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San Quentin State Prison has been dim, gloomy and ominous during the pandemic. Even its most dangerous days of George Jackson and all the prison gang riots can’t compare to the fear of facing COVID-19 while here.

San Quentin lost 28 residents and four staff and medical personnel from the virus. That is more lives lost from COVID-19 than from death row executions or riots during the prison’s most violent history. 

Overall, the prison was the site of one of the worst outbreaks in the country with over 2,000 confirmed cases. Since the virus entered the prison and the first positive test was announced, life inside these walls has been very scary.

I was very worried about contracting the virus. I always practice good hygiene, but the pandemic lifted my practices to a much higher level. I washed my hands countless times a day. I made myself a face mask out of one of my skull caps even before the prison started issuing masks. l was taking every precaution to stay safe.

The virus began to spread all around the prison. People I knew and talked to daily were going into the hospital. Some even died. The local news was a constant reminder of the danger of the virus. To actually see people getting sick and to see the death caused by it made me even more fearful.

I took my first COVID-19 test on June 2. Fear and anxiety surrounded me every day until I received my results. What a relief it was when the results were negative. That made me even more vigilant about protecting myself. My cellie took the test, and he also was negative.

The presence of the virus was always lurking close. We were both tested again. This time I was still negative, but he was positive. His positive result drove my fear to an ultimate high. I would use my fan to blow away the air he exhaled, so I wouldn’t inhale it. I would wipe down the cell with disinfectant several times a day and especially right after he had touched it.

After seven days, the staff came and moved him out of the cell. Those seven days were the most fearful. I filed several 602 grievances voicing my concerns but received no solutions.

I have been fully vaccinated, but I still live in fear of the virus and practice safety. While in prison I have lost loved ones to the virus too. 

The virus is still roaring loudly. Currently, there are no recorded cases at the prison but there are new variants that have mutated from the virus, so I stay on guard and continue to protect myself.

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.

Timothy Hicks is a staff writer for San Quentin News, an award-winning newspaper published out of San Quentin State Prison in California, where he is incarcerated.