Incarcerated Lives Matter

August 13, 2020

I was placed on COVID-19 quarantine for the second time after an individual in my housing unit tested positive. This happened exactly one month after I was let off the first COVID-19 quarantine. On July 13, I was let off the first quarantine and moved to another yard after 41 days of 24/7 lockdown. I was then placed on “orientation” for another 14 days of 24/7 lockdown, finally ending July 27th. After 55 total days of 24/7 lockdown with no access to sunlight, the exercise yard, or phone calls home, I was finally on 22-23 hour per day lockdown where I was allowed extremely limited access to the exercise yard and phone calls for just 16 days. Now I am back on 24/7 lockdown waiting to find out the results of COVID-19 testing for the entire housing unit.

While I am on this COVID-19 quarantine, as long as I do not test positive, I am supposed to be allowed access to the phone to call home. No sunlight or yard, but phone calls at least. But the building staff are not running the phone calls despite directives to. This is possible because there is so little over sight in CDCR. The administrative staff make grand statements to the public about the operations within California’s prisons but very little of this is actually carried out. The incarcerated population at Corcoran State Prison is seldom, if ever, given the memorandums and directives from CDCR Headquarters on how things are supposed to run, and administration staff never come to verify that day-to-day operations are being carried out in the way they are supposed to be. It feels awful for these of us confined in CDCR to have the administrative staff smile for the media and the public saying we are allowed our phone calls and that hand sanitizer and extra cleaning supplies are available for our use. We have only been allowed one phone call in the past week and I have never once seen hand sanitizer available for the incarcerated population. The soap dispenser in the day room is out and has been out since I moved into this building. The soap dispenser in my previous housing unit was empty for months before I was moved, despite repeated requests to have it filled.

We feel forgotten in here. We watch the news about all of the Black Lives Matter protests and it makes us wonder about the countless people of color and other incarcerated individuals who live at the mercy of the system. I have been wrongfully incarcerated for 17 years, more than half my life, and I see men suffering, harassed, and abused by officers every day in prison. Men who are supposed to be protected by the state are neglected by the very system designed to care for them because there is no oversight or accountability. How do we fit into Black Lives Matter?

For decades, people of color and minorities have raised the alarm over the way they are mistreated by the police, the system, and the government. These seriously grave concerns were ignored by most, especially by those in the media who could have given them a voice. Then came the advent of social media and smart phones; everything in society today is recorded and shared. Finally in the face of countless examples of direct evidence, America is beginning to wake up and realize that police brutality and abuse of society’s vulnerable groups is very real. Only with video evidence of an officer’s knee on George Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes is this brutality unjustified. Without he video evidence, George Floyd’s death would have been another statistic and the officer’s actions a justified use of force. With the video evidence, it is murder caused by the actions of the police.

This same concern is not shown to incarcerated individuals who are seen as ‘criminals’ and not worthy of care of empathy. Without the same video evidence to demonstrate the treatment of incarcerated individuals, we remain forgotten. It is unconscionable why police forces across America, especially in California, are being required to wear body cameras for accountability but the same is not required of California Correctional officers within CDCR. The health and safety of one of the most vulnerable populations in all of America, the incarcerated population, has been overlooked due to lack of care and concern.

The California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) and CDCR fo not want surveillance camera or body cameras in California’s prisons because they do not want the truth of their daily operations exposed. Corrections officers do not want the public to see how little they actually do. The vast majority of their job is literally sitting around all day babysitting adult men. And instead of trying to help facilitate rehabilitative, educational, and restorative justice programming, most of the correctional staff work to obstruct it. Whether its through indifference, negligence, or outright harassment of those participating to better themselves, most staff obstruct the rehabilitative process. Surveillance cameras in the housing units and other common areas along with body cameras worn by staff would create accountability for the incarcerated population as well as the correctional staff tasked with ensuring their health and safety.

If such surveillance systems existed in the time of COVID-19 within CDCR, there would be clear evidence of correctional staff ignoring social distancing orders and mask requirements. The mask is most important when speaking to others, especially when they are not observing social distancing. There is little social distancing or proper mask wearing amongst staff.

I fear that with little oversight within CDCR and no unbiased video evidence to prove our real concerns, most staff will continue to ignore mask requirements. This will allow COVID-19 to continue to spread within California’s prisons. I am already in my second COVID-19 quarantine being denied access to visits, sunlight, fresh air, the exercise yard, or phone calls home and have been told it will last at least 2 weeks, most likely longer. The entire building must be tested a minimum of 3 times before coming off quarantine. Normal life in Corcoran State Prison has been restricted to 22-23 hours of lockdown per day as a result of mass incarceration causing serious overcrowding in California’s Prisons and CDCR’s employee’s failures to follow basic safety requirements. We are not allowed to see our families until the number of new cases for a 30 day cumulative period is zero. This is next to impossible when the staff come in and out without following proper guidelines. They need to be held accountable.

written by Sean O’Brien, typed by his wife Emelia O’Brien

Lockdown definition: Being locked inside a 6 foot by 9 foot cement cell with your cell mate. If you would like to know what this actually feels like, sit on a metal stool in your bathroom with the door closed and without AC. Make sure it is a hot summer day. You do not get to leave the bathroom when someone else comes to use the bathroom. You may only stand up or sit on the metal stool. Do this for 23 hours.

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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