Exercise Your Influence, Lead by Example

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[COVID-19] [Organizing] [Valley State Prison] [California] [ULK Issue 71]
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Exercise Your Influence, Lead by Example

In early March [2020], at the beginning stages of the public information campaign regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, I was informed of preventative methods such as wearing a mask and hand washing by family and friends on the outside. I began to educate the other prisoners at Valley State Prison (VSP) of the pandemic and how the administration was trying to down play the severity of the situation.

I decided to exercise my influence by leading by example, so my first step was to create my own face mask, second step I wore it in public every time I got the chance. At first I looked and felt rather silly because I was the only one wearing a mask; not even medical staff were wearing masks. People were calling me paranoid and hypochondriac, they said it was not that serious and the virus would not come into prison.

One day while going to A-yard dining hall a really rude officer named Miss Avila stopped me and confiscated my mask and told me “Inmates are not allowed to wear a mask.” I was also warned by another officer that worked regularly in my building, that I was causing a hysteria among the prisoners by wearing my mask. He also said he believed the pandemic was just a hoax.

By the end of April, CDCR’s Prison Industry Authority(PIA) starts creating and distributing masks to all of California’s imprisoned population. Medical staff began to wear masks, but custody staff officers still refused to wear any masks. Officers would harass any prisoners not wearing masks, although it was hot and the masks were uncomfortable we wore the masks as a symbol out of solidarity we want to protect one another, in particular our elderly population and those with high risk medical conditions. But the officers still refused to participate with us by wearing a mask. On 24 April 2020 we united around a common interest as imprisoned lumpen striving to build a healthy environment and we filed a group Appeal L (602) Log# VSP-A-20-01089 with 12 prisoners and on 5 May 2020 a memorandum was issued ordering “All Staff” Mandatory wearing of cloth barrier masks by warden R. Fisher Jr. On 5 June 2020 our inmate appeal was partially granted and all staff was mandated to wear “cloth barrier masks.” I want to thank MIM for encouraging me to exercise my influence by creating a united front and helping me to turn my knowledge into political organizing.

MIM(Prisons) adds: This is an example of real leadership. Recognizing what the material needs of the people are, and sticking your neck out to lead by example in how to meet those needs. The people soon recognized this leadership and followed. This is just one of many examples we have printed in recent weeks of prisoncrats actively resisting safety measures to protect prisoners (and staff). This is everyday treatment of those in U.$. prisons, it just has more immediate relevance to the outside world because of the global pandemic. Supporters of United Struggle from Within join these comrades in these day-to-day struggles to say “Prisoner Lives Matter!”

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