Pandemic in Prison: Monique and Kayla Jimenez, Pleasant Valley State Prison

As part of KPFA’s ongoing coverage of COVID-19 inside California state prisons, we spoke with Monique Jimenez and her daughter Kayla. Their husband and father, Chris, is incarcerated at Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP), which at one point had one of the highest number of active COVID-19 cases within California state prisons. They shared with KPFA a letter that Chris had written them from inside PVSP while he was having COVID-19 symptoms. The interviews and letter have been edited and excerpted.

Monique: My name is Monique Jimenez. And I and my husband, we have eight kids. So he is currently at Pleasant Valley State Prison. His base term is two years, but he will be taken away from us for nine years due to enhancements.

I talked to so many other families or wives of Pleasant Valley. And there was one whose husband was taken to an outside facility, and she wasn’t even made aware of this. So of course that’s where my mind goes. And I had called the prison. I spoke with the PIO Lieutenant Harris. And he told me if an incarcerated person from Pleasant Valley has to get sent out to an outside facility, they are not allowed to tell anybody that their loved one is at an outside facility. And if they came to the point where our loved one became incapacitated and can no longer make their own medical decisions, at that point is when we would be contacted and notified.

My husband had actually contracted COVID. When we talked, he sounded so congested, and his cough sounded so deep. So we were already worried. I feel like he was trying to be very brave on the phone, even though we can hear he was sick. I felt like he was trying to be very brave.

My husband had wrote a letter to my daughter. And in this letter he kind of let that guard down and let my daughter know that he was really sick, that he was very sick. And he didn’t know if he was going to make it. 

And he wanted that to be documented and he put his signature on it  in case anything happened to him. And then he also just  wanted to tell us all that he loves us and let us know that in case he didn’t make it out. And then he also advised her that if it did come down to him having to go to outside hospital, or if he didn’t make it, that he had already had pre-written and pre-stamped letters that somebody would be mailing out to us. 

So it was very frightening to say the least, um, especially because the information that we can be given is so limited. And so I feel like he was definitely saying goodbye.”

Kayla: Hi, my name is Kayla Jimenez. And I’m going to be reading a letter my father had wrote me dated December 6th at 3:34 PM.

Hey, Kayla. I hope you are doing okay. I miss you so much. Okay, so I don’t want to stress you out, but I am really sick. I started feeling like [expletive] on Thursday, December 3rd. Anyways, I figured once you got this letter, you would tell mom, but please don’t. I don’t want her to stress.

So look, I’ve had a fever for two days, chills. Oh my gosh [expletive]-ing such bad body aches. My breathing is [expletive]ed up. Cough, sore throat, nausea. I really just want to die. But I’m going to stay hydrated and keep taking my vitamins and pray to God to get over this.

So I told my celly [cellmate], if anything happens to me to please mail you a pre-written letter I did to let you know I got taken out and how I have been feeling if this prison neglects my symptoms and tries to prolong any medical care.

I am putting this on paper to verify in my own words and handwriting that I knew something was  wrong with me and the proper actions were not taking care of.  

Please tell Gabby I love her. Please tell all my kids I love them. And your mom – she is my everything, and I will write her as soon as I can. 

Love, Daddy

When I started reading the letter. I was freaking out. What are they gonna do if they don’t end up moving him? Or if he was to go man down, what would they do? What would they let us know? Would they not let us know?

I believe he sent it to me because he doesn’t want my mom to feel overly stressed out because she’s already stressed enough with the kids. And he doesn’t want my mom to get scared.

I was sad, and I was scared. I don’t know how to really explain it. Once I was reading it, it was like so much was going through my head that I was just worried. I was just worried. I just wanted to talk to him over the phone. I just wanted to make sure that he’s okay. And just that he would be taken care of.

So I was dreading on it from not telling my mom for about maybe a few hours. And then I called her. And I was like, Mom, Dad told me not to tell you, but I feel like I need to tell you because I’m scared. And I know you’re going to get stressed out too. But I feel like you need to know what’s going on too and how dad is feeling.”

Monique: “When my daughter came and told me, I already started freaking out.I was already on the phone call, calling the prison. And my husband knows that that’s going to be me. I’m always going to be there, trying to advocate for him, but not only for him. I try to advocate for all of the families at Pleasant Valley.  

So when my husband had caught COVID, I was extremely scared.

So my husband was doing pretty bad. I had got the phone call on that Thursday or Friday. And it was from somebody else that was in my husband’s housing. He just wanted to tell me that my husband had tested positive. He was going to be moving, and basically for our family to pray because my husband did not look well at all.

So when you get that call, I mean automatically your heart falls.

And I didn’t get to talk to him that day. I didn’t get to hear from him the next day. I think I spoke to him December 13th. And gis voice was coming back somewhat, but he could still barely speak. He explained to me that he had to go to medical to get IV fluids cause he was really dehydrated. He was at medical for a few hours, so it was really scary. His oxygen levels were like at an 85%. But, thank God as of yesterday, my husband was being taken off of quarantine, and then he was going to be moved back to his original housing block. 

So that was terrifying because I may have never seen him again, if it got to that point, just like there’s many other families that didn’t get to say goodbye to their loved one. So it’s extremely terrifying.”


Lucy Kang is a features reporter with KPFA Radio. Follow her on Twitter at @ThisIsLucyKang