Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By Ms. Amber S. Jackson
Lucky Lifer 

Women's Prison During Covid: After Growing up in Foster Homes, Amber Entered Prison at age 20 after Disfiguring an Adversary

A lifer at California Institution for Women in Corona describes life in prison during the COVID-19 pandemic

 

October 26, 2020

Amber S. Jackson, a lifer at California Institution for Women

Editor introduction: Ms. Jackson wrote to us from C.I.W. asking if she could write a regular weekly column about life in prison. After growing up in foster homes, she entered prison at age 20 when she disfigured someone. She spent the next 16 years in prison, where she now awaits a parole that may not be for another 4 years. "I want to make people think," Jackson wrote us. "When it comes to foster kids, most of them end up in prison at some point! Yes! Now, that is no excuse...I own every mistake I've made. I'd just like to share my story and how I made it to this point."

Below is Ms. Jackson's first column for us.

Have you ever imagined COVID-19's effect on women's prisons? That's right! I'm Amber Jackson and I'm a lifer located at the California Institution for Women in Corona, California. Yes, COVID-19 turned this place upside-down! And, yes, I'm going to tell you how...

In late February/early March of 2020, several of us in here had a strange "bad cold." I was one of them. At this time, it was not yet known that COVID-19 was circulating here in California. Back then, no tests were available for the virus.

It might surprise you to know that when the rest of California went on lockdown, here in prison, we were watching all this on TV but still went to school and jobs daily!

California Institution for Women was the first prison in all of California to require all staff to wear masks. To date, only one death. That person is said to have had cancer. As of today, October 6, 2020, we have only one active case.

In March 2020, all visiting in California prisons statewide was suspended. This has NEVER been done before. As of right now, there is no plan to open visiting. They are likely waiting for a vaccine.

Lifer parole hearings are now done completely via video conferences. We must take a COVID-19 test before going to hospital offsite appointments.

Our prison canteen store has been affected the same way your stores in the free world are. The availability of basic items is unpredictable at best. Last month, no white rice. The month before that, no envelopes, for example.

After COVID-19 lockdown in California began, many staff quit or transferred out. Afraid to come inside of prison. Strange to me since the only way we get the virus is from STAFF carrying it in to us.

We now only have inmate "essential" workers. Education and college is by our tablets and correspondence only.

As a lifer required to do my self-help classes, I now do them by mail. My "office related technology" vocational course is by mail also. My original instructor quit. A new one was just hired this week.

We are now limited to being inside of our housing units all day! Food is now delivered to the unit. The yard is one building at a time for 2 hours. 10 inmates in the dayroom at a time.

Overhead view of California Institution for Women

All inmates must wear masks at all times except in their cell or the showers. All inmates must be 6-feet social distanced at all times.

Inmates who refuse to test for COVID must quarantine for 14 days.

If anyone has a question for me, you can write it down and send it. I'll address it in my next article. I will be paroling to the LA area! So, I figured why not get to know my Southern California community now? I'm up for parole within the next 3-4 years. Before then, I plan on telling you about who I am, how I got to being in prison, and my plans for my upcoming release. Now that my prison time is almost over, I tried to start my podcast but could not find an outside partner to help.

Well, that's all for now. I'll be back with more prison stories and penitentiary wisdom for you!

Ms. Jackson, Amber

 

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