The situation at San Quentin: Give prisoners access to phones NOW!

Unlike newer prisons that are deliberately located in small towns far from the homes of most of the prisoners so as to further isolate them and disrupt family solidarity, San Quentin, built in 1852, is in the midst of the nearly 8 million people who live in the Bay Area. Before the pandemic, programs conducted by outside experts were common, as were family visits. With no programs or visiting and now no phone calls, San Quentin might as well be in Death Valley. – Photo: Frank Schulenburg, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

by Ellen Zuckman

My husband, who is on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison, was informed this morning that he tested positive for COVID-19 and is being moved from his regular cell, presumably to be quarantined for at least 14 days. 

I, along with so many families and friends with loved ones inside, have been watching in fear and horror as the COVID-19 outbreak unfolded at San Quentin since early June. As we have not been able to visit since early March due to the pandemic, our only real, trusted source of up-to-date information is speaking to our loved ones on the phone and hearing from them directly whether or not they have tested positive, if they are having symptoms, if they are being treated for their symptoms, how they are protecting themselves. 

This morning the warden of San Quentin, Ron Broomfield, announced the prison is cancelling all phone calls, in the name of protecting everyone inside from spread of the virus. Maybe it is more to keep any information about what is really going on there out of the hands of families, friends and the MEDIA!

We live to hear their voices and know they are surviving this pandemic. Conversely, their only way of knowing how their loved ones on the outside are faring through the pandemic is to be able to speak to us directly. We all know the toll it takes on you, the stress it induces, to worry about someone you love when you don’t know what is happening to them. 

This morning the warden of San Quentin, Ron Broomfield, announced the prison is cancelling all phone calls, in the name of protecting everyone inside from spread of the virus. Maybe it is more to keep any information about what is really going on there out of the hands of families, friends and the MEDIA!

This is unacceptable. Turning off the phones is adding insult to injury after “mistakenly” allowing this virus into San Quentin and allowing it to spread like wildfire. Surely the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation can figure out a way to sanitize the phones in between calls and provide adequate masks to allow our loved ones to safely speak to us on the phone. 

Ellen Zuckman, a long-time volunteer at the Bay View, can be reached via editor@sfbayview.com