A watercolor of an incarcerated person in their cell.
(Enera Wilson)

I write this after three days of being curled into a fetal position, fighting off COVID-19. For a week now shrieks of man down followed by alarms have become my alarm clock. I count at least five emergency medical alarms a day. Over 30 people hospitalized in my building alone this past week. After fighting excruciating headaches and vomiting, all that i am given to heal myself is a box lunch—which is now served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We have not been allowed to use the pay phone for over two weeks now. We are given showers once every five days, showering with 40 to 50 other people at a time—18 shower heads, one foot apart, in a building with no ventilation, creating a sauna like effect. 

I was COVID tested in late June in an attempt to transfer me to another prison. By this time, efforts have already been made to separate COVID positives from the negatives. That same day I was placed back into the same building with the same sick men. That same day I showered in that same sauna-like shower and listened to people discuss how sick they were. That same day I had to walk down the tier down to the first tier to pick up my dinner tray in a line of 40 to 50 people then walk back up.

I’m begging you to see how we suffer.

Two days later I was showing symptoms. I washed my hands. I wore my mask. I was locked into a cell 23 hours a day. I slept head to foot with my celly and I still was infected with COVID19. To add insult to injury, I was sick and bedridden when I received my test results that read, “COVID Negative.” This is what it looks like to test someone and then try to transfer them. 

This is the sickest I’ve been in my life. This is the most alone I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve asked multiple nurses to please give me medicine but to no avail so far. “I only do oxygen test.” “I only see people who are tested Positive already.” “Put in a sick call form.” The most painful but common response so far, “Okay i’ll be right back,” but never do they come back. I get it. There’s not enough of them to see someone is showing symptoms but hasn’t tested positive yet. That doesn’t make it right. COVID Negatives are still being forced to cell with people who are COVID positive. Men in Badger section are forced to be on 23 hr lockdown in a 4 by 9 cell with no electricity to even boil a cup coffee not mention a soup. Men in the medical tents are experiencing the same. No human being deserves to be sick and placed into what would be considered inhumane and unconstitutional conditions even if COVID-19 wasn’t there to compound the problem.

I’m begging you to see how we suffer. I’m begging you to open up your hearts to compassion and not politics. I’m begging you to hear us and please Gavin Newsom, save our lives. We are dying in here. 

Thanh Tran is one of the creators of FirstWatch, a media project that was created within San Quentin where content is entirely shot, directed, edited, and scored by journalists serving time in prison. He is also the Chairman of R.O.O.T.S. (Restoring Our Original True Selves), a self-help group that focuses on intergenerational trauma and Asian Pacific Islander culture and history. He is a member of a youth diversion program called S.Q.U.I.R.E.S. where he utilizes his story to help steer troubled youth in a different direction. Learn more about Thanh here.