This article was first published by Reynolds Journalism Institute on Sept. 20, 2021.
Last month, the Prison Journalism Project broke new ground with a story that began with an unexpected phone call from our correspondent inside San Quentin State Prison in the San Francisco Bay area. Normally, Joe Garcia calls to check in on Tuesdays, but this was a Wednesday, and he never called two days in a row unless there was news.
“Alpine is on lockdown,” Joe Garcia told me, referring to his cellblock. “A guy tested positive.”
San Quentin was the site of one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks last summer, infecting more than 70% of the population and killing 29, including a corrections officer. Joe didn’t know yet how serious the situation might be, but everyone was nervous amid news of the delta variant spreading quickly outside prison. The residents also were annoyed because the prison had just returned to normal operations after being under lockdown for over a year.
While Joe was pounding the pavement in the few hours of movement he was permitted daily under lockdown, the Prison Journalism Project editorial staff gathered background reporting and contacted the department for comment. We thought this story would be of interest to a local media partner, so we contacted our friends at San Francisco Public Press, an independent nonprofit news organization with a reputation for investigative reporting.