Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

My first contact with COVID-19 was on June 10, 2020. That day, five other inmates and I were moving the property of newly-arrived inmates from Chino. 

Storage boxes, trash bags, plastic bags, guitars and a variety of other things had to be moved from the first floor to the fourth and fifth floors. We were sweating, breathing heavy, and didn’t have gloves or the opportunity to change our clothes. 

Oddly, the night I moved the boxes, I had a dream — a nightmare — that I couldn’t breathe. I was wheezing, struggling, and I was scared to death. 

The very next day I began having flu-like symptoms. I lost my sense of taste and smell, and my eyes hurt when I looked too far in any direction. For the next three days, my symptoms continued, and a week after that, I still couldn’t taste or smell anything. 

On June 16, I was tested for COVID-19 along with everyone from the Alpine section in the San Quentin (SQ) south block. We had no other option but to go to the Lower Yard for testing, which took place outside on a windy day. 

Every day for three days after testing, I told nurses conducting temperature checks that I was having COVID-19 symptoms, and I suggested that I be sent to the quarantine designated building. On the third day I was sent to the Adjustment Center (AC). When I arrived at the AC, I was told I would be tested again within a week of my arrival. I was not. We used to have our temperatures checked daily, but then the nurses were only checking oxygen levels. 

Things were changing daily, and I was truly scared for my life. I have asthma and this deadly respiratory disease was taking lives at the very prison where I reside. Day after day, it seemed to be getting worse. 

As of July 5, we had stopped receiving hot meals since there were no inmates to work in the kitchen. For a time, we were not able to exchange our dirty clothes for clean ones for the same reason: there weren’t any inmates to do the laundry. 

It is scary to constantly fear for your life, not knowing whether you will wake up the next morning. It is so stressful. Being stuck here and not being able to defend myself from this disease has made me feel hopeless.

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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Michael Martinez

Michael Martinez is a writer incarcerated in California. He is originally from Sacramento.