California Men's Colony, outside San Luis Obispo (Photo by Downtowngal, CC BY-SA 3.0)

I listened as the nurses called off each inmate by last name to get tested. Finally, they called my name. I stepped in front of the woman and closed my eyes as she gently rubbed a Q-Tip on the inside of my nose. Three days later, I was notified I was positive with COVID-19, even though I had come out of a 10-day isolation just a week prior. 

The California Men’s Colony (CMC) in San Luis Obispo had an omicron variant outbreak that stretched through the better parts of January and February, peaking on Jan. 26 with 342 active cases, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). 

According to CMC’s rules, inmates who test positive are to be isolated for 10 to 14 days. The officer demanded I pack up my clothes and property, as I was going to be sent back to isolation. 

I was not happy. Most of the inmates disagree with CMC’s isolation policy, since once an inmate isolates for 10 days, they are considered “resolved” and not expected to test positive for another 90 days. 

But I was helpless. I placed all my books and other property into the netted laundry bags that we use for everything. I had four bags to carry outside the building. I waited nearly four hours for officers to arrive to transport me back to isolation. They arrived in a 12-seater van, and I was instructed to place my property on the first row of seats. After that, I was placed in waist chains with shackles on my feet. 

Once again, I felt hopeless as I climbed into the backseat of the van while another inmate went through the same process. Inside, there was a plexiglass wall to divide the officers and inmates from contact. 

As the van zoomed away, my property flew all over the van. I was tossed to and fro as well because we were shackled, but not placed in seat belts. The ride was only five minutes long, but my cuffs slipped tighter. We arrived at my new building, C5, where I was made to carry my property all the way to the third tier. I received no documentation to prove why I have been removed from my housing. 

This ordeal felt like harassment because, after 48 hours of isolation, I was told to pack my property again. They said it was a “misunderstanding,” and I was moved back to my housing.

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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Abdur Rahman Malik

Abdur Rahman Malik is a writer from San Diego whose passion is uplifting the Black community. He wrote and published much of his work on PJP while incarcerated in California.