Jarvis Masters Writes From Death Row in San Quentin as Covid-19 Spreads Unchecked
"Who are we really trusting to deal with this contagion,
this deadly virus? Please."
Jarvis Masters is, in no particular order, a writer who’s published two books including the gorgeous memoir That Bird Has My Wings, a well-known Buddhist practitioner who David Sheff (author of Beautiful Boy) has written a biography of that will be out next month, a Covid-19 survivor, an inmate on Death Row in San Quentin for a crime of which he is innocent, and my friend for the past four or five years.
He wrote this firsthand account of the pandemic ripping through San Quentin prison, where in early June the California authorities, with either stunning idiocy or reckless disregard for human life or some combination thereof, brought infected prisoners from elsewhere in the prison system to San Quentin, and the disease has been spreading more and more rapidly inside the prison and beyond. Guards and other employees have also become infected and brought the disease into the surrounding community; more than 2,000 prisoners have Covid-19 at last report, and 12 have died; many are in ICUs in hospitals around the Bay Area and the caseload is overwhelming the system. Prisoners have almost no control over their lives and no option to take the safety measures that would keep them safe; their safety was the responsibility of the San Quentin authorities and the State of California, which have failed them terribly.
July 15, 2020
Jarvis Jay Masters from Inside San Quentin
I used to think that none of what is going on with Covid-19 in San Quentin was a conspiracy.
Incompetence? Yes! But not some kind of planned conspiracy.
But today a memorandum was circulated that all phone privileges in the prison are to be taken away—not wanting any of us inside to communicate with our family, friends, or the media. This is sure to create sadness and untold fear among family members; rage and madness for everyone in here who, at the least, want to call home and say they’re okay, or say that they need help and support, which we all know is the case.
At this point we’re locked in, and the SQ administration wants to control the narrative unfolding inside the prison. The world gets to know only what the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) decides.Who are we really, really, I mean really trusting to deal with this contagion, this deadly virus? Please.
For sure we all know that SQ mail service is terrible, totally awful. Even more so now. So, at this point, how are we expected to talk with you, our friends, family, or even our attorneys? The guys in here like the “Prison Voices from Inside San Quentin” group are blocked from telling the truth, how they are witnessing what is now happening—2,000 cases of Covid-19 in the prison and, so far, ten deaths from this disease. If this is not some kind plan to silence our voices to the outside world, then I honestly don’t what is… How can anyone possibly know now what is going on inside the prison walls, particularly on death row where most of the deaths are occurring?
I need to say this… The notion that outside support groups and politicians are advocating the early release of 8,000 prisoners in the CDCR—with an intent to provide more social distance in California prisons—is totally ludicrous.
Who are we really, really, I mean really trusting to deal with this contagion, this deadly virus? Please. Public health experts, even the CDC don’t see what I see here every day and have experienced myself as one of the infected. With this kind of contagion, I don’t trust a plan for the early release of 8,000. The Covid-19 infection in San Quentin began with the transfer of 120 inmates from prisons around the state. Think about the release of some 8,000 prisoners. Covid-19 infections would be released right into low-income communities of mostly people of color, communities of people already suffering from serious underlying medical conditions—heart disease, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, etc. The death rate would be unconscionable.
If the CDCR could not safely transfer 120 prisoners within their own system, who can imagine they have the competence to release 8,000 inmates, or deal with something like what’s going on here in SQ?
Trust me. As someone who so badly wants out of here after almost 40 years, someone now infected with this deadly virus, no way in hell should I or any right-minded person trust the early release of anyone by the CDCR. Not in the near future. All I see is incompetence on all levels, living here in San Quentin among 2,000 Covid-19 infections, with numbers rising.
I live in this place and see what it looks like. The effect of early release on poor communities will shock the country and the world, as this disaster inside San Quentin has shocked us all.
It’s dire, I know. But this is what the truth looks like inside these walls.