Prison Radio
Lisa Strawn

This is Lisa Strawn. I’m a trans woman. And I recently was paroled after 25 years from San Quentin. I was one of fourteen, fifteen hundred people who tested positive. I can’t even begin to- I can’t even begin to tell you. This fear that not just myself but everyone else, that every day, when the COVID-19 began there were only suspected cases.

People keep talking about this, but it came from another prison from Chino. There’s more- there’s more to that. There were actually staff members that had COVID-19. They got better and they returned to work. Most of the staff members, they had access to every inmate who was going to the inmate canteen.  Inmates- it was a mandatory- we had to wear a mask, staff it wasn’t.

I could tell you that I tested twice, the first time it was negative, it was on June 16th. The second time, June 22nd. I never got resolved, but I had lost my sense of taste and smell. And every day they were reading names, calling out names, but people had to move and people were going man down.

We were having up to 10 alarms a day of people going man down because they were sick. So just in North Block alone, within five days, there were over 400 cases of COVID-19. People were being moved from North Block to other units: Badger, Alpine, and Carson, anywhere from 10 to 60 a day.

My celly was told he was positive. He was asymptomatic. He was moved. I wasn’t. 

It was- I just, again, just can’t even begin to tell everybody how fast it spread. By the first week, there were 613 cases of COVID-19, and they only tested one block and then included the people who were on the bus. Left Block had not tested. No one else in the prison had tested, but people were continually falling out.

Death row was hit really hard. That first row where a lot of- the death row incarcerated people are, they were really extremely sick. And that’s where the first death occurred, was on death row. Those inmates had no contact with no other inmates in the institution, none. 

So finally, my doctor was on the chair and he stopped by and he said, well, Lisa, you’re tested positive. Well, I kind of figured that. Still had no symptoms. I felt good. But still people are going man down and people were really, really sick. They’re very sick.I honestly didn’t know if I would make it out after getting a parole date. I seriously didn’t know if I was going to get out. 

As of right now, well,I should go back to- there were inmates in Badger unit, who were all moved from North Block who went on a hunger strike and nobody has told this story. They went on a hunger strike because where they were moved in Badger, the toilets- most of the toilets were not flushing, the cells were filthy, and they had no power. So at this time of today, there are still people getting sick. San Quentin keeps continually moving inmates from area to area and not leaving people settled.

When I left, we were still on a quarantine. But now they’re moving people around trying to make space, putting people in a PIA area that they’ve made into a bedding area. They’re putting people into tents that everyone has seen on television. So they just keep moving people around and around and around.

I just really hope that  everyone in there makes it out like I did. Because all I know is, as the update, I think nine people have died and it just didn’t need to happen. This did not need to happen. This should have been handled. How do you- how do you send a bus somewhere where you know there are no cases of COVID-19. This was malicious, it’s uncalled for. And someone needs to be accounted for and it needs to start at the top.

Like I said, I can only hope that everybody, everybody out there can make it out. It’s just- it’s just and- it happens. And it’s too little too late. It’s too late to correct it. You have to do the right thing and the right thing, from my opinion, those who have COVID and those who have board dates: those board dates need to be moved up and those people need to be set free.

And anyone who’s been affected it is- it is mind boggling what that does to you, waiting for- waiting for your name to be called or your cell to be called that you’re moving and, and, and you tested positive for COVID it’s- I can’t, I can’t even tell you. Every day. I was scared every day. I just, I just couldn’t believe it. I could not believe what I was going through, and I know everybody else is going through the same thing. And sometimes it would just be so quiet in the unit. It would just- it would be dead silent, and that’s not, that’s so not usual. It’s so not usual.

I think lawmakers need to do a lot more and they need to do it fast because COVID-19, it’s not leaving San Quentin. It is there to stay. This is Lisa Strawn. Thank you.