by San Quentin News Staff
After many rumors and much speculation, H-Unit prisoners and Level II Lifers are now living in West Block – the first time since San Quentin became a reception center starting in the ‘80s. The living conditions in West Block are less than desirable, according to prisoners recently moved from other parts of the prison.
As the population in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is reduced, the areas once necessary for the intake and reception are being “re-aligned” to serve a longer-term segment of the population.
Starting Nov. 7, a long trail of H-Unit prisoners carried their property to West Block. Many of the unit’s prisoners are still wearing Reception Center orange clothing. The unit’s bay side now houses mainliners dressed in blue.
“Picture yourself in a trash dumpster with feces, urine and old food. Then picture putting your property in there with no plug for electricity and a dim light that does not shut off and a toilet that takes two minutes to fl ush after you push the button. Now close the door and put another man in that small space,” said the recently moved Richard Benjamin.
Benjamin said a prison staffer told him that although the selection process was random, his “intimidating demeanor” was a factor.
“The shower has water to our ankles and the (razor) wire on the gun rail is tangled with old clothes. I work at Prison Industry Authority (PIA) and I’m supposed to be there at 6:15 a.m., but because of this move, I don’t get there until 8:20 a.m.,” Benjamin said.
Referring to the importance prisoners place on cleanliness, he added: “I get off work at 3 p.m, but the block is not set up for PIA workers to get showers, so we have to wait until 7:30 at night to get a shower. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to clean the block but it’s near impossible because we’re not given the proper cleaning supplies or gloves.”
“We understand the frustration of the inmates. As soon as funds are released from Sacramento, we will expedite the retrofit of West Block. We are very appreciative of the inmates who have taken it upon themselves to clean up the block,” said a San Quentin administrator who asked that his name not be used.
On Nov. 9, Lifers and additional North Block prisoners were told to pack their property and move from relatively “healthy” dorm and cell housing into poorer living conditions in West Block. The cells lack electricity for appliances and lighting is bad for the prisoners on the bottom bed of the two-inmate cells. Also, the heating in West Block is not functioning.
The mix of people also includes a large intake of prisoners from other prisons including Soledad, Old Folsom and Solano.
This story first appeared in San Quentin News, “designed and written by prisoners for prisoners and staff.”
A prisoner corroborating the story reports: “The conditions inside San Quentin’s West Block are inhumane and uninhabitable. They are in cells with no power. Many cells don’t have an operating light bulb. Those that do have a very dim light and the person on the bottom bunk can’t even see to read or write a letter. There are other cells with that dim light that stays on 24/7. A lot of the toilets don’t flush, leaving them in a 5 x 11 box with feces sitting in the toilet until a plumber can come by and flush it.
“Those who were occupying the cells when they were being used for reception apparently thought it was amusing to spread feces on the walls. The men are trying to clean it up themselves, but they can’t get the cleaning supplies they need to do so. There is ankle deep standing water in the showers. One thing that isn’t reported in the article is the black mold on the walls inside the building.
“San Quentin has vocational programs in both plumbing and electrical and the parts required to make the repairs are already on site, so there is no excuse for not making the necessary repairs. Almost 900 men are housed in that building.”
Shai Alkebu-Lan writes on Dec. 27: “I arrived at San Quentin State Prison on Dec. 5. My housing is in the notorious reception area at West Block, yet it was to be converted to mainline.
“The living conditions are deplorable. Piss, crap and blood stain the dilapidated mattresses. They also have bed bugs, which attack us every night, burrowing into our skin until we – and I especially – have broken out in a severe rash. Walls are filled with racist language.
“Upon my arrival, I networked with several inmates and staff and wrote to the warden, Michael Martel, to document the conditions and get his input on making the changes we need for our new living spaces. He referred me to some people who were of minimal help.
“We sent District Court Judge Thelton Henderson a report on the conditions, failure to release, shipping programming inmates to filthy conditions – retaliation because they may lose their jobs – and more. We want the world to know we are doing something about it, even though society has abandoned us.
“Send resources and ideas to Shai Alkebu’Lan, P-02598, San Quentin State Prison, W-4-65 Low, San Quentin CA 94974.”