Inmates volunteer to make masks for first responders

Inmates in Santa Barbara County Jail share what it's like to be in jail during a pandemic. Some are using their time to make PPE for first responders.

Posted: Apr 30, 2020 9:49 AM


When health officials sounded the alarm on the state of the country's personal protective equipment stockpile, officials at the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department were concerned.

It was mid-March, and coronavirus cases were already surging across the country, including in California. The department knew the best solution was to find an alternative way to source PPE for its first responders and frontline workers.

The question was how?

Meanwhile, at the Santa Barbara County Jail, a group of inmates were also concerned about the pandemic. Twenty two of them decided to approach Deirdre Smith, inmate services manager at the jail, and express their interest in doing something to help their community fight the spread of the virus.

Before Smith was able to come up with a way herself, Santa Barbara County officials reached out to her, she said, expressing a need for help making face shields and masks from scratch.

Smith said it was a natural match.

"They are not only helping themselves, but they're helping their fellow inmates, as well as thousands of people in the community," Smith told CNN.

Since it's virtually impossible to social distance in the jail, the men in their cellblock aren't required to wear masks around each other -- instead, there are strict protocols for those who come into jail, which are very few at this point.

So far, the inmates have made 3,200 face shields, and prepared 6,000 yards of cloth to be made into masks. The jail doesn't have the sewing equipment to finish masks, but the group hands off the cut fabric to volunteers on the outside who take it from there. As a result, they have received back 900 masks, one for each inmate in the jail, Smith said. In May, they aim to make 10,000 masks.

Prisons across the country, many of which have experienced multiple deadly coronavirus outbreaks, have forced inmates to work on sewing masks and face shields.

But that's not the case at Santa Barbara County Jail. Only one person tested positive in a population of approximately 1,000, Smith said. And the group of inmates who are volunteering said they are eager to help.

Raquel Zick, the public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department, said deputies are grateful to the inmates for their help.

"That equipment is very difficult for us to source," she told CNN. "Which is why it was really great that we had the inmates volunteer to help provide that equipment and help fill that void."

Experiencing a pandemic while in jail

Scared. Anxious. Helpless.

These are feelings familiar to so many in the time of coronavirus, including 16 inmates CNN spoke to at the Santa Barbara County Jail.

"There were times where we didn't know what to expect, it's that uncertainty, that fear of the unknown that -- kind of like in the past led me to make a some poor decisions," Roy Duran Jr., 38, an inmate at the jail, told CNN.

But Duran said being able to give back to the community in such a hands-on way has helped him navigate those feelings.

It "gave us a sense of power, and control over the spread of this virus, and we're able to do something to give back, to help people, to save lives," Duran said.

Zick, the Sheriff's Department PIO, said she believes the volunteer work has helped inmates "regain one of the freedoms they lose when they find themselves in custody."

"Oftentimes we think about the freedoms as being able to celebrate birthdays, or other fun things, but when there's crises, the ability to be part of the solution is also restricted when you're confined."

How giving back has impacted inmates

The volunteer work has also helped change people's perception of inmates, some inmates who CNN spoke to said.

Mark Montoya, a 43-year-old inmate, said he feels that the relationship between deputies and inmates has changed for the better.

"It's empowering for us to wake up at 6 in the morning, to be drinking our coffee and for them to give us a thumbs up," Montoya said.

The group of volunteers echoed Montoya, and added that it also feels empowering to know they're the ones who changed that dynamic.

"I'm not only helping you, they, them," said Dion Frederick, a 28-year-old inmate, pointing around the room and out into the hallways. "I'm also helping my group of guys here have a better relationship with staff members, like the sheriff's deputies that take care of us."

"I had this us-against-them mentality, and the masks that we're making are for the deputies, they're for the personnel who work out here," Frederick said. "So being able to bridge that gap is something that's phenomenal but it also empowers us."

Giving back to the community has also helped some inmates value themselves more, they said.

De'Vosia Harper, a 19-year-old inmate, said that the idea that one of his masks could save a life was almost unbelievable.

"It made me feel like a superhero, it made me feel like that was a miracle," he said.

Harper said he realized the power of the operation once he saw the almost 900 face shields the group made in one day.

"I was in awe, I thought we'd be able to make, like, 30."

Before their volunteer work began, the group of inmates had been meeting to deconstruct concepts of toxic masculinity, in workshops led by Duran.

When the virus reached the US, they felt compelled to help. Last week, Duran said the group discussed how living with integrity could add to their values and make them better people.

"We're human beings who've made some very poor choices, and I'm not trying to negate that in any way," he said. "But the message that I want to send is that we're redeemable, that there's still hope."

West Lafayette
Clear
29° wxIcon
Hi: 34° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 22°
Kokomo
Overcast
30° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 19°
Rensselaer
Clear
25° wxIcon
Hi: 33° Lo: 20°
Feels Like: 25°
Fowler
Clear
25° wxIcon
Hi: 32° Lo: 20°
Feels Like: 25°
Williamsport
Clear
29° wxIcon
Hi: 34° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 22°
Crawfordsville
Clear
23° wxIcon
Hi: 33° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 23°
Frankfort
Overcast
32° wxIcon
Hi: 32° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 23°
Delphi
Overcast
30° wxIcon
Hi: 33° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 21°
Monticello
Overcast
30° wxIcon
Hi: 34° Lo: 22°
Feels Like: 21°
Logansport
Overcast
30° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 21°
Feels Like: 24°
Cold night, then drier, milder regime.
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 338977

Reported Deaths: 5723
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion46131870
Lake29183469
Allen19572307
Elkhart18074236
St. Joseph17808239
Hamilton14364172
Vanderburgh10546128
Tippecanoe948130
Porter890690
Johnson7132171
Hendricks6820162
Vigo643592
Monroe572452
Madison5506124
Clark547678
Delaware5252104
LaPorte501997
Kosciusko484042
Howard382978
Bartholomew355165
Warrick350073
Wayne345886
Floyd338078
Marshall320446
Cass311531
Grant302550
Hancock294357
Noble274147
Boone267655
Henry266139
Dubois253732
Jackson242034
Dearborn241131
Morgan236543
Gibson207329
Shelby204159
Knox198021
DeKalb193435
Clinton192922
Lawrence191349
Wabash183922
Miami181417
Adams180023
Daviess167545
Fayette159834
Jasper159113
Montgomery158329
Steuben158116
Harrison155824
Ripley155721
LaGrange152232
Whitley149715
Huntington141810
White140323
Decatur140044
Putnam138129
Wells137030
Clay135125
Randolph134022
Jefferson133416
Posey130318
Scott119421
Greene112253
Sullivan106717
Jay106414
Jennings98714
Starke98025
Spencer9268
Fulton90119
Fountain8778
Perry87321
Washington8487
Franklin77027
Carroll75313
Orange73128
Vermillion6927
Owen6699
Parke6466
Tipton64027
Rush6078
Blackford59613
Newton59412
Pike54920
Pulaski45016
Benton3943
Martin3866
Brown3815
Crawford3251
Union3012
Switzerland2735
Warren2663
Ohio2457
Unassigned0267

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events