Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

YouTube video

After a summer dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak and the wildfires, Prison Journalism Project contributing writer Joe Garcia called in this dispatch from San Quentin State Prison about a rare day in early September when the air felt crisp and clean.

Just two days earlier, he reported a smoky haze that lingered around the main yard. “My valuable outdoor exercise time now seems greatly diminished by the dry 90-degree heat and poor air quality,” he wrote. “That smell of burnt wood from all the nearby wildfires attacks my nostrils. An already short fitness routine becomes even more abbreviated as I struggle to maintain full, deep, healthy breathing.”

San Quentin has been the site of one of the largest coronavirus clusters with 2,529 total cases, including 290 staff members as of Oct. 5, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Over 70% of the prisoners have tested positive so far, and 28 of them have died.

Joe had been spared from getting the coronavirus in the first couple months of the pandemic, but after being under lockdown for weeks with a cellie who tested positive, he eventually came down with it himself and spent weeks quarantined in solitary confinement.

According to a data report by the New York Times, more than 218,000 people have been infected in U.S. jails and prisons so far. At least 1,265 inmates and correctional officers have died. Six out of the top ten worst outbreaks in prison the country have occurred at California institutions.

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.

Christopher Etienne is a multimedia strategist who uses journalism and storytelling to shed light on injustice and raise awareness about social issues. Etienne's background as a first-generation Haitian-American who experienced poverty and incarceration inspires him to work with organizations such as NJ STEP, Rutgers, the Renaissance House, and Brooklyn CRAN Network. He studied documentary film at Columbia Journalism School and Africana studies at Rutgers University.

Joe Garcia is a journalist and PJP correspondent incarcerated in California. Garcia was previously a staff writer and the chair of the Journalism Guild for San Quentin News. In addition to prison publications, his work has appeared in The New Yorker, the Washington Post and the Sacramento Bee.