California Inmates Volunteer To Make Masks For Healthcare Workers

'We're able to do something to give back, to help people, to save lives,' said an inmate.

outdoor signage of the santa barbara county jail
David McNew / Getty Images

'We're able to do something to give back, to help people, to save lives,' said an inmate.

Inmates in a California jail have volunteered to make masks for healthcare workers, saying that doing something positive has given them power over their feelings of helplessness while incarcerated.

As CNN reports, county officials in Santa Barbara County announced that supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) were thin, putting its first responders and front-line health care workers at risk. Meanwhile, inside the jail, a group of inmates was also worried about the pandemic. What’s more, they felt helpless and unable to do anything about it due to their circumstances.

Deirdre Smith, inmate services manager at the jail, said that a group of inmates approached her about doing something to help out in some way or another.

Smith wasn’t able to come up with something for the inmates to do. However, fate intervened via a phone call from county health officials, asking if there was something the inmates in her facility could do.

Sure enough, the men were making face masks and other personal protective equipment. As of this writing, they’ve made 3,200 face shields, and they’ve secured thousands of yards of fabric to be made into masks. The jail doesn’t have actual sewing equipment, so the inmates instead prepare the uncut fabric for sewing by volunteers on the outside. The volunteers who sew the masks have returned 900 of them back to the jail for the inmates to wear.

SANTA BARBARA, CA - NOVEMBER 20: Santa Barbara Jail where Michael Jackson surrendered on multiple counts of molesting a child on November 20, 2003 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
  Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

“They are not only helping themselves, but they’re helping their fellow inmates, as well as thousands of people in the community,” said Smith, who has done time herself and knows firsthand about the boredom, isolation, and feelings of helplessness inside a prison.

As for the inmates, they’re glad to be able to help.

Inmate Roy Duran compared the feelings of uncertainty in the time of the coronavirus pandemic to the same uncertainty he’s felt at different periods in his life of crime.

“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,” he said.

Duran also said that being able to make the masks has given him and other inmates a sense of power over their circumstances, as well as giving them an opportunity to give back to the community.

As previously reported by The Inquisitr, inmates in correctional facilities are particularly at risk of contracting the coronavirus and developing complications. Social distancing is impossible, and many incarcerated individuals are already in poor health due to lives of violence and/or substance abuse.