Shame On All of Us -- A Poem Dedicated to My Clients in 5B and M8 of Santa Clara County Jails

Editor's Note:

A life threatening pandemic is spreading through the Santa Clara County Jails. Public Defender Lara Wallman wrote a piece on the entire system's failure to respond, and the lack of human decency exposed in the face of multiple outbreaks.

Covid-19 has now rippled through our county jails
It is the storm before the tsunami
And we all know it’s coming
Just like San Quentin
It’s coming
It’s coming into our own city
Our own community
In the heart of Silicon Valley
In the “leftist” bay area
At the center of democracy
It’s coming
And we are all at fault

It’s the guard’s fault
Who was too lazy to wear a mask
Who thought it was uncomfortable
And only put it on when his sergeant was around
It’s the nurse’s fault
Who saw only a criminal complaining of symptoms
And told the patient to shut up
And to stop complaining
It’s the jail employees
Who denied the Covid-19 patients
The ability to take a shower for 10 days
Only to use a bucket
When they were feverish or shivering
And begging for mercy
It’s all our fault
It’s the judge’s fault who denied bail
Even though the patient was considered high risk for complications
Who was more afraid of the “Persky” effect
Than the humanity of the patient
It’s the district attorney’s fault
Who fought hard against bail
Under the auspices of “public safety”
When the patient’s own safety had been jeopardized
By those responsible for him
And it’s also my fault
For failing to convince the judge and district attorney
To see my client as a human being
To see him for who he is
Not for the mistake he may have made
Shame on us all

Sometimes we forget what this new uproar is about
Why people are getting tear gassed in the streets in protest
It’s about humanity
It’s the notion that people who have been historically marginalized
Deserve dignity and respect
It’s not political
And it’s not novel
But it is this humanity which we have lost sight of
There is a Covid-19 outbreak at our county jails
Is it really going to take someone to die
For the rest of us to step in
And demand better
These men and women are presumed innocent
And some are in jail without bail
And without the hope of having a trial anytime soon
It’s indefinite incarceration
Which is the antithesis of what our constitution demands
But even if this was death row
What makes us a democracy
What makes us human
Is treating each other with dignity and respect
It’s taking social distancing seriously
It’s wearing a mask when you go to work
Especially when thousands of inmates have no ventilation
Are crammed in small spaces
With no ability to social distance
And are wholly dependent on you to keep them safe
It’s about nurses listening to their symptoms
As if they were in an actual hospital
It’s about the doctors taking the time to see each patient
And sending them to the hospital
In an abundance of caution
And not when it’s too late
Our clients deserve better than a potential death sentence
When they enter our county jails
If we are a democracy
If we care about humanity
Then let’s start here
Before it’s too late

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