SAN JOSE, Calif. - San Quentin State Prison Sergeant Gilbert Polanco died Sunday after losing his battle to coronavirus. He is the first employee to die from the virus at San Quentin in the largest outbreak in California’s prisons.
Polanco was in a medically-induced coma for weeks. He died from complications of the virus on Sunday morning. His son believes he contracted COVID-19 while working at the prison.
“No one ever preps you up to lose your best friend,” said Gilbert’s son Vincent Polanco. “My dad was my best friend.”
The younger Polanco spoke to KTVU from his barrack in South Korea, where he is a U.S. Army first class private.
His father was first admitted to the hospital in July after contracting the coronavirus. Then he was on life support. The elder Polanco died at Kaiser Santa Teresa at 5 a.m. Sunday.
“COVID-19 is a real thing,” said Vincent Polanco. “It takes people’s lives away. My dad is one of those people. He did not need to go at the age he was at.”
At 55 years old, Gilbert Polanco was a San Jose native who had wanted to become a prison guard after passing San Quentin on a ferry ride in middle school.
“He saw one of the guards there as a kid and he waved at my dad,” said Vincent Polanco. “There were all these kids but my dad knew he waved at him.”
After serving in the Army and National Guard, Gilbert Polanco worked at San Quentin for 30 years. It’s at the prison Vincent Polanco believes his father contracted COVID.
A crisis was created after the Corrections Department brought in un-tested inmates from a prison in Chino where there had been an outbreak. Vincent Polanco believes his father may have caught the virus while moving inmates.
“I don't think it was done correctly,” said Vincent Polanco. “Personally, as a son, I don’t think it was done correctly because they were kind of rushing it, pushing people. I don't think the inmates should have moved.”
San Quentin Acting Warden Ron Broomfield said, “Sgt. Gilbert Polanco demonstrated unwavering commitment and bravery as a peace officer working the frontline every day during this devastating pandemic.”
Broomfield went on to say, “His memory is carried on in the hearts of the men and women who continue to battle the virus at San Quentin.”
His memory also lives on in his children.
“It’s a gift I didn't realize,” said Vincent Polanco. “It has been a gift for me to have a father like I do.”
Secretary for the Corrections Department Ralph Diaz also issued a statement expressing the department’s sorrow.
Diaz said, “Gilbert Polanco's dedication to public service will not be forgotten.”
A GoFundMe for the family has raised more than $67,000 as of Sunday night.