To My San Quentin Community:
This has been one hell of a year. Under the easiest of times, prisons are a hard place to live. This year it became one hundred times harder.
COVID-19 has stolen our loved ones, harmed the health of thousands of people at San Quentin, and made the lives of people who are incarcerated much worse than before. There is no one more affected by the pandemic than people who are in prison.
One of the hardest hit areas in all of California has been people on death row. As some of you know, I was released from San Quentin in December, 2019. Since then I’ve been working with lots of amazing organizers, community members, and advocates to end our state’s reliance upon prisons for public safety. Starting last March up until today, there has been an outbreak at every state prison in California. Incarcerated people and staff are both affected.
People in prison are 4 times more likely to catch COVID-19, and 2.5 times more likely to die from it. At the same time, the CDCR has not done everything within their power to protect people. They have not released people who are most vulnerable, especially if they were lifers. CDCR chose who to release based upon how long a person’s sentence was, instead of upon their medical needs. That is only one of the things that make them hard to trust when it comes to distributing the vaccine.
Your lives and your health are important.
I’m surprised, but also excited that California is one of only a few states that is offering the vaccine to people in prison. They are doing so, partially because of the advocacy work many people throughout the state have put in, to say that those who are most medically vulnerable should be given the vaccine first, regardless of their incarceration status. We are thrilled that our state is following the advice of medical experts on this, and we also believe strongly that vaccines should not be the end goal. We who are outside of the prison walls understand that there are far too many people in prison, and we will not stop pushing for more releases.
I’m not a doctor, so I can’t give you medical advice. I can tell you however, that I plan on taking the vaccine as soon as I can. I’ve realized this year just how important good health is. When I was locked up, I knew that I wanted to still be in good health if I was released.
CDCR has proven they are not going to do everything they can to protect your health, so it’s up to you to make the best decision regarding your own safety. Public health experts are already saying that, even if a person gets the vaccine, they still need to be able to physically distance themselves from other people and they still need to wear masks.
So prisons will still not be safe, as long as our prisons are overcrowded. We will keep pushing for fewer people to be in prison. And I encourage you to do what you can to protect your health.
Sending love to you all, James King State Campaigner Ella Baker Center for Human Rights