Photo by Jason Blackeye for Unsplash

On July 13, 2020, I was released from San Quentin State Prison after serving almost 26 years of a 25-years-to-life sentence under the Three Strikes Law for a non-violent offense.

I had been found suitable for parole on April 23 in the midst of the massive COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin State Prison. During this joyous moment, I was infected with the coronavirus. I had voluntarily taken a COVID-19 test on June 29, and it came back positive on July 3. This was the direct result of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s decision to transfer in approximately 120 incarcerated people from a prison in Chino, Calif., a number of whom had been infected by COVID-19. 

A week after I was quarantined, I was told that I would be paroled early because Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered to be released all non-violent offenders who had six months or less to serve on their sentences. On July 13, I was released. I was driven by two officers to a motel in Gardena, Calif., where I was quarantined for 10 days with no information on how or who to see to be tested again. I ended up not being tested until late July at which point two tests showed me to be negative.

My reintegration into society under the pandemic was trying and stressful. I was moved to the Beacon house, a transitional house located in downtown Los Angeles, which is run by Amity Foundation. I had high expectations of my reintegration, continued rehabilitation, and a reunion with my family, daughter, and granddaughter. But my hopes, dreams and elation was once again crushed because the Amity Foundation had set in place regulations and procedures that violated the directive by the governor and the mayor of Los Angeles, which allowed its citizens the right to function within the state and the city to meet and provide for their essential and daily needs. That included such needs as going to work, going on job interviews, spending quality time with their families, and shopping for food and clothing. 

These were essential rights and privileges as long as its citizens understood that they had to wear face masks and honor the six feet social distancing rule when out. The Amity Foundation instead said that “all formerly incarcerated persons in their transitional houses are not allowed to have jobs, look for jobs, nor visit with their families, or have their families come visit them as long as the pandemic lasted.” This was a direct response to the outbreak that the Beacon House had a few months back in which 22 people were infected and one died. As a result, Beacon House had to close its doors in order to do a complete decontamination. 

The source of this outbreak was a former house member who had contracted the virus as a result of his numerous hospital appointments. The former house members, who had been here at the time have now left or were moved to another transitional house (which by the way are not restricting movement).

The Beacon House has set in place a yes board listing what house members can do within the restrictions. The listed included visits to the beach or the park, picnics, hiking and even family visits (which sounds too much like the prison lingo for a conjugal visit). The catch was that we could only participate in these activities if we were being supervised by an Amity staff member (Once again too much like being in a prison visiting room where a prison guard watches your every move). 

When I was given my parole conditions I was not told that I couldn’t look for a job, visit my family or visit my daughter and granddaughter. Nor was there anything in my parole conditions that the transitional house could set regulations that would impede my reintegration into society thus hindering my continued rehabilitation and reunification with my family.

I understand the concerns that Amity Foundation has regarding its employees’ safety and well-being, as well as its ill-reasoned logic concerning the safety and health of its house members. 

However, this is not sound reasoning because there are approximately 12 to 15 staff members working here at the Beacon House who come and go daily. They take house members to and from doctor appointments and to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get identification and license cards. These appointments are in public where the house members must intermingle with the public. If the staff, who come here daily from their homes and society have not reinfected the Beacon house then it is more than safe for the formerly incarcerated men to go about their lives as normal human beings.

The restrictions that the Beacon House has placed on us continue to put a great burden on my shoulders and it gets heavier every day because my reintegration and reunification with my family is being hindered. The house members here are responsible men who were found suitable for parole by the board, who have proven themselves worthy of responsibility. Until Amity removes the slave chains (their restrictions), we will be forever in bondage and psychologically enslaved.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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William Blackwell

William Blackwell is a writer incarcerated in California. He has written an autobiography titled, “Caught up Chronicles of a Gangsta Crip.” He is a graduate of Patten University.