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Opinion – ‘I Can’t Breathe’ COVID-19 in Prison




I can’t breathe is more than just a statement. It’s a living reality, both literally and figuratively.

Literally it’s the actuality that you can’t breathe due to some form of physical restraint being applied which causes suffocation.

Figuratively it applies to an oppressed people existing in America who are not able to receive justice or equality.

Which is an essential component of life.

Racial discrimination can suffocate because it denies the life-sustaining necessities.

The “I can’t breathe”  plea emphatically summarizes the nature and composition of suffering and denial figuratively.

A translation of the “I can’t breathe” chant signifies what a depressed people under the weight of tyranny oppression must endure.

People  ridden with discriminatory treatment, disguised as racial justice, are dying daily as a direct result of not being able to breathe in a toxic polluted atmosphere of inhumane conditions.

But, to be fair, Black people are not the only targeted minorities shackled with the inability to breathe freely.

Other people of color also find themselves the subjects of repugnant treatment as Blacks are and have been the pre-eminent victims of racist behavior.

Racism permeates every element in life and gives breath to hateful suffering associated with day to day survival.

“I can’t Breathe” is an American narrative detailing an ongoing tactic approval of accepted silent practices that besmirch and degrade people of color

The damages of racism, done over time, undeniably cripples and destroys racial harmony.

Until I can’t breathe is vehemently replaced with, I can breathe America will continue to be the epicenter of race-based exclusion and dehumanizing practices against people who don’t share the racial genetics of most of the population that doesn’t look like them in America and around the world.

It is time for people to stand up and take “I can’t breathe” to its final resting place.


The Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has far-reaching implications in prison-like it has been on a worldwide basis.

Here in the prison complex of San Quentin, social distancing as it is designed by the medical experts is a meaningless concept and practice and, therefore, structurally because of cells and cellmates it is virtually impossible to implement.

For several months the practice of transferring inmates from prison to prison was halted in order to stop the transmission of the COVID-19 virus, but then apparently.

Someone in the front offices gave the okay to transfer inmates to San Quentin where no inmates had the virus even though it was reported that a few staff members had tested positive.

The logic of sending hundreds of inmates from another prison that experienced several deaths and multiple cases of positive virus tests is still baffling because it put all of us at San Quentin at risk.

Already dozens have been exposed with many showing symptoms. They are being placed in quarantine and possibly contaminating others in their immediate surroundings.

I have learned that many prisoners and some staff have died in the statewide prison system. These facts should be of concern to the public-at-large because any efforts toward the containment of the virus in this very close environment seem futile at best.

And since prisons release many of the inmates who have varying sentences, on a staggered basis, they will return home to many communities throughout the state, and it is ludicrous to think that some of them won’t be carrying the virus.

In order to decide, the entire prison population needs to be tested, because many could be asymptomatic.

Many inmates have underlying health issues which means aggressive action is required to minimize death and contamination.

The notion that if we separate inmates and move them around from place to place will minimize the spread is risky to us here and to the outside public as well.

COVID-19 has revealed that we are all truly in this situation together.

Without the combined efforts of everyone, we will lose this battle against the virus.

This health crisis struggle is a twenty-first-century Armageddon on several levels. On June 12 they started testing staff, which is a good sign. I will continue to report on the status of COVID-19.

May God bless us all.

Richard Johnson K- 53293

3 W.2

San Quentin, CA. 94974

Since the article was received, the family of Richard Johnson contacted The Post News Group to confirm Johnson tested positive for COVID-19.