'None of us want to die in here': Chino prison inmates speak about COVID-19 fears

Anabel Munoz Image
Saturday, April 4, 2020
Inmates at Chino prison speak out over coronavirus fears
In California's crowded prisons and jails, the threat of the rapidly spreading coronavirus induces a sense of fear and helplessness.

In California's crowded prisons and jails, the threat of the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus induces a sense of fear and helplessness.

Orion Gurney is serving a four-year sentence for domestic violence. But he's worried he may not return to his wife and children.

"That's what I fear for myself every day, that I've done three and a half years and served my time, only to be so close to the house and might not make it... it's terrifying," he said.

He and Jimmy Parks describe life behind bars at the state prison in Chino.

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"We're being sent back to the dorm even though some people have flu-like symptoms, and then later to be on quarantine," Gurney said.

"The officers wear masks daily but then yell at us and reprimand us for wearing it because they can't identify us by our faces," said Parks.

"It feels like this is just a petri dish for allowing this thing to grow because there's less than four feet in between each bunk," added Gurney.

Parks said the dorm buildings are isolated from one another when they eat but he said surfaces are not wiped down properly.

"They have a paint bucket with some bleachy water in it and a dirty rag that they just slap it onto the tables and say that's disinfecting it, and it's not," he said.

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Parks said the spread of the virus has also had an impact on health care in the prison.

"Administratively, everything's within the parameters but I was denied my hepatitis C treatment - which is curable now - because they said they're understaffed because of the coronavirus," he said.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation called the reported lack of cleaning supplies untrue, and on Thursday said they've distributed masks according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

The CDC updated it's guidelines on Friday. The CDCR press secretary also said they've taken unprecedented measures to meet the crisis head-on, and continue to provide essential health care services.

Statewide, so far 33 prison employees and eight incarcerated individuals have tested positive for COVID-19, including 11 employees and one incarcerated person in Chino.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state would speed up the release of 3,500 people serving terms for nonviolent crimes and due for release within 60 days. The Prison Law Office filed an emergency motion to reduce the prison population even further to allow physical distancing, saying tens of thousands are in crowded dorms, sometimes within inches of each other. The group also highlighted many in prisons are elderly and have underlying medical conditions.

"None of us want to die in here from this but we're starting to get frustrated with the lack of care," said Parks.

"I plan on helping the most that I can when I get out but I just, I'm scared for my life," said Gurney as the phone call ended.