Sean’s COVID19 Experience In Prison: Letters

Mike Nileson, formerly incarcerated

Letters written by Sean O’Brien 

June 22, 2020

I tested negative for COVID19 on June 19th. I am anxious to get my cellmate’s test results back so I can call my wife. I cannot believe they are doing this to us. It is inhumane. Everyone who was COVID positive and has re-tested negative has had to sign a form agreeing to stay with their cell mate who may have tested positive. One guy refused to sign and they took his property and are taking him to AD-SEG right now. The officers claim there is no other space available. So the choice is to either stay with your cell mate who may or may not be positive for Covid or go to AD-SEG without your personal property. This should not even be legal. I would feel safer in a cell with (my cell mate) even if he still has Covid than in a cell with anyone else here (see article on recent murder). The forms I had to sign stated that I was “refusing medical’s recommended treatment” and “waiving the California Department of Correction’s liability if anything happens”  It is punishment on top of punishment on top of punishment.

This whole thing is just a mess and CDCR keeps making it worse. The Center for Disease Control recommends cloth face masks be at least 3 layers thick to be effective in preventing the spread of Corona virus. The cloth masks manufactured by Prison Industry Authority and distributed to the inmate population in late April are only two layers thick. This means CDCR failed to provide us with cloth masks that meet the standard recommended by the CDC. I have already stated that most officers still refuse to wear their masks.

June 21, 2020

The man here who had been out at the outside hospital for over a week finally came back last night. He looked so sick and like 10 years older than when he left. He was really pale and could barely walk. I do not know why they brought him back. Then today, he went back out in the ambulance. I feel awful for him, Covid has been really bad for him. I hope he will be OK.

All these people are protesting and none of them are saying anything about prison conditions. They need to speak up about prison conditions and how we cannot even see our families. They want to keep us from seeing our families, but CDCR officers keep bringing Covid in anyways. Then they do botched transfers to further spread Covid19. It is insane and torture. “You cant see your family because of Covid but we’re going to infect you with Covid anyways.” What kind of sick evil joke is this? I do not belong in prison. I do not deserve to be in prison.

June 20, 2020 They began running yard but very limited. For one hour they allowed those who are negative for Covid to go out to yard in staggered groupings. By law they are required to give a minimum of 10 hours of outside recreation a week. The way they are doing yard now, guys will be lucky to get 2 to 4 hours per week. Again, because of over crowding and CDCR’s inability to protect us and keep us safe, they are unable to provide us the minimum outdoor recreation time we are entitled to. Even men in the SHU and AD-SEG get their 10 hours per week.

June 23. 2020

It is so inhumane to keep us trapped in our cells like this. Other than a few showers, in the past 3 weeks I have been stuck in my tiny cell for 22 days! This is not life. It is cruel and unusual. It is inhumane. I have not been outside to see the sun or fresh air for 3 weeks. Even guys in the SHU are given a mandatory minimum of 10 hours a week outside. 10 hours a week was determined as the minimum amount top be “humane” and not cruel and unusual. I have not even been out of my cell for 10 hours in 3 weeks. If you add up all the time i have been out of my cell in the past 3 weeks it is maybe an hour and a half. No more than 2 hours. I am stuck. I am trapped. I need out. I need out of my cell. I need to be able to call you. I need to be able to see you. I need out of prison, so they cannot keep punishing me for things I am not responsible for. That is all they do. I don’t belong in prison. I am innocent. I  shouldn’t be trapped in my cell and denied phone calls and visits with my wife. They brought Covid in here. They did this. And it’s not going to get better. More CDCR officers and staff are going ti catch Covid and being it in. It is unsafe.. It is dangerous. They cannot humanely keep us in here. There is no space to adequately social distance AND provide us any level of humane life. They cannot safely provide us adequate access to yard or  day room. They cannot provide us access to meaningful rehabilitation opportunities.

June 26, 2020 I miss you so much it feels like my heart is being ripped out of my chest. I need you, I need to hear your voice. I know you need me too. I know you need to hear my voice as well. I cannot believe we are suffering this way and being forced to endure this. It is inhumane torture. I have not talked to you in 25 days. This is torture it has been a whole month. I am so frustrated and angry over this. I worry about everything. There seems to be no end in sight and it scares me. Even when we do go back to “normal” program CDCR and Corcoran are just going to expose use to Covid again. They cannot protect us from it or operate this place safely.

July 16, 2020

How much more must I go through before enough is enough? While still waiting for a ruling from my Evidentiary Hearing held 3 1/2 years ago, I was diagnosed with COVID-19 at the beginning of June. Corcoran State Prison Facility 3A was placed on lockdown June 3, 2020 due to positive COVID-19 cases on the yard. This led to me getting tested the following day with the result coming back positive. The main symptoms I experienced were severe headache, nausea, vommiting, exhaustion and punishment.

During this time I was not allowed a single phone call until day 40. I was not even allowed to call to tell my wife I had tested positive for a potentially deadly virus. The only communication we had was through letters, which take several days at best and is often delayed a week or more. Worse, the prison was not consistently sealing my outgoing mail and I had no idea which letters were arriving or not. Not being able to communicate instantaneously with those you love is incredibly stressful and depressing. I have not been able to see my wife for 139 days because of COVID-19. The emotional strain this has caused me on top of being sick is scary; especially being trapped in a cage at the mercy of others. Trapped, watching the news as the number of positive cases in CDCR soar, knowing I am one of those numbers, praying I do not become just another number on the death list. 34 people so far have passed away from COVID-19 within CDCR.

COVID is terrifying in prison. Manny may think we are safe stuck in here and cut off from society. We are less safe than the elderly in senior care and nursing facilities. They are at least cared for by medical professionals who understand and believe in the seriousness of COVID-19. In CDCR we are jailed by corrections professionals who largely still believe COVID-19 is a “hoax”. Our jailers refuse to socially distance and most do not properly wear masks. This is despite CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz issuing memorandums directing staff and inmates both will be required to physically distance and wear masks as a precaution to prevent COVID-19. The only social distancing and masks requirements being enforced are being enforced in the inmate population, usually in order to keep us confined to our cells. What is ironic, is that the masks inmates are required to wear will not even protect us from the deliberately indifferent and reckless actions of staff refusing to wear their masks properly. I say this because both the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) state a minimum of 3 layer cloth masks is necessary provide protection. Of the 3 layers, the two inner layers need to be absorbent cotton to capture the droplets being exhaled, while the outer layer should be a synthetic, such as nylon, to block droplets from penetrating the mask and being inhaled. All masks issued to CDCR inmates are 2 layer cotton masks with no synthetic outer layer to prevent exposure.

Oh June 22, I tested negative for COVID-19. Corcoran then made a bad faith effort to offer me safety. Because my cellmate still tested positive, I was told that as a precaution they were going to separate us. Unfortunately, due to excessive overcrowding on the yard, which was at nearly 200% capacity, there was not a single available bunk on our yard. My only option to move was to go to Administrative Segregation- the hole. More punishment, only worse. In order to move me to Ad-Seg, they would take ALL my property. This would mean no stationary supplies to write to my wife, I would lose all my art supplies and college materials. I would have none of my photos or books. I would lose my TV and during the heat of summer when temperatures can easily reach 90 degrees in these cells, I would lose my table fan too. I would lose all the things that bring me small comfort while I am stuck in my cell. Knowing I would refuse to go to Ad-Seg and lose all my property, Corcoran was ready to accommodate my “refusal”  by requiring me to sign a medical waiver and a housing chrono. These forms stated I was staying in my cell despite Corcoran’s recommendations that I move. I wrote on the medical form that Corcoran had already failed to protect me from COVID-19 and I was following state guidelines to shelter in place. My cellmate and I both tested negative July 6 2020, but Corcoran was not done with me yet.

On July 13, the day the lockdown ended, I was transferred to facility 3B, another yard. This ill-advised transfer included myself, seven others, and at least two more the following day. None of us had been tested within the past 7 to 14 days prior to moving. During this time there was still known positive COVID-19 cases present on 3A. Who knows if anyone carried COVID-19 with us to 3B, potentially exposing others. 

What is worse for the fate of 10 of us moved to 3B is that we are also being exposed to COVID-19 again. The Friday before we were moved over here the free staff canteen supervisor went home early with COVID-19 symptoms. I was told he was confirmed positive over the weekend and the two buildings his inmate workers live in are now on COVID-19 lock down. I have been told at least 5 inmates in at least one of the buildings tested positive for COVID-19. The building I am in has not been tested.

Sean was kept on insolation status for a total of 40 days with NO phone calls, access to day room or yard. Once he was off isolation, he had phone calls for 4 days and was then transferred to another yard and lost phone calls again due to “orientation” for 2 weeks. He has not gotten phone calls for 15 days. He tested negative for COVID19 June 19 and July 6. 

Here are the letters:


*Sean’s cellmate’s name protected for privacy

About Sean & Emelia

Sean O'Brien was wrongfully convicted in adult court in El Dorado County, California and sentenced to Life Without Parole at the age of 16 without a shred of physical evidence tying him to the crime for which he was convicted. Sean and I have been friends since grade school and we were married in 2017. We live and grow together in love with the knowledge of his innocence, our faith, and hope for our future. We embrace this journey, wherever it may take us, cherishing each moment we have together and staying true to our hearts. This blog is about the past we share, our life together and our fight for justice. Thank you for reading. God bless.
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1 Response to Sean’s COVID19 Experience In Prison: Letters

  1. Pingback: Sean’s COVID19 Experience In Prison: Letters – pple4chg

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