After surviving the impact of COVID-19, incarcerated senior citizens are struggling to retain prior learning in academics, self-help groups, physical therapy, and vocational training programs. These programs require a constant level of participation, especially for the elderly.
“As an amputee, I have only been allowed to attend my physical therapy class once–so that I can learn how to walk with my right prosthetic leg,” said Leonard King, 65, a San Quentin resident who survived the outbreak. Prior to the COV-ID-19 outbreak, CDCR officials housed high-risk medical residents at San Quentin. Most of these men are ages 60 and up, making them more vulnerable to illness, especially with their underlying medical conditions.
Steve Rothschild, 75, also survived the outbreak at San Quentin. Rothschild has been at the prison for the last two years. He was working in the Prison Industry Authority’s (PIA) The Last Mile coding program before the prison suspended all programs due to the COVID-19. “Senior citizens don’t retain information as well as young people,” said Rothschild. “I have lost much of what I have learned. There is no substitute for practice, practice, practice and this is unattainable without my workstation,” he added.
It has been more than 10 months and Rothschild is concerned that not having the ability to reinforce his coding skills makes it more likely that he won’t advance to the next level of the class. That will hinder his ability to earn a new trade or earn a potentially earlier release date from prison.
I tested 14 different times for COVID-19 and all my results were negative,” said Jose Hurtado, 65, who avoided contracting COVID-19 during the outbreak. “COVID-19 robbed me of earning good time credits. I haven’t been able to be oriented or participate in any self-help programs.”
San Quentin has been on a strict lock-down (modified) program since the outbreak. Educational, vocational and all rehabilitation programs, including religious services, have been on hold since March. “I can’t attend a church, which is something that helps me in maintaining a healthy spirit,” said Hurtado. “The lack of religious services has also made me depressed and sad. When we don’t have activities and just sit in our cells it’s very depressing. Now, I am being transferred out to Corcoran (state prison) and I am afraid that I will get COVID-19 at my new prison.”
As a result of the pandemic and the modified programming, the prison’s general population has lacked the means to earn certificates or self-help Chronos, which could give incarcerate people credit towards earlier releases or parole board hearings dates. CDCR has awarded “Meritorious Credit-Good Time credit” of 84 days to all incarcerate state people, according to their website. California’s aging prison population may have increased due to laws such as the three-strike law or incarcerated people being required to serve 85% of their sentences. Most of these laws were passed in the early ‘90s, which left many people to serve life or long-term sentences before being considered for parole.
“It has been a lot to endure I can’t speak for anyone else,” said King, who has been incarcerated for 25 years under the Three-Strike Law. “But for me, I can’t predict what the future will be for me, because of my age and my medical conditions. This pandemic has added another life sentence to my Three-Strikes,” he added.
Some elderly residents are in a tough position where they must find ways to learn a new workable skill for employment and learn new coping skills to meet some parole board’s hearing requirements, all the while being classified as medically high risk. As senior citizens returning home, they know they are unlikely to be hired for hard labor jobs. Rothschild, at age 75, believed that the coding program would have given him an opportunity to earn a living in the free world as a web designer. He also said he has completed Anger Management prior to the outbreak.
King at the age of 65, was given a five-year denial at his parole suitability hearing. Now, he has to attain additional self-help programs to fulfill the parole board’s recommendation for suitability in a time where programs are shut down.
“I feel defeated. It’s emotionally depressing not being able to learn the things that I need to learn,” said King. “I need all the help that I can get so when I come home I can get a job and be a productive citizen to my community.”
Prior to the outbreak, San Quentin was known as the Mecca of all CDCR rehabilitation program hubs. People from all over the state have requested their institutions to be transferred to San Quentin. So with the coronavirus dropping within the prison, but rising in the state. Everybody, both young and old, is just waiting on what CDCR’s next steps will be.
Since this story was written, Leonard King passed away.