following is something I wrote for a newspaper in England called INSIDE
TIME (www.insidetime.org) and it talks about some of the things I have
written about in the past. However, there have been many changes here
on Death Row since I first arrived, so a lot of what I originally
talked about is no longer relevant. I hope it will still be interesting
enough for you to read. Take care, Dean.
Quentin Prison is one of the most infamous prisons in America. It is a
medieval looking place that was built in the 1860s. It is located on
the North Shore of the San Francisco Bay and sits in stark contrast
next to its neighbor, Marin County, which is one of the wealthiest and
most exclusive areas in the USA.
used to be over 6000 prisoners housed here at San Quentin, but now the
prison population is down to just about 4750 prisoners. This is the
result of a federal court mandate that ordered the lowering of the
population in California prisons. About one in seven of the prisoners
here at San Quentin is now on death row. That would be around 720
condemned prisoners, of which I am one.
Quentin has the only execution chamber in the State of California, so
all state executions are carried out here. Even though all executions
are carried out here, not all condemned prisoners are housed here.
There are a number (I think about 10) of women prisoners with a death
sentence. They are located at the women's prison at Chowchilla,
California. They would be brought here to San Quentin when, and if,
they are to be executed. There have been no women executed in
California since Barbara Graham was executed, here at San Quentin, over
50 years ago.
have been locked up for almost 3 decades and I arrived at San Quentin
over 20 years ago. I have spent all of my life at SQ, here on death
row, so I'm not able to describe what it is like on the Mainline part
of the prison. The Mainline is totally separate from us on death row.
We have no contact with the general population and they don't have any
contact with The Row. Death Row is considered to be a Security Housing
Unit, or SHU, program. It is basically just another way to say "The
The Row there are two groups of prisoners. Grade A and grade B. There
are over 500 were classified as grade A. Most grade A are housed in
East Block, but 68 are housed in North Segregation, which is the
original Death Row, before the number of condemned prisoners outgrew
the space in North Seg. The grade A prisoners are allowed the most
grade B prisoners are housed in a cellblock called Carson section or
else in the cellblock called the Adjustment Center, or A/C for short.
These prisoners are considered to be in “The Hole”. Even though all of
the Death Pro program would be considered “The Hole” by Mainline
prisoners, Death Row has its own "Hole” which is even more restrictive
than the rest of Death Row.
section holds the short-term grade B prisoners. Usually they are in The
Hole for six months to a couple of years. The prisoners in the A/C are
ones who will be grade B long-term. Many will never leave the A/C and
some have been there for well over 20 years. These are prisoners who
are active gang members or prisoners who have a history of violence
against others on Death Row. Some have killed other prisoners while
they have been here or they are just considered a security risk.
have seen many changes here, here on The Row, since I first drove up.
Most of the changes have been to take away the limited privileges we
have had at the time. We are considered to be grade A prisoners and are
supposed to have many of the privileges of prisoners on the Mainline,
but compared to the prisoners on the Mainline, we have a very austere
existence. Since Death Row is a SHU program, security is the first
priority. We are allowed certain privileges, but it is still a very
prisoners on The Row have to be handcuffed and escorted by a guard
whenever they are out of their cell or living area. The only exceptions
are the 20 (or so) workers in East block. They are able to work in the
cellblock, but must wear restraints and have a guard escort when they
leave the cellblock.
other exception is the prisoners in North Seg. They are allowed out of
their cells for about five hours a day with no handcuffs. They are in a
common area that is separate from the guards. North Seg is a part of
Death Row where prisoners who do not have disciplinary problems are
have sketched a very basic outline of what it is like here on Death
Row. I could write about the day to day life, but when you cut through
all of the BS, it is just steel and concrete like any prison. What
makes any prison what it is, is the people who are inside of it. Both
the prisoners and the guards, who are around you, is what makes a
prison what it is. If you have prisoners and guards who are jerks, then
it will be a lot worse than it has to be. If the prisoners and guards
are decent, then it makes it more tolerable. Regardless of whether you
are on Death Row, or if you are in a minimum security facility, it is
up to you on how hard or easy it is when you do your time. You can use
your time in a negative way or in a positive way. As the old prison
saying goes, "Do your time, don't let your time do you." Being a loser
is easy; it takes hard work and character to be a winner. No, I am not
paraphrasing Charlie Sheen.
All the best to you,
San Quentin, California 94974