So apparently, guards at Soledad State Prison didn’t get the memo from the CDC delineating the countrywide requirement for citizens to wear “face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” which includes grocery stores, pharmacies, and undoubtedly California’s notoriously overcrowded prisons.
They couldn’t be oblivious to these recommendations because every time yard is released, officer Woods makes an announcement over the more than 30 year old intercom system, reminding the inmate population to practice social distancing, and to wear a face covering when purchasing items through the canteen window on the yard, which is operated by “Free Staff.”
When asked why we are required to wear masks while correctional officers and free staff aren’t, (although free staff often do cover themselves) it was said that it was to protect the inmate population from being infected by someone who may have brought it into the institution. But, common sense would tell you that if this virus was to spread throughout California’s prison system, as it has already in prisons in the midwest and the east coast, that it would likely stem from the guards coming in and out.
Unfortunately, only the inmates are required to wear face coverings here at Soledad, and we can be punished for not complying, which is ironic because just weeks before the pandemic occurred, I was wearing a covering over my face to protect myself from contracting Valley Fever, which is prevalent in this area, as well as being more likely to affect African Americans, and was threatened by correctional officers who told me “how many times do we have to tell you guys to not cover your face. If I have to tell you again, you’re getting a 115 (Rules Violation Report).”
When I told them that I was wearing it to protect myself from getting Valley Fever, which almost killed my Muslim brother, Dawud, (David Turner; who has an open case in court against CDCR holding them responsible for having him work in an environment where they knew he’d likely contract Valley Fever) they responded, “we don’t give a fuck.” I already knew that so they didn’t have to tell me. But I didn’t give a fuck either as I turned the corner out of their sight and pulled my face covering back in place.
But I would have bet my freedom that once news began to spread about the importance of wearing face coverings to protect the most vulnerable, that correctional officers here would be the first to be required to wear them. I was wrong. Correctional officers here at Soledad State Prison, once again, prove by their actions that they believe they are above the law.