prison in Chino, he started feeling ill.

    "Nausea, diarrhea, fever. We couldn’t taste the food," he told KCBS Radio.

    He said he and some of the other sick inmates were taken to the “Hole” where they were isolated from the rest of the population, but those units are normally used to punish inmates for bad behavior. Now has to slide his arm through the slot in the door for food trays in order to get his vitals taken.

    "Being locked up like this, it’s crazy because we go nuts in here. Being locked up and not being able to talk to anybody or nothing like that," he said. He gets four hours of outdoor time once a week, but says the yard is not disinfected so it is a struggle not to touch anything and spread the virus or pick up other illnesses. Using the communal showers are difficult too, as he is not sure if handles or towel bars are wiped clean.

    It is the not knowing that is so frustrating for Figueroa, and family members of inmates say their efforts to get more information about cleaning protocols and testing have also been futile. 

    Tammy Scott-McGee said when she last spoke to her husband Demitris McGee, who works as a porter in the prison, he was still waiting to get tested for the virus.

    "It seemed like every time he turned around somebody else was getting ill and then the sirens would go off and you would hear them screaming, 'man down, man down,'" she said. "That means that somebody’s going down, they need medical attention. And so now it’s happening three, four times a day."

    She does not know if he has been tested since then, because the phone calls have stopped. 

    Jennifer Bange’s husband is showing symptoms and has respiratory issues.

    "He’s been sick for over a week. He has requested to be tested, he told the doctor all of his symptoms, the doctor told him, 'Yeah you probably do have it. I’m going to give you cough medicine.'"

    Bange’s husband is staying in his own cell, but the doors are not sealed and he and his neighbors are in close quarters.

    "He’s supposedly on the list to be tested but as of right now they have not tested him," Bange said.

    While Figueroa was able to get a test, he says no one told him the results until he asked the guards why there was a sign on his cell door. "We only knew that we got corona positive because when we’re looking through the little window here by the door, we asked them what was the paper they were taping to the door."

    Figueroa says he has been using the same mask for two months and is being treated with Tylenol for his fever and a gel gap for cough. "I’m worried about dying in here. I have kids, I have family and stuff and I’m worried about dying in prison because these people don’t have no answer for us and all they do is just give us Tylenol."

    Many inmates with just a few months left on their sentence for non-violent crimes have been flagged for early release.

    Figueroa is fighting to be added to the list. He has already lost his uncle to the virus and wants to serve the rest of his sentence with an ankle bracelet at his parent’s home in Sonoma County. 

    "If he gets cured, where are they going to put him?" asked his sister, Bernice. "Is he going to be still in isolation where he’s protected and he’s not around people that are infected, or are they going to put him back where everyone is sick?"

    Scott-McGee is also pushing for her husband to be released, especially after the news that a death row inmate died last week after testing positive for the virus.

    McGee is serving a sentence of 27 years to life under the three strikes law. 

    "My husband has already served 24 and a half years for carrying a gun. A non-violent crime. Nowadays you can only get 18 months at the max," she said. "Let him come home. The community doesn’t have to take care of him, I’ve already got him covered."

    She said she has a home and health insurance waiting for him, but for now she is still trying to get a phone call.

    "They don’t see our loved ones as humans anymore," said Bange. "They see them as caged animals because of what they’re in there for, and that’s not the case. This is my husband."