March 30, 2013

My time in San Quentin Prison

Filed under: Uncategorized — DrAnthonysBlog @ 11:40 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I just completed spring quarter at the University of California in Santa Barbara and was looking forward to spending the summer at home with my parents.  My father had recently accepted a position as Associate Warden of San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, California.  One of the perks, which could be debated, was that staff had the option to live on grounds at the prison.  The facility consists of an outer gate with full security that houses the prison inside as well as a community includes streets and living quarters for hundreds of employees and their families.  At that time, it also had a community gym as well and a small post office and gift shop located just outside the main gate.  The cost, I was told, was much more reasonable than rent or a mortgage payment was in Marin County, which is one of the more affluent areas in California.  The real estate that the prison and the expansive grounds it occupies, due to its location and proximity to the bay, are worth millions of dollars should the state of California ever decide to sell it!

It was very early in the morning when I left my small off-campus apartment in Isla Vista and my mind was filled with a predictable mix of thoughts about school and anticipation of a summer spent at home.  I moved out a couple of years before when my parents had lived in Sacramento and, though I had visited them since the move, I was unsure what to expect spending a few months living at San Quentin.  This was before I entered the Army and so I had no experience living in any type of secured community.

I arrived in the late morning and the gate guard asked me who I was there to visit.  I informed him that I was moving “home” for the summer and would be around for a few months.  After verifying my identification, and calling to confirm I was authorized, he lifted the gate and I drove in and down the road towards my parent’s house.  They lived on a hill in a beautiful home that appeared to be built around the turn of the last century, plus or minus a decade.  The yard was filled with flowers and the living room had huge windows that had a fantastic view of the San Francisco bay as well as the prison itself.  I remember thinking what a contrast the two aspects of the view were.  On exceptionally clear days, which were rare due to the near ever-present bay area fog, you could also see Alcatraz prison, then a state park, which added to the spectacle.

In addition to the living room, the house had a family room, sun room, back yard (also filled with flowers) and three bedrooms.  I remember thinking that aside from the proximity to the prison this was a nice place to live.   Interestingly, the grounds were all maintained by inmates supervised by guards.  I realized this early on when I saw that the landscape workers wore the same blue shirt and denim pants that the inmates had on.  I also noticed that they were very observant, especially if you were with a female.


In the morning scores of inmates would gather in the main yard and would chant in unison while exercising.  I later learned that some of the groups also did this for religious reasons as well as for a show of unity.  To a curious outsider, hearing this mixed with the chilling and dense morning fog was both fascinating and somewhat unnerving at the same time!  In thinking about it now, it was not unlike some of the more solemn cadences that resonated during early morning physical training sessions that army units do when in garrison.

I visited the inside of the actual prison several times that summer and was fascinated not so much by the denizens, as I had been raised around that (i.e., my father spent the majority of his career in corrections), but by the stark surroundings and the aging architecture of the walls and buildings.  I later learned that it was constructed in 1852 with little renovation or change since.  In many ways it was similar to ancient forts of the type you would see in far-flung outposts still standing from Spain’s hegemony in places like Manila Bay.  During my visits, I also was the recipient of catcalls and much staring as I was 18 then, and even though I am a native Californian, it left an impression on me.  One positive outcome from this was that it helped me to more fully understand just how some employees feel when they are victims of harassment, which was useful when I started working in human resources a few years later.  I also viewed death row and saw the gas chamber, which was still operational at that time, though that summer it was not put to use.

Visiting day was on Sunday and I remember that because it was one of three times that the main gate was often crowded with people and cars.  The other two were during protests, which were also fairly common and usually concerned the death penalty, and during daily shift changes.  Visitors would line up and they included a fairly representative sampling of individuals from all walks of life, ethnicities, and income levels and included; girlfriends, family members of assorted ages, attorneys, and friends.  The expressions were as varied as the people though many sported looks of sadness tinged with frustration, no doubt in part due to the wait in line, and some tried to look cheerful, though it was clear they did not want to be there.  It was not too different from the group that I would see visiting juveniles when I worked as a counselor in a probation department later on.  During these experiences, I always wondered what these many were really thinking as they journeyed through the rote security process and queuing just to share a few moments with family, or associates, who were incarcerated.

The prison was located just a few miles down highway 101 from the Golden Gate Bridge, which was next to San Francisco.  During that summer I often rode my bicycle around the area and occasionally over the bridge never-failing to marvel at the scenery and the pace of life in and around the city.  It is impossible to live in Marin County and not visit the City for shopping, entertainment, or just for escape.  When you live on grounds at the prison this is especially true because there is a ferry terminal outside of the back gate that goes directly to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.  The ride across the bay takes under an hour and is better than fighting traffic and searching for an overpriced place to park your car on the weekends.

The summer eventually passed and it was time for me to leave the prison by the bay and get back to college life.  As I left I told the somewhat bored looking gate guard that I was going back to college and he responded with an indifferent “I don’t care gaze” but, being the well-trained peace officer and public servant that he obviously was, he wished me well nonetheless.  Living on grounds at a prison and not being a convict or peace officer is an unusual experience and one that stays with you for life, especially when that prison is San Quentin.


  1. Wow you have really lived an interesting yet busy life. From desert to the ocean must have been hard yet interesting. Love to all including Pets. Honoured you even looked into my Blog. I only started writing about JDM in a positive light when I saw so much rubbish written about his past and was surprised there’s still an interest so why I and other saw him in dreams is still a mystery but my tagline is spot-on ‘The Truth Is In Here’..My virtual journey has been a great encouragement to show others how when moved by the inner voice/Spirit/gut how we link to people who are like-minded and how truth connects with truth no matter what subject. Life is a surprise. Healthy Easter

    Comment by jimmorrisondreamdiaries — March 30, 2013 @ 1:26 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks for a glimpse inside the prison walls. Marin County is beautiful!

    Comment by coastalcrone — March 30, 2013 @ 2:59 pm | Reply

  3. I always forget how many of our prisons have housing for employees. What an experience.

    Comment by Valentine Logar — March 31, 2013 @ 6:48 am | Reply

  4. What an interesting experience. Thanks for showing us an insight into the daily routine of a prison.

    Also, thanks for looking at my blog!

    Comment by Amy's Fantastical Writing — March 31, 2013 @ 9:52 am | Reply

  5. Thank you for following my blog.

    Comment by Allan G. Smorra — March 31, 2013 @ 1:58 pm | Reply

  6. Thank you for that fascinating insight from an unusual point of view.And thank you for following my blog!Nerina

    Comment by hungariantrioerina von Mayer — April 1, 2013 @ 3:54 am | Reply

  7. Welcome to the prison industrial complex.

    Comment by Rio — April 1, 2013 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  8. A kind of memory that stays a long, long time.

    Comment by edgarone2 — April 1, 2013 @ 11:57 pm | Reply

  9. This was a great read, thanks for sharing.

    Comment by musicvein — April 2, 2013 @ 11:14 am | Reply

  10. My husband and I did the San Quentin tour a couple of years ago and they showed the private housing of the Warden and his family….Can’t believe you were said family!

    Comment by asklotta — April 2, 2013 @ 2:20 pm | Reply

  11. nice on your resume 😀

    Comment by cyberbonn — April 5, 2013 @ 11:28 am | Reply

  12. Wow. What an experience. Great article.

    Comment by consideragain — April 9, 2013 @ 6:33 pm | Reply

  13. That is an interesting and well-written piece of your experience. My cousins live in Folsom about 3 miles away from the prison there. They don’t live onsite, but it does add a distinctive presence to life there. Most often just the visual of it.

    Comment by curlyadventurer — May 3, 2013 @ 4:31 am | Reply

  14. I spent way too much time in the San Quentin visiting room. What a nightmare. Trying to appear happy when you’re heart is breaking. The sadness when it’s time to leave. Knowing that if you can tolerate (maybe love) your partner and his recidivism, you’ll be back next time he violates parole. The only good thing about his incarceration is that you know where he is. Probably not controlling his “roommates”, but still controlling to some extent with his accusatory collect phone calls that you cheerfully/reluctantly accept. Wishing you hadn’t but don’t dare refuse the call or not answer the phone. And don’t cry.
    When he was released, the guard said to him, “I hope I don’t see you back here.” I replied, “you’ll NEVER see me back here.” I vowed never to repeat the months of agonizing 3- day weekends I spent eating vending machine cuisine using the quarters I scrounged during the week so he could eat hotdogs with mayonnaise and ice cream bars. Two kisses..one coming and one going. Visible hand holding only. I never went back. He did. I didn’t cry. Ok….maybe once.

    Comment by ravenlu — June 5, 2016 @ 1:31 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Michelle Muldoon's Blog and Website

I love to write. I love to film. I love to write about film.

Confessions of a Job Seeker

Musings on my job search journey

Whimsical Corner

Poetry of Love and Life written By Kathy Cammisuli


names used in stories are not real.. you decide if the stories are.

Average Us

Real Hope ✣ From God ✣ Through Christ ✣ For Us

Rudraksha Yoga

The Highest Knowledge - that reality knowing which everything else becomes known!

A Wilderness of Words

a good place to get lost

Kate Ferguson

Anchor, Event Host and Voiceover Artist

Jackprimus's Stalwart Chronicles

Just another WordPress.com weblog


They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

Survival At Its Worst

The Misadventures Of Ryan DiG

Dodge City McKinney Texas

Where Our People Make The Difference!!

Old school - NEW world

Bridging the gap . . .

Barroom Gamer

Rants and Reviews while drinking brews!

Flying Here in the Middle of Somewhere...

...or random thoughts of an almost-closed mind.

The Unseen World

bigfoot, ghost, UFOs and more!


Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever

Miss White Hat

too many thoughts in one small head

Raisin' the Signal Flag

Rogues, Rebels & Rakes

Todd Alan Benevides - Artist

Illustrations. Comic Pages. Anything and Everything.

shooting stuff

by Becca Gulliver

The Ready Center Blog

Informing and Equipping for What May Come...

Preservation and Place

Presenting preservation-related issues in an approachable way

The Home Security Superstore Blog

Affordable Security Solutions

Notes From The Underground

Emerging Brands In Music x Art x Film x Fashion

Lost in the 21st Century

The 21st Century from a 20th Century Perspective


despre nimicuri simple, complicate, absolute

Aussie Bookworm

Book and gaming reviews from Australia

Meadefischer's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Santa Barbara Beer

All things SB and beer related

A Fruit Salad of Harm

written by Josh Stevenson

The Primitive Entertainment Workshop

Fictional Occurrences --------------------------- by Richard F. Yates and Other Weirdies

Sarah Ramos

B2B Marketer | +1 (408) 992-1098 smramos24@gmail.com

iCue Network

Online Education Site for Academic Coaching Services

%d bloggers like this: