I’m Sergio Hyland. And this is “In Solidarity With The San Quentin Prisoners.”
On May 9th, 2020, State Correctional Institution at Chester, Pennsylvania went into a full lockdown due to one confirmed positive case of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. For nearly two weeks straight, we languished in our cells, worried, not knowing what was happening. There was no communication from the staff, and to make matters worse our emailing system had been purposely disabled in what we believe was an attempt to limit communications between us and our families. It was extremely stressful. And I witnessed first hand the decay of morale amongst the prisoners whom I’ve lived with for the past 20 years.
As a Pennsylvania board-certified peer specialist, I’m trained to recognize when others are in the midst of a mental crisis. Those two weeks pushed many to the brink. I spent five years in solitary confinement, and it’s still getting compared to what we were forced to endure for that brief period of time in May.
With that said, I want to speak on behalf of my comrades in San Quentin State Prison in California, as they deal with the spreading of this deadly virus within the prison. At last check, nearly 1100 prisoners were affected out of a population of 3500. And that was about a week ago. I can only imagine what the numbers are right now.
Everybody is familiar with San Quentin’s history: movie culture and folklore would have you believe that San Quentin is full of the worst kinds of criminals, but for years, San Quentin has produced some of the most brilliant minds to ever speak out on so-called criminal justice.
Because of that, I highly doubt that Governor Gavin Newsom and Secretary of Corrections Ralph Diaz are in a hurry to stop this deadly disease from destroying a much-needed group of leaders within the prison environment. We need all the help that we can get so that Governor Newsom and Ralph Diaz know that prisoners are people too, and we deserve equal and fair treatment.
In case some of you aren’t familiar with how this kind of lockdown differs from something like solitary confinement, let me explain. In this current situation, prisoners are locked in their cell for 24 hours per day, seven days per week. There’s no recreation, no showers, no phone calls, no access to the email system, and no outgoing mail since staff are barred from being on the unit and interacting with prisoners. As time goes by, we run out of basic necessities, such as soap, toothpaste, and toilet paper. We have no access to mental health treatment, nor are we given any information on what’s taking place. Everything becomes an issue of security which means the first priority is to control the population. Becausee we can’t communicate with our families, depression is accelerating, and the number of suicide attempts and completions tend to rise. Men and women, in some cases, are pushed to the precipice and keep going.
If you haven’t spent time in prison, you’ll never understand the effect that it has on a person’s psyche. Sometimes, our own families don’t understand, and good relationships end up being destroyed all because of the prison system’s culture of abuse. We’re taught to feel abandoned and betrayed, we’re taught not to trust, we’re taught to hate and be angry, and we’re judged because of it.
But right now we need your help. We need you to love us enough to speak out on our behalf, because we can’t always do that. We’re in here dying every day, and this pandemic has only made things worse. We need your support. Stand with the prisoners in San Quentin by calling and emailing Governor Newsom, Secretary of Corrections Diaz, remind them that our lives matter, and remind them that if they refuse to act, you will hold them accountable, because, after all, public officials are charged with serving the people, not the other way around.
Thank you. I’m Uptown Serg. You can follow me on Instagram @UptownSerg.