On August 26, 2015, the first inmate in San Quentin was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease. Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila, which is found in potable and non-potable water systems and is carried through steam, mist, and moisture. Since then San Quentin has confirmed 6 more cases of Legionnaires’ and more than 70 other inmates are under observation and being treated for Legionnaires’ like symptoms. On September 1, 2015, Executive Producer Nancy Mullane talked to Juan Haines, the managing editor of San Quentin News, who was diagnosed with pneumonia and is being treated for symptoms similar to Legionnaires’. Here’s Juan Haines describing his illness and what’s happening in San Quentin right now.
Juan Haines: My name is Juan Haines. I’m managing editor of San Quentin News and right now I’m in a phone booth in North Block in San Quentin State Prison.
Actually it was last Sunday. I had just got through working out, I had a really good workout. That following Monday, when I woke up I felt just totally fatigued and I had a slight headache. I thought that the fatigue was just because I worked out a little hard, you know. I’m 57 years old and I said, “OK, age is finally catching up with me.” Well the next day I was feeling worse. 10 years ago I used to get these migraines, so I’m thinking it’s just another one of these migraines and so I spent the better part of the day just kind of relaxing, drinking lots of water. Wednesday I couldn’t even get up for breakfast. Now I’m a guy who hasn’t missed a breakfast in probably 7 years.
Everyone’s really worried telling me I should go to TTA, which is like the Emergency Room here at the prison. So, about 1:00 PM Thursday, they had an institutional recall. They said that there was something wrong with the water and they sent everyone to their cells. By now I’m running a pretty high fever and I’m not even thinking clearly or anything like that.
A guy said that there was an announcement if you had these symptoms, all of these symptoms that I had, that you had to report to TTA for a 10 day supply of antibiotics. The following day, when I went over there, my regular physician examined me. They took a blood test, some sort of sample that involved a straw-like thing going way up my nose, a urine sample, spittle, and a chest x-ray. And so when the chest x-ray came back I had pneumonia and I was given a 10 day supply of antibiotics. Subsequently a nurse came by to check on me and then asking a series of questions dealing with they symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and some other questions that are symptomatic of Legionnaires’ disease.
In North Block, when I go to do my check-up, there’s about 7 or 8 of us. Could be more, I’m just estimating based on when they make the announcements.
What they’re doing right now is what’s called a modified program. So what the program is is in the mornings, they’ll let one side of the block out for day room activities and after 90 minutes the other side gets the same opportunity. They do that twice in the day. Then after the evening meal, they’ll have a day room in which everyone can come out.
Speaking of the meal, we’ve received not a single hot meal. They’re feeding us peanut butter and jelly for dinner and they’ve done that since last Thursday. There’s people in here with diabetes and other health issues and that plays no factor in to how you’re getting your meals. When I hear on mainstream media, like on television or the radio, a prison spokesperson say that they’re feeding us boxed meals, that’s a misnomer. They’re feeding us peanut butter and jelly. In boxes.
Our lunch sometimes is bologna, sometimes it’s these hot pocket sort of things, and sometimes it’s peanut and jelly. So we’ll get peanut butter and jelly for lunch and dinner. And we’ve had Pop-Tarts for breakfast probably the past 3 or 4 days.
You know, it’s hard. It’s hard to have to consume that food. But last night I actually had a hot meal. I took slices of cheese, put in bread, spread some butter over it, put some garlic powder over that, wrapped it up in a nice little baggie – real tight, air-tight – put it in my hot pot, boiled for about 15 minutes, and had me some grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner last night.
I normally weigh 125 pounds. When I went to the hospital I was weighing 116 pounds.
The water problem, they’ve pretty much resolved as far as getting us drinking water. They have these large vats that they bring into the building and people fill up their containers for drinking water.
Showers? No. We’ve been allowed one shower in 6 days.
The toilets? They left the water on so that we can flush them and everything like that. So they’ve taken the porta potties out.
The warden has released what’s called a warden’s bulletin. That was released on August 27th, which basically talked about Legionnaires’ disease – the symptoms and what to do. And the cancellation of visiting and all these sorts of things. Other than that, we’re getting our information from television news.
From my understanding, under the circumstances, once they make an announcement that they’ve found the source of the Legionnaires’ disease, there will be a significant change in what they do next.
The whole thing for me is what’s the plan? For me it’s apparent that there is no plan in a particular type of emergency. It doesn’t matter if this were a flood or an earthquake or Typhoid fever or Legionnaires’ disease. If there’s a plan, everyone knows what to do.
But, in this particular situation it was clear right off the bat that no one knew what to do. You knew that there was no plan when they started quarantining people with Legionnaires’ disease. That immediately showed that there’s no medical plan, there’s no emergency plan, there’s no any type of plan on what to do if there’s any type of emergency at this particular institution.
That showed when they brought in the porta potties for a day, took them out the next day. It shows how they have these showers now in the lower yard and we’ve only used them once.
There should be a plan so that people can have clean clothes. There should be a plan so that people’s hygienes don’t suffer. There should be a plan so that people can at least have a hot meal.
UPDATE: On September 2, 2015, Life of the Law received the following information from Lt. Samuel Robinson, San Quentin State Prison Public Information Officer, “They are getting a hot meal this evening and they are showering for the second time today. Which is two days removed from the last day they showered.”
PRODUCTION NOTES: This story was produced by Nancy Mullane and Kirsten Jusewicz-Haidle with post-production support by Simone Seiver. Life of the Law receives funding from the Open Society Foundations, the Law and Society Association, the Proteus Fund and the National Science Foundation.
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