San Quentin residents who were locked down for 14 months because of COVID-19 have mixed feelings about the care they received. Nevertheless, some are in favor of mandatory vaccinations to provide protection against another outbreak.
The prison’s lockdown “was good to prevent the virus from getting to other people,” said Chor “Bolo” Lor, incarcerated 25 years at San Quentin on a life sentence. He says people should not be allowed to work if they’re not vaccinated.
Lor tested positive for COVID-19 in June 2020. He spent two months in Badger Section, which was serving as the prison’s quarantine unit at the time. He described it as a “deteriorated building.”
“I could not move on my bed,” Lor said. He said he thought he’d die there. “My breath worsened to where I could not breathe at all. When I couldn’t breathe, they [medical staff] offered cough medicine.”
He said that the conditions there “aggravated his physical and emotional problems,” which worsened until he was hospitalized.
“I was on my bed thinking, this is it, but this can’t be it after 25 years,” Lor said.
Lor received his two vaccine shots in March and April 2021. “After the second shot, I got a fever,” he said.
He said that the virus didn’t affect his breathing but gave him a fever, chills, sweats, and COVID-19 was a near-death experience for Chor “Bolo” Lor, who is now vigilant about social distancing, even outdoors. “I was on my bed thinking, this is it, but this can’t be it …” he said.
Another San Quentin resident, Singh, 59 years old, incarcerated for five years, believes he caught the virus from his cellmate.
Singh became ill in June 2020. He said he was very sick, lost his sense of taste and had a high fever. He was placed on a ventilator in Kaiser Hospital.
After his near-death experience, Singh says he now feels normal except for muscle aches and arthritis that has developed in his knees. Prison officials have designated him medically high-risk.
Singh says he supports federal and state lockdowns during outbreaks, as well as mandatory vaccinations.
Otto Delcid, 66, has been in prison for 16 years. He has tested positive twice for COVID-19. His road to recovery included stays in Saro Hospital and Saint Francis Hospital in San Francisco. Delcid’s symptoms were flu-like. His neurological and respiratory functions have been damaged. “I couldn’t think straight and my right lung was not working,” he said.
“My family thought I was going to die,’ Delcid said. “I was in the hospitals for three months,”
Delcid said he didn’t talk to his family until he was transferred to a temporary housing unit in the prison’s furniture factory. “The lockdown affected me psychologically. I got very depressed in the hospital because I thought the whole prison was sick and everyone was dying.”
Pablo Ramirez, 54, incarcerated for 15 years, tested positive for COVID-19 in July 2020. His symptoms lasted 20 days. He decided to be vaccinated because “I didn’t want it to return and get me again. I was sad, thinking I could die if it hit me hard.”
His eyes burned and he was teary, “drops came out like oil,” he said. The nurse told Ramirez that his symptoms were not COVID-19 related.
Ramirez said that his family tried to call San Quentin to find out his status, but prison officials were not responsive to their questions. Later, he found out that prison officials told his family that they would only release information if he were hospitalized and very sick.
In July 2020, San Quentin was the COVID-19 epicenter of California. Through September 2021, the virus killed 240 prisoners in California’s 34 prisons.
Marin County Superior Court would later rule that prison officials were “deliberately indifferent” in contributing to the “worst epidemiological disaster” in California correctional history when they transferred 122 prisoners, some of whom were infected with COVID-19, from the California Institute for Men toSan Quentin.