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Dispatch from San Quentin: Inhumane Conditions Persist

Posted: May 12, 2012


EDITOR’S NOTE: New America Media received the following commentary unsolicited from a current prisoner at San Quentin State Prison in California. The topic of the commentary – the writer describes the existence of unsanitary and inadequate living conditions in the prison’s West Block housing unit -- was previously reported by The San Quentin News, an inmate-produced newspaper. That article also appeared in the newspaper SF Bay View in December of last year. The author, who says the living conditions reported in that article persist in West Block to this day, has asked to use a pseudonym to protect his identity.

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. – Late last year, myself and some other inmates at Solano State Prison were transferred here to San Quentin to do a “mainline” (general population) program in the West Block section of the prison – a housing unit that was previously being used only as a reception and temporary home for processing new inmates -- which we were told was ready to accommodate us. Some of us inmates had even volunteered to come here, just to be closer to our families in the Bay Area. Upon arrival, however, we soon discovered that West Block was far from being fit for housing the mainline prison population.

Following is a description of what I saw with my own eyes:

West Block was filthy with black mold, and human and bird feces. There were no electrical outlets in the cells to hook up any of the appliances that inmates in California are allowed to have. Dirty clothes hung on razor wire above our heads. The whole unit was infested with rats, birds and other creatures. The heating and plumbing systems were deplorable – the plumbing in West Block can only accommodate two toilet flushes per hour – and the ventilation system was non-existent.

Also, the showers were causing some prisoners to get infections in their feet, which can be verified by the so-called hospital we have here, which is really nothing but a clinic. It can’t even fix a broken leg – I know inmates who have been transferred to outside hospitals to treat broken bones -- let alone help a heart attack patient.

I just happened to be going to see the doctor the other day to get the results of a blood test (which came back normal, thank God) and I ran into this guy from Eritrea who I’d met while I was housed in West Block for about two months. At the time we were both housed there, he had a round face, so I almost didn’t recognize him when we crossed paths.

I asked him if he was okay. “I’ve been a little sick lately,” he said.

I told him he sure had lost a lot of weight in his face. “I know,” he said. “It’s that building man, and I’m not on drugs, either.”

He had this look on his face, as though he was saying, “help.” I wished him well.

While living in West Block, I had the opportunity to meet a female Corrections Officer named Romero. She was a straight up officer and she kept it real, so I doubt she would make up a lie to a fellow officer. Recently, she was working our yard down here in H-Unit (where I live now) and I overheard her tell another officer that there was “black mold” growing all over the place in West Block.

The San Quentin News (the inmate newspaper) quoted prison officials in a report saying the mold wasn’t harmful, but I don’t believe it. I mean, even Stevie Wonder could see that there is something wrong with this picture. I was there in West Block. I’ve seen it for myself. There are some corrections officers here that care, and let’s look at it like this: they don’t want to get sick, either. It’s kind of hard to spend your money from the grave, right?

It is quite frightening to think that people may still be in dire need of help in West Block, which is why I’m writing this story – I owe it to the brothers who are still there, dealing with such inhumane treatment.

The Ninth Circuit Court ruled not too long ago that the California prison system is a mess with too many people, and that the overcrowding poses a risk to the health of inmates. Still, the prison is trying their best to keep conditions like those that exist at West Block a secret. But we are not going to let this happen. West Block is not fit for any person to be housed in, and we are human beings.




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