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Man Down: COVID Strikes At San Quentin

A July 2020 Interfaith Vigil at San Quentin State Prison
Flickr Creative Commons User Peg Hunter (CC BY-NC 2.0)
A July 2020 Interfaith Vigil at San Quentin State Prison

It's sometimes hard to think back to what it was like at the beginning of the pandemic. It's been over two years now, and after constant news about vaccinations and new variants, those early days feel like a lifetime ago. But for many incarcerated people at San Quentin State Prison, they'll never forget those first few devastating months.

In June 2020, the state transferred infected prisoners to San Quentin. It quickly caused one the biggest COVID-19 outbreaks in a California prison. There was a lack of PPE. Social distancing was near impossible. People were locked in their cells for 24 hours a day, or housed in makeshift medical units in tents on the yard. There were no visitors and no programming. In that first outbreak, 2,000 incarcerated people were infected, and 29 died.

Today, on this brand new season of Uncuffed, we’ll hear a first-hand account of the outbreak, from two cellmates who caught COVID-19 and thought they might never see each other again.

Thanks to Mourning Our Losses for the names of those who died of COVID at San Quentin. www.mourningourlosses.org.

I'm thinking to myself, 'there's two things going on right now. One, am I gonna ever come back? Is this gonna kill me? Am I gonna see my kids again? Cause all I have left are my children.... So, and I'm thinking to myself, man, this is, this is the last thing I need. Then I get into the hospital here and the nurse puts the monitor on, and she runs over to the phone and starts dialing the phone. And she's asking for an ambulance stat, and I'm like, what the hell is going on here? And she turns around and she says, you know, you're having a heart attack right now.
Oz, an incarcerated person at San Quentin State Prison.

This piece was brought to you from the team at Uncuffed. Our work in prisons is supported by the California Arts Council and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The producers fact-check content to the best of their ability. Content is approved by an information officer.

Follow us @WeAreUncuffed.

To learn more, and to sign up for Uncuffed news, go to www.WeAreUncuffed.org.

Uncuffed From The Producers Of Uncuffed
Edmond Richardson is a producer with KALW's Uncuffed.
Stories from inside California prisons
Thanh Tran is a media-maker and journalist, raised in South Sacramento. Thanh left San Quentin in 2022, is a Senior Policy and Communications Fellow with the Ella Baker Center, and an Advisory Board member for Uncuffed.
Producer for Uncuffed at San Quentin Radio
Thomas "Shakur" Ross is a producer of KALW's Uncuffed, presenting stories that show the humanity of incarcerated people.