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my "agenda"

These are rough and divisive times. For over a decade I’ve promised to tell lifers and their families the straight story, no sugar-coating, no excuses. And lots of lifers, starting with my own husband, tell me lifers like direct communication.

Actually, I find sometimes people don’t like direct communication as much as they think they do. But I’m pretty direct anyway.

Lately I’ve been taking a lot of flack from people who are complaining about my “agenda” to get prisoners to take the vaccinations and wear masks.

Let me tell you straight up what my ‘agenda’ is: TO HELP LIFERS COME HOME AND ENJOY THEIR LIVES.

And they sure as God can’t do that if they’re dead.

While I appreciate all of you who want to and have sent me links to ‘scientific’ studies, reports, ‘white papers,’ testimonies, and all manner of ‘proof’ that this ‘late unpleasantness,’ is a hoax, a conspiracy, a plot by the government, Antifa, demon Democrats, damn liberals, big pharma, the deep state, or whatever else haunts your dreams and imagination, here’s my direct communication to you: Stop. Just stop.

Why did I refer to the CoVid controversy as ‘the late unpleasantness?’ Because that’s what those in the South, in a mammoth minimization and herd mentality delusion that lasted for decades, called the Civil War. Unpleasant. A war that killed between 600,000 and 700,000 was certainly ‘unpleasant’.

And yet this current war, against the Corona Virus, is no less unpleasant, having as of today killed nearly 620,000 Americans. Over 3,000 of those were incarcerated and 235 of those California inmates. NOTHING else, not overdoses on the yard, lethal force by guards, prison gang wars, has killed more incarcerated individuals in one year than CoVid 19. If you’ve read the documents I’ve read, from courts, medical PROFESSIONALS, heard from weary free staff, seen the cheek-to-jowl living situation of prisoners (yes, I’ve been in the housing units of more than 1 prison, an experience most family members have not had), you might find yourself re-thinking your anti-vax/mask position.

If you’ve heard the stories, as we have, from inmates released from prison after having been infected with CoVid, some of them released while still suffering from the virus, hear from them how wrenching it was to try to survive this plague, to watch friends also suffer and in some cases die, or be taken out to die in hospitals, never to be seen again…if nothing else, if you’ve watched the eerie video tracking the spread of CoVid last summer in San Quentin, moving like blood pumping through an open wound, why would you not do everything possible to try and prevent the cataclysmic situation we saw last year repeat itself?

One of my earliest memories is of my parents telling me we couldn’t go to public swimming pools, because we might catch polio. For years I thought swimming pool water was the source of polio; but of course, it wasn’t the water, but the crowds of people all sharing the air, the water—and the virus. And then—the polio vaccine. Poof. Swimming pools were, at least until last summer and CoVid, once again safe.

Farther back we could talk about smallpox, measles, diphtheria, mumps, scarlet fever, on and on and on. And like those other diseases, vaccination is the best way currently known to prevent more and more of us from being felled, either permanently or temporarily by CoVid. And prisoners are some of the most vulnerable among us.

This weekend Dave and I, who are both fully vaxed, found ourselves in self-quarantine, because someone who attended an AA meeting with Dave tested positive for CoVid. He was not vaxed, nor was his wife, who traveled to Arkansas and brought back a little extra souvenir that she shared. And while most of our friends and co-workers are vaxed, we notified all of them just in case. Dave was tested right away, but awaiting the results he stopped interacting with his sponsees, we didn’t go to church, and most distressing of all, I had to cancel plans to visit my elderly, Alzheimer’s addled Aunt, on her 86th, and perhaps last, birthday. I’m responsible for her care, and the only one she remembers—but I couldn’t risk her life.

He tested negative, likely in no small part because he was protected by the vaccine. He didn’t become ill, spread the virus to me, to our volunteers, neighbors. We’re safe, as safe as we can be at the moment.

All of this because someone chose to exercise their ‘rights.’ News flash—your rights stop where my safety, and the safety and lives of others, are impinged on by the exercise of those rights. That’s pretty much what our criminal justice system is built on.

So certainly, you have the right not to be vaccinated. And CDCR has every right to deny you visits with your LO. Because as long as you, or your LO, is easily susceptible to the Corona virus, you are a danger to the safety of the institution and those in it. Yes, so are the largely unvaxed and unmasked guards….but we like to think we care more about prisoners than they do. CDCR admits staff are the primary vector of introduction of the virus into the prisons--and we all want that to cease.

The best way? Require all prison staff to be vaccinated. How to do you feel about staff exercising their right to not get the shots, at the cost of risking your LO's health and safety? But how can we demand staff get vaccinated, if we insist on standing on our 'rights' not to do so?

So, my ‘agenda,’ to help lifers come home, includes doing what I can to help them protect themselves. From parole denial, from danger on the yard, from financial scams…and from a deadly, stealthy and somewhat preventable virus. If you don’t like it or disagree, ignore me. That's your right, too. But it’s getting harder to ignore the numbers.

You are free to choose, but you aren't free from the consequences of your choice. None of us are.

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this is why

Dave and I just returned from our weekly group at CMF--it's now after 7 pm, yet another long day. But I wanted to share an email that was waiting for me when we returned to the office--below is that


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Sandra Relova
Sandra Relova
Aug 10, 2021

Thank you so much Vanessa. I could not agree more with every word you said and I am sending it to some of my students who I hope will send it on to their families who refuse to get vaccinated.


Peggy Borchard
Peggy Borchard
Aug 10, 2021

Thank you for this. I completely agree as well. While others feel it's a choice and their "right" it is also MY choice and when others don't do the "right thing" it takes my choices away. I too was exposed by an unvaccinatebd co-worker (who tested positive but only had a bad cold) and I am vaccinated but have auto immune issues and I ended up getting very sick (not COVID) but it took me down and also took away my choice to go see my husband and I was out of work myself. So some else's choice literally took money out of my pocket. People don't get that but hopefully they will see....their choices do affect everyone else …


Crystal Bond
Crystal Bond
Aug 10, 2021

I would have to agree with Vanessa. I don't understand why people are so quick to complain about something that can help keep people safe. Why wouldn't you want to do your part to keep each other safe? I myself didn't want to get vaccinated, but I go to the prison and see husband and I'm not trying to be one of the ones who puts them at risk so I got vaccinated. And because in my opinion Newsom is going through a recall all because he did what he thought was right, trying to keep everyone safe. I call people like that selfish. What happened to people caring about one another?

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