San quentin inmates

San quentin inmates DEFAULT

“Greetings from the southern end of shit city,” Jon had written, to a friend of mine, from San Quentin. “The tide is out and when the winds blow, one can almost smell the sweet scent of reality.” Although I’m almost certain that no prisoner was allowed to fish when Jon arrived there—in the mid-nineties—Jon’s attention to his surroundings, even if he was just complaining about the natural stench of the tidal flats, forms a continuum with the man holding up his striper. Jon was a fighter and rabble-rouser in prison, and he prided himself on “finishing his business.” He ended up in a unit of San Quentin called the “A/C,” or Adjustment Center—the prison’s solitary—which shares a tier with death row. “I only went along with it because I thought A/C stood for air-conditioning,” he joked, in a letter to a mutual friend. “It’s more like the janitorial suite but I like it. Concrete cell, solo, and a mattress. Most of my neighbors are condemned so the respect level here is pretty good. Except of course for the couple nutters that seem to be standard issue for all tiers. Oh this should give you a laugh: they don’t allow combs back here in A/C so I have to comb my hair with a plastic fork. But I like having the room to myself because I can do burpees. There is a clear sliding partition between my bars and the guards, and if they open it fast it almost sounds like a Bart train heading out.”

Jon was a professional heckler. He made light of every aspect of how the prison guards and administration tried to control him. He believed that the joke was on them, because his resistance to their authority was total, and endlessly renewing. He even located the sound of home—that train a comin’—in the sliding of a scratched sheet of Plexiglas, a barrier that had been installed to protect guards from hurled containers of piss, in a place where forms of revolt get expressed within the possible.

When you look at these images of San Quentin, spanning decades of institutional life, remember that these bodies and their traces, these people—whether humiliated and stripped to their state-issue boxer shorts, or dressed to the nines for a celebratory visit with family, or little more than an outline on a floor—were, are, and will be a surplus of human life that an institution cannot reduce to objecthood, no matter how willfully it tries.

This piece is drawn from an essay and photographs in “Nigel Poor: The San Quentin Project,” which is out in May fromAperture Foundation.


San Quentin prison is fined $421,880 over deadly COVID-19 conditions; 28 inmates and an officer died

San Quentin State Prison is facing the largest single penalty in the state over workplace safety violations for failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, resulting in the deaths of 28 inmates and one correctional officer and a total of 2,200 confirmed cases.

California’s oldest penitentiary was slapped with a $421,880 fine based on a June inspection that found numerous violations, including failing to report deaths and injuries in a timely manner and failing to isolate new arriving inmates infected with the virus, according to a report by the California Division of Occupations Safety and Health. The fine is nearly double the highest ever issued to any facility.

The Cal-OSHA report, issued Thursday, comes on the heels of a scathing State Inspector General’s report that found health officials with the corrections department ignored warnings of front-line health workers and pressured them to hastily transfer 189 potentially coronavirus-infected inmates from the California Institution for Men in Chino last May, triggering a deadly outbreak at San Quentin.

By the end of August, 2,237 inmates and 277 staff members had been infected at San Quentin, according to the inspector general’s report. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and California Correctional Health Care Services were blamed for creating a “public health disaster” at the prison.

One state lawmaker called it the most deadly medical mistake in the history of the California prison system. In all, 199 inmates have died statewide among more than 48,000 who tested positive for coronavirus. Six state lawmakers have called for the replacement of J. Clark Kelso, a federal receiver who oversees the prisons’ healthcare agency.

“Cal-OSHA determined the San Quentin staff were not provided adequate training or equipment for working with COVID-19 infected individuals and employees who had been exposed to [virus] positive inmates were not provided proper medical services, including testing, contact tracing and referral to physicians or other licensed health care professionals,” the agency said in a statement. Avenal State Prison also received a fine of $39,900 for its failure to maintain an effective “aerosol transmissible disease control exposure program” and other violations

The safety agency’s 33-page report found that the prison’s open tiers proved the ideal environment for the virus to spread. The report included 10 citations.

Among the report’s findingswere that the prison failed to report hospitalizations or deaths in a timely manner; lacked a biosafety plan, an exposure plan and adequate protective equipment for workers; that those handling the most infected did not get sufficient respiratory protection, and that some areas of the facility lacked running water and cleaning materials.

In response, the CDCR said the prison had already made many improvements and had “remedied several of the citations in the eight months since Cal/OSHA visited the institution.”

Since the inspection, department officials noted its representatives have worked with the safety agency to address each concern. CDCR officials noted that they have detailed plans to control the spread of the virus, that staff has been extensively trained and that every inmate and employee is now provided with an N-95 mask.

Earlier this week, the son of a correctional sergeant who died of COVID-19 conditions after working at San Quentin told The Times that “higher-ups” in the system failed his father.

“Now all of a sudden they are doing everything they should have been doing since the beginning, now that they are scared,” Army Spc. Vincent Polanco, whose father, Gilbert Polanco, died of COVID-19 in August. “It really hurts me to see that leadership really messed up and didn’t take the initiative to save my dad’s life.”

His remarks came after the state inspector found the transfer of inmates from Chino was “deeply flawed and risked the health and lives of thousands of incarcerated persons and staff,” the report noted.

By relying on outdated test results, the Chino “prison had no way to know whether any of the incarcerated persons were currently infected with the virus,” the report said.

The transfers from Chino came after corrections officials and lawyers representing inmates agreed the men had to be moved from the prison’s barracks-style housing, where the virus was spreading quickly.

At the time of the moves, the Chino prison reported more than 600 cases of COVID-19 and nine deaths. The 189 were among 700 inmates selected for transfer who had medical conditions that made them especially vulnerable to the virus.

The night before the first transfers, a supervising nurse emailed to alert a medical executive that some of the inmates had not been tested for nearly a month — far too early to be an effective gauge of infection.

“Is there a re-swabbing criteria to be met before transfer,” the nurse asked, suggesting that retesting was called for.

“No re-swabbing,” the executive replied 11 minutes later.

Two of the inmates had COVID-19 symptoms on arrival, including one with a fever of 101.1 degrees. But even though the San Quentin health staff suspected that the Chino inmates had been exposed to the coronavirus, the prison housed 119 of them in a unit that lacked solid doors, which allowed air to flow freely through the cells.

By the time COVID-19 test results came back, 14 infected inmates had been housed in the unit for at least six days, the report noted.

“The virus spread quickly, both to the other incarcerated persons who transferred from the California Institution for Men, as well as to the 202 incarcerated persons already housed in the same unit,” the report said.

By Aug. 6, more than half of the inmates in the unit had tested positive. Of the 122 newly arrived Chino prisoners, 91 eventually tested positive, and two died from complications related to COVID-19. In September, lawyers for the family of 61-year-old Daniel Ruiz filed a government claim, a precursor to a lawsuit against the corrections agency. Ruiz died July 11 after contracting the virus while serving time in San Quentin for a minor drug crime.

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Death row housing change

These are the California death row inmates from Riverside and San Bernardino counties who are participating in the Condemned Inmate Transfer Pilot Program. The men were transferred from San Quentin State Prison to the current facility listed. The women were transferred from death row housing at Central California Women’s Facility to that facility’s general population housing.

Related:Transfer of Inland inmates off death row angers some; others defend program

Joseph R. Avila

RJ Donovan Correctional Facility, San Diego. Stabbed to death Robert Navarro Jr. and Raul Moncada during an argument over a woman in 1991 in Riverside.

Raymond A. Barrera

Kern Valley State Prison. Killed gang rivals Ruben “Toker” Zavala, Juan “Spooks” Perez and Jose “Flaco” Venegas in 2013 in San Jacinto.

Michael R. Burgener

Salinas Valley State Prison. Burgener killed William Arias, a convenience store clerk, in a robbery that netted $50 on Halloween 1980 in Riverside.

Cynthia Coffman

Central California Women’s Facility, Chowchilla. Along with James Marlow, kidnapped and murdered Corinna Novis in Redlands in 1986. They were also convicted of a second murder.

Carlos Contreras

RJ Donovan. Along with Daniel Cervantes, shot Daniel Kuzawa to death in Thermal 2008. He was found with his wrists and neck bound by an electrical cable.

Earl Ellis Green

Salinas Valley. Shot Riverside police Officer Ryan Bonaminio to death in Fairmount Park in Riverside in 2010.

Christopher G. Jasso

California Correctional Institution, Tehachapi. Shot cab driver Carlos Rafael Cuellar Cardona during a robbery in 2003 in Indio.

Jose L. Leon

California Correctional Institution. Stabbed to death his ex-girlfriend’s 13-year-old brother, Austin Perez, and her grandmother, Hope Ragland, in Corona in 2003.

Belinda Magana

CCWF. Along with boyfriend Naresh Narine, tortured her 2-year-old son until he died in Corona in 2009.

Luis A. Mendoza

California Correctional Institution. Arranged the killings of four gang members, brothers Gilbert and Johnny Agudo and cousins Marcelino and Anthony Luna, in San Bernardino in 2000 in the so-called Dead Presidents case.

Joseph M. Montes

RJ Donovan. Killed Mark Walker, a teenager who was kidnapped so that the defendants could take his car and get to a birthday party, in Corona in 1994.

Brooke Rottiers

CCWF. Along with two men, killed two day laborers during a 2006 robbery in Corona.

Gilbert Bernard Sanchez

California Correctional Institution. Assaulted, robbed and strangled bakery worker Sylvia Galindo in Fontana in 2001.

Janeen Snyder

CCWF. Along with boyfriend Michael F. Thornton, killed high school sophomore Michelle Curran in Rubidoux in 2001, leaving her body in a horse trailer.

James A. Thompson

California State Prison Corcoran. Killed developmentally disabled man Ronald Gitmed in Canyon Lake in 1991.

Jack E. Wiliams

Centinela State Prison. Moreno Valley resident instructed gang members to shoot anyone who resisted their carjacking attempts, leading to the death of motorist Yvonne Los, an Air Force nurse and mother of two, in 1993.

Related Articles


San Quentin State Prison

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation state prison for men

"San Quentin" redirects here. For the person, see Saint Quentin. For other uses, see San Quentin (disambiguation).

San Quentin State Prison (SQ) is a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitationstate prison for men, located north of San Francisco in the unincorporated place of San Quentin in Marin County.

Opened in July 1852, San Quentin (called "The Arena" by prisoners) is the oldest prison in California. The state's only death row for male inmates, the largest in the United States, is located at the prison.[2][3] It has a gas chamber, but since 1996, executions at the prison have been carried out by lethal injection, though the prison has not performed an execution since 2006.[4] The prison has been featured on film, radio drama, video, podcast, and television; is the subject of many books; has hosted concerts; and has housed many notorious inmates.


San Quentin State Prison

  • San Quentin's East Gate, the primary entrance for visitors and volunteers

    San Quentin's East Gate, the primary entrance for visitors and volunteers

  • The San Quentin Handicraft Shop, where art created by prisoners is sold. Money from sales goes to the Inmate Welfare Fund and restitution

    The San Quentin Handicraft Shop, where art created by prisoners is sold. Money from sales goes to the Inmate Welfare Fund and restitution

The correctional complex sits on Point San Quentin, which consists of 432 acres (1.75 km2) on the north side of San Francisco Bay.[5][6][7][8] The prison complex itself occupies 275 acres (1.11 km2), valued in a 2001 study at between $129 million and $664 million.[9]

As of April 30, 2020, San Quentin was incarcerating people at 122.5% of its design capacity, with 3,776 occupants.[1]

Death row[edit]

Men condemned to death in California (with some exceptions) must be held at San Quentin, while condemned women are held at Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla.[10] As of December 2015, San Quentin held almost 700 male inmates in its Condemned Unit, or "death row."[11] As of 2001, San Quentin's death row was described as "the largest in the Western Hemisphere";[12] as of 2005, it was called "the most populous execution antechamber in the United States."[3] The states of Florida and Texas had fewer death row inmates in 2008 (397 and 451 respectively) than San Quentin.[13]

The death row at San Quentin is divided into three sections: the quiet "North-Segregation" or "North-Seg," built in 1934, for prisoners who "don't cause trouble"; the "East Block," a "crumbling, leaky maze of a place built in 1927"; and the "Adjustment Center" for the "worst of the worst."[3] Most of the prison's death row inmates reside in the East Block. The fourth floor of the North Block was the prison's first death row facility, but additional death row space opened after executions resumed in the U.S. in 1978. The adjustment center received solid doors, preventing "gunning-down" or attacking persons with bodily waste. As of 2016[update] it housed 81 death row inmates and four non-death row inmates.[14] A dedicated psychiatric facility serves the prisoners. A converted shower bay in the East Block hosts religious services. Many prison programs available for most inmates are unavailable for death row inmates.[11]

Although $395 million was allocated in the 2008–2009 state budget for new death row facilities at San Quentin, in December 2008 two legislators introduced bills to eliminate the funding.[15] The state had planned to build a new death row facility, but GovernorJerry Brown canceled those plans in 2011.[16] In 2015 Brown asked the Legislature for funds for a new death row as the current death row facilities were becoming filled. At the time the non-death row prison population was decreasing, opening room for death row inmates. As of 2015[update] the San Quentin death row has a capacity of 715 prisoners.[17]


Lethal injection room in San Quentin

All executions in California (male and female) take place at San Quentin.[10] The execution chamber is located in a one-story addition close to the East Block.[14] Women executed in California are transported to San Quentin by bus before being put to death.[18]

The methods for execution at San Quentin have changed over time. Prior to 1893, the counties executed convicts. Between 1893 and 1937, 215 people were executed at San Quentin by hanging, after which 196 prisoners died in the gas chamber.[3] In 1995, the use of gas for execution was ruled "cruel and unusual punishment", which led to executions inside the gas chamber by lethal injection.[3] Between 1996 and 2006, 11 people were executed at San Quentin by lethal injection.[19]

In April 2007, staff of the California Legislative Analyst's Office discovered that a new execution chamber was being built at San Quentin; legislators subsequently "accuse[d] the governor of hiding the project from the Legislature and the public."[20] The old lethal injection facility had included an injection room of 43 square feet (4.0 m2) and a single viewing area; the facility that was being built included an injection chamber of 230 square feet (21 m2) and three viewing areas for family, victim, and press.[21] Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stopped construction of the facility the next week.[22] The legislature later approved $180,000 to finish the project, and the facility was completed.[23][24]

In addition to state executions, three federal executions have been carried out at San Quentin.[25]Samuel Richard Shockley and Miran Edgar Thompson had been incarcerated at Alcatraz Island federal penitentiary and were executed on December 3, 1948, for the murder of two prison guards during the Battle of Alcatraz.[26] Carlos Romero Ochoa had murdered a federal immigration officer after he was caught smuggling illegal immigrants across the border near El Centro, California. He was executed at San Quentin's gas chamber on December 10, 1948.[26]

On March 13, 2019, after Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a moratorium on the state's death penalty, the state withdrew its current lethal injection protocol, and San Quentin dismantled and indefinitely closed its gas and lethal injection execution chambers.[27]


  • Prison to Employment Connection, A Better Way Out - Prison to Employment Connection is offered to inmates at San Quentin State Prison who are close to their release dates or have a scheduled Parole Board Hearing. After successfully completing a rigorous 14-week employment readiness program, inmates are invited to an Employer Day. Potential employers (PEC Partners) come to the prison to interview inmates, review their resumes, and offer guidance and support for potential employment upon release.[28]
  • VVGSQ – Vietnam Veterans Group San Quentin – Although the group had been meeting for some time, the name officially began on April 7, 1987. In 1988 they started the annual Christmas Toy giveaway, giving toys to visiting children. In 1989 they began the annual scholarship fund for high school seniors. They spend their time raising money and since 1987 have given over $80,000 to the community.[29]
  • The Last Mile started in 2011 under Chris Redlitz (entrepreneur and venture capital) initiative. The program aims to give resources and mentorship to inmates to help them find their way into tech startup entrepreneurship and reduce the rate of recidivism.[30]
  • The San Quentin Drama Workshop began at the prison in 1958 after a performance of Waiting for Godot the previous year.[31]
  • The San Quentin SQUIRES ("San Quentin Utilization of Inmate Resources, Experiences, and Studies") program, which began in 1964, is reported to be the "oldest juvenile awareness program in the United States."[32][33] It involves inmates at the prison interacting with troubled youths for the purpose of deterring them from crime, and was the subject of a 1978 documentary film Squires of San Quentin.[33][34] In 1983, a randomized controlled study was published that found that the program produced no overall reduction in delinquency.[33] The program was still functional as of 2008.[35]
  • Since the 1920s, San Quentin inmates have been allowed to play baseball.[36] Starting in 1994 inmates have played against players from outside the prison.[37][38] The games occur twice a week through the summer.[39] Originally the Pirates,[38] the team of prisoners is called the "Giants" in honor of the San Francisco Giants, who donated uniforms to the team.[36][39] A second team called the Athletics was later started, named after the Oakland Athletics.[40] The team of outside players is called the "Willing". The umpires and fans are inmates, but the coaches on the field are volunteers.[36][39] Although some people question the appropriateness of baseball games being held at the prison, officials believe "organized sports is a way to keep inmates occupied and perhaps teach a few lessons on getting along with others."[36] These games were detailed in a Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel episode on June 20, 2006,[37] and in several other documentaries.
  • San Quentin has the only on-site college degree-granting program in California's entire prison system, which began in 1996 and which is currently run by the Prison University Project.[41][42]
  • No More Tears Program, co-founded by incarcerated men at San Quentin. This program is committed to stopping the violence in the community and changing the mindset. This program stays alive through donations, volunteers, and CDCR who come into the prison and become involved in the workshops with the incarcerated men: Changing the mindset, Response to Violence, Employability, Fixin' da Hood. All inmates and volunteers are working toward achieving the program's mission: stopping the tears of loved ones and family by being committed to stopping the youth from committing acts of violence.[43]
  • The California Reentry Program at San Quentin, begun in 2003, "helps inmates re-enter society after they serve their sentences."[44]
  • The San Quentin News is the only inmate-produced newspaper in California and one of the few in the world.[45][46][47]


The sprawling San Quentin prison complex.

Though numerous towns and localities in the area are named after Roman Catholic saints, and "San Quintín" is Spanish for "Saint Quentin", the prison was not named after the saint. The land on which it is situated, Point Quentin, is named after a Coast Miwok warrior named Quentín, fighting under Chief Marin, who was taken prisoner at that place.[48][49]

In 1851, California's first prison opened; it was a 268-ton wooden ship named the Waban, anchored in San Francisco Bay and outfitted to hold 30 inmates.[50][51] After a series of speculative land transactions and a legislative scandal,[52] inmates who were housed on the Waban constructed San Quentin which "opened in 1852 with 68 inmates."[53] A dungeon built at San Quentin in 1854 is thought to be California's oldest surviving public work.[54]

One example of a noteworthy leader at San Quentin was Warden Clinton Duffy from 1940 to 1952. Warden Duffy was a man of contradictions. His public persona was quite positive because of his fresh insights informing the reorganization of the prison structure and reformation of prison management. Prior to Duffy, San Quentin had gone through years of violence, inhumane punishments and civil rights abuses against prisoners. The previous warden was forced to resign.[55] Duffy had the offending prison guards fired and added a librarian, psychiatrists, and several surgeons at San Quentin. Duffy's press agent publicized sweeping reforms; however, San Quentin remained a brutal prison where prisoners continued to be beaten to death.[56] The use of torture as an approved method of interrogation at San Quentin was banned in 1944.[53]

In 1941 the first prison meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous took place at San Quentin; in commemoration of this, the 25-millionth copy of the AA Big Book was presented to Jill Brown, of San Quentin, at the International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.[57]

In 1947, Warden Duffy recruited Herman Spector to work as assistant warden at San Quentin. Spector turned down the invitation to be assistant warden and chose instead to become senior librarian if he could institute his theories on reading as a program to encourage pro-social behavior. By 1955, Spector was being interviewed in library journals and suggesting the prison library could contribute significantly to rehabilitation.[58]

The dining hall of the prison is adorned by six 20 ft (6.1 m) sepia toned murals depicting California history. They were painted by Alfredo Santos, one-time convicted heroin dealer and successful artist, during his 1953–1955 incarceration.[59][60]

Lawrence Singleton, who raped a teenaged girl and cut off her forearms, spent a year on parole in a trailer on the grounds of San Quentin between 1987 and 1988 because towns in California would not accept him as a parolee.[61] Between 1992 and 1997, a "boot camp" was held at the prison that was intended to "rehabilitat[e] first-time, nonviolent offenders"; the program was discontinued because it did not reduce recidivism or save money.[62]

A 2005 court-ordered report found that the prison was "old, antiquated, dirty, poorly staffed, poorly maintained with inadequate medical space and equipment and overcrowded."[63] Later that year, the warden was fired for "threaten[ing] disciplinary action against a doctor who spoke with attorneys about problems with health care delivery at the prison."[64] By 2007, a new trauma center had opened at the prison and a new $175 million medical complex was planned.[65]

In 2020, the prison became the center of a COVID-19 outbreak, after a group of prisoners were transferred to San Quentin from the California Institution for Men in Chino, California. Initial reports suggested that San Quentin officials were told that the new inmates had all tested negative; however, few had been tested at all. By June 22, at least 350 inmates and staff had tested positive, in what a federal judge called a "significant failure" of policy.[66]

Notable inmates[edit]

Living inmates[edit]

San Quentin prisoners on recreation
  • Isauro Aguirre (born 1980): tortured and killed girlfriend's 8-year-old son Gabriel Fernandez along with his girlfriend Pearl Fernandez. Aguirre was sentenced to death and Fernandez to life in prison in 2014. The case was the subject of the Netflix series The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.[67]
  • Alejandro Avila (born 1971): the rapist and murderer of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion. Sentenced to death in 2005.[68]
  • Richard Delmer Boyer (born 1958): convicted for stabbing an elderly couple to death while high on alcohol and drugs. Claimed to have been partly influenced by a scene in Halloween II. Sentenced to death in 1984.[69]
  • Luis Bracamontes (born 1970): undocumented immigrant who shot and killed two Sacramento police officers and injured a civilian and a third officer. Sentenced to death in 2018.[70]
  • Vincent Brothers (born 1962): convicted in the shooting and stabbing of five members of his family, including three children. Sentenced to death in 2007.[68]
  • Albert Greenwood Brown (born 1954): convicted rapist and child molester who raped and murdered a teen girl in 1980. Sentenced to death in 1982.[71]
  • Brandon Browner (born 1984): former NFL player found guilty of attempted murder, currently serving 8 year sentence.
  • David Carpenter (born 1930): the "Trailside Killer."[3] Sentenced to death in 1984 and 1988.[68] Carpenter is the oldest inmate currently.
  • Dean Carter (born 1955): serial killer convicted of murdering four women. Sentenced to death in 1985.[72]
  • Steven David Catlin (born 1944): serial killer who poisoned two wives and his mother. Sentenced to death in 1990.[73]
  • Doug Clark (born 1948): serial killer and necrophile who killed six women with a female accomplice. Sentenced to death in 1983.[74]
  • Kevin Cooper (born 1958): convicted for the hatchet and knife massacre of the Ryen family. Sentenced to death in 1985.[68]
  • Tiequon Cox (born 1965): sentenced to death in 1986 for the 1984 murders of four relatives of the former defensive back NFL player Kermit Alexander.[75] He was involved in an escape attempt in 2000.[76]
  • Jonathan Daniel D'Arcy (born 1962): a janitor from Buena Park, was convicted of first-degree murder in the February 2, 1993 burning death of Karen Marie Laborde, a 42-year-old mother of two who identified D'Arcy as her assailant before she died. D'Arcy was sentenced to death in Orange County on April 11, 1997.[77]
  • Joseph Danks (born 1962): "Koreatown Slasher" who murdered six homeless men in Los Angeles in 1987. Sentenced to death in 1993 for strangling his cellmate in California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi.[78]
  • Richard Allen Davis (born 1954): convicted of kidnapping and murdering Polly Klaas.[3] Sentenced to death in 1996.[68]
  • Skylar Deleon (born 1979): former child actor and triple murderer responsible for the deaths of Thomas and Jackie Hawks. Sentenced to death in 2009. One of his accomplices, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was also sentenced to death in 2009.[79]
  • Sonny Enraca (born 1972): gang member who shot and killed Boyz n the Hood actor Dedrick D. Gobert during an altercation. Sentenced to death in 1996.
  • Pedro Espinoza (born 1989): 18th Street gang member who murdered Jamiel Shaw II. Sentenced to death in 2013.[80]
  • John Famalaro (born 1950): sentenced to death on September 6, 1997 for the kidnap, rape, and murder of 23-year-old Denise Anette Huber, from Newport Beach, California, in 1991. Famalaro abducted and murdered Denise on June 3, 1991.[81] He was caught in July 1994 when police found her body in an icebox where he had kept her for three years.[82]
  • Richard Farley (born 1948): convicted of killing seven of his co-workers and nearly killing another, a female co-worker whom he stalked after she rejected him. Sentenced to death in 1992.[68]
  • Wayne Adam Ford (born 1961): convicted of killing four women in 1997 and 1998. Sentenced to death in 2006.[68]
  • Rickie Lee Fowler (born 1984): convicted of setting the Old Fire that caused the deaths of five people. Sentenced to death in 2012.[83]
  • Michael Gargiulo (born 1976): serial killer who killed at least three women. Sentenced to death in 2021.[84]
  • Larry Hazlett (born 1948): convicted of the 1978 rape and murder of 20-year-old Rosamond beauty queen Tana Woolley. Sentenced to death in 2004.
  • Glenn Helzer (born 1970): founder of the Children of Thunder cult, alongside his brother Justin Helzer and his girlfriend Dawn Godman, who murdered five people in 2000. Sentenced to death in 2005. Justin hung himself in 2013.[68][85]
  • Ivan Hill (born 1961): serial killer who killed at least nine women from 1979 to 1994. Sentenced to death in 2007.[86]
  • Eric Houston (born 1972): perpetrator of the Lindhurst school shooting spree that left three students and a teacher dead. Sentenced to death in 1993. The subject of the made-for-television movie Detention: The Siege at Johnson High.
  • Ryan Hoyt (born 1979): associate of Jesse James Hollywood, convicted of the murder of Nicholas Markowitz. Sentenced to death in 2003.[68]
  • Michael Hughes (born 1956): serial killer who killed at least seven women from 1986 to 1993. Sentenced to death in 1998.[87]
  • Emrys John, Tyrone Miller, and Kesaun Sykes: former marines convicted of torturing and murdering Jan Pawel and Quiana Jenkins Pietrzak in 2008. All three were sentenced to death while a fourth accomplice, Kevin Cox, was sentenced to life in prison.[88]
  • Randy Kraft (born 1945): serial killer who was convicted of 16 murders and suspected of 51 others. Sentenced to death in 1989.[68]
  • Gunner Lindberg (born 1975): stabbed a Vietnamese man to death in a racially motivated attack. Sentenced to death in 1996.[89]
  • Franklin Lynch (born 1955): convicted serial killer and robber who is suspected in the murders of 13 elderly women in the East Bay during the summer of 1987. He was only charged for 3 murders and was sentenced to death in 1992.
  • Jarvis Jay Masters (born 1962): convicted and sentenced to death for participating in the murder of Corrections Officer Hal Burchfield. Sentenced to death in 1990.[68]
  • Timothy Joseph McGhee (born 1973): Toonerville Rifa 13 member believed to have shot at least 12 people between 1997 and 2001 and attempted to kill two LAPD officers in an ambush. Sentenced to death in 2009.[90]
  • Charles "Chase" Merritt (born 1957): murdered the McStay family for financial gain. Sentenced to death in 2020.[91]
  • Andrew Mickel (born 1979): shot a police officer to death at a gas station. Sentenced to death in 2006.[92]
  • Michael Morales (born 1959): convicted for the brutal murder of Terri Winchell. Sentenced to death in 1983.[68]
  • Joseph Naso (born 1934): serial killer who raped and murdered at least six women. Sentenced to death in 2013.[93]
  • Charles Ng (born 1960): serial killer who tortured and murdered 11 people with Leonard Lake (died by Suicide by Cyanide after arrest in 1985). Finally, Ng is extradited from Canadá to United States, sentenced to death in February 1999.[68]
  • Raymond Lee Oyler (born 1971): convicted of setting the Esperanza Fire that claimed the lives of five firemen. Sentenced to death in 2009.[94]
  • Gerald Parker (born 1955): serial killer and rapist who killed at least six women and an unborn baby. Sentenced to death in 1999.[95]
  • Scott Peterson (born 1972): convicted of murdering his pregnant wife, Laci and their unborn child, Conner, in a much-publicized trial. Sentenced to death in 2005.[68]
  • Cleophus Prince Jr. (born 1967): serial killer who raped and murdered six women in San Diego in 1990. Sentenced to death in 1993.[96]
  • David Allen Raley (born 1961): security guard who kidnapped and tortured two teenage girls, killing one of them. Sentenced to death in 1988.[97]
  • Ramon Salcido (born 1961): convicted in 1989 of seven murders, including six relatives and his boss. Sentenced to death in 1990.[98]
  • Vincent Sanchez (born 1973): the "Simi Valley Rapist". Serial rapist convicted of 75 counts including a first degree murder charge, felony kidnapping, burglary, rape, and other sex offense charges against numerous victims. Sentenced to death in 2003.[99]
  • Wesley Shermantine (born 1966): one half of the Speed Freak Killers serial killer duo, believed to have killed as many as 70 people. Sentenced to death in 2001. His accomplice, Loren Herzog, committed suicide in 2012.[100]
  • Mitchell Sims (born 1960): convicted May 20, 1987, of the hotel-room murder of Domino's Pizza deliveryman John Harrington in Glendale; also sentenced to death in South Carolina for the murders of two Domino's employees in that state. Sentenced to death in 1987.[68]
  • Morris Solomon, Jr. (born 1944): serial killer convicted of murdering six women in Sacramento. Sentenced to death in 1992.[68]
  • Cary Stayner (born 1961): serial killer convicted of killing four women in Yosemite. Sentenced to death in 2002.[68]
  • William Suff (born 1950): serial killer convicted of murdering 12 women in Riverside County. Sentenced to death in 1995.[68]
  • Regis Deon Thomas (born 1970): convicted of the murders of three people including two Compton Police officers. Sentenced to death in 1995.[68]
  • Chester Turner (born 1966): serial killer convicted of murdering 14 women in Los Angeles between 1987 and 1998.[68]
  • Billy Ray Waldon (born 1952): murderer and rapist who killed three people. Sentenced to death in 1987.
  • Ward Weaver Jr. (born 1947): father of convicted murderer Ward Weaver III, who shot and killed two teenagers. Sentenced to death in 1985.
  • Marcus Wesson (born 1946): convicted of killing nine of his family members. Sentenced to death in 2005.[68]
  • David Westerfield (born 1952): convicted of kidnapping and killing seven-year-old Danielle van Dam. Sentenced to death in 2003.[68]
  • Daniel Wozniak (born 1984): convicted of murdering and dismembering Samuel Herr and then murdering Julie Kibuishi in a plot to steal money to fund his wedding. Sentenced to death in 2016.[68]
  • Anthony Sully (born 1944) Serial killer convicted of murdering 6 women in Burlingame in 1983.


  • Rodney Alcala: serial killer sentenced to death. He was later transferred to Corcoran State Prison.
  • William Dale Archerd: murdered three family members by injecting them with insulin. Sentenced to death but commuted to life in prison. Died from pneumonia in California Medical Facility in 1977.
  • Bobby Beausoleil: a former associate of the Charles Manson "Family" currently serving a life sentence in prison.[101]
  • Charles Bolles: alias Black Bart, an American Old West outlaw.[53]
  • William Bradford: murdered a barmaid and a 15-year-old girl and may have killed as many as 20 women. Died from natural causes in California Medical Facility in 2008.
  • Edward Bunker: FBI most wanted fugitive who reformed and became an author (he wrote a novel set in San Quentin[102]) and actor. Was sentenced at age 17, the youngest inmate at the time.
  • Rodolfo Cadena: influential member of the Mexican Mafia. Murdered by members of the Nuestra Familia in California Institution for Men in 1972.
  • Curtis Carroll (born 1968): Financial adviser whose insights into investing and trading stock have earned the nickname "Wall Street". Carroll is serving a sentence of 54 years to life, for murder. Incarcerated in Pelican Bay State Prison.[103]
  • Eldridge Cleaver: member of the Black Panther Party, was an inmate between 1958 and 1963.[104]
  • Joseph Cosey: conman and criminal forger.
  • Louis Crane: serial killer who killed at least 4 women. Died from AIDS complications in hospital in 1989.[105]
  • John Linley Frazier: mass murderer and religious fanatic. Sentenced to death in 1971 but commuted to life in prison. Committed suicide by hanging in Mule Creek State Prison in 2009.
  • Gerald Gallego: serial killer and rapist who kidnapped young girls to keep as sex slaves before killing them with his wife as an accomplice. Was initially sentenced to death in San Quentin but was transferred to Nevada State Prison in 1984 to be executed for murders committed in that state. Died from cancer in Nevada Prison in 2002.
  • Alex García: boxer and former gang member who stabbed a rival to death.
  • Willie Earl Green: wrongfully convicted of murder and exonerated.
  • Griffith J. Griffith: industrialist who shot his wife through the eye.
  • Steve "Clem" Grogan: a former associate of the Charles Manson "Family". Released in 1985.
  • Merle Haggard: singer who spent time in San Quentin from 1958-1960.
  • Billy Ray Hamilton: hitman who murdered three witnesses for Clarence Ray Allen in 1980. Died of natural causes in hospital in 2007.
  • Charles Ray Hatcher: serial killer who murdered two young boys in the Bay Area. Released in 1977.
  • Michael Wayne Hunter: former death row prisoner and writer who murdered his father and stepmother. Death sentence commuted to life in prison and currently incaerated in Pleasant Valley State Prison.
  • Jang In-hwan: Korean independence activist who assassinated former American diplomat Durham Stevens in 1908.[106]
  • Roger Kibbe: serial killer who admitted to seven murders in Northern California. Killed at Mule Creek State Prison in 2021.
  • Bruce Lisker: wrongly convicted in the 1983 murder of his mother, Dorka, when he was 17. Exonerated and released from prison in 2009, at age 44.[107]
  • Charles Manson: leader of the Manson family. Transferred to multiple prisons during his life. Died from cancer in hospital on November 19, 2017.[108]
  • S. S. Millard: controversial filmmaker.
  • Barry Mills: leader of the Aryan Brotherhood, incarcerated during the 1970s for armed robbery. Died in ADX Florence in 2018.[109]
  • Jim Mitchell, prominent in the strip club and pornography businesses in San Francisco, spent 1994–1997 in San Quentin for murdering his brother Artie.[110]
  • Thomas Mooney: political activist and labor leader who was wrongly accused of the San Francisco Preparedness Day Bombing of 1916. Originally sentenced to death and then life in prison before being pardoned in 1939.
  • Frank Morgan: saxophonist and heroin addict who formed an ensemble with Art Pepper.
  • Joe "Pegleg" Morgan: influential and first white member of the Mexican Mafia. Died from cancer in Corcoran State Prison in 1993.
  • Ed Morrell, accomplice to the Evans-Sontag rail robbery gang; spent five years in solitary confinement;[111] known as the "Dungeon Man" of San Quentin;[112] pardoned in 1908 and became a well-known advocate of prison reform.
  • Wallace Fard Muhammad: founder of the Nation of Islam.
  • Earle Nelson: serial killer and necrophile who raped and murdered at least 21 women and an infant boy in the 1920s. Spent time in San Quentin for breaking and entering as a teenager.
  • Art Pepper: saxophonist and heroin addict who formed an ensemble with Frank Morgan.
  • Gregory Powell: kidnapped two policemen and shot one of them dead in the Onion Field Murder. Sentenced to death but commuted to life in prison. Died from cancer in California Medical Facility in 2012.
  • Alfredo Prieto: serial killer and gang member who raped and shot five people in Southern California in 1990. Was transferred to Virginia and executed there for a double murder in 2015.[113]
  • Richard Ramirez: serial killer known as "The Night Stalker,"[3] convicted of killing 13 people. Sentenced to death in 1989.[114] Died of lymphoma in hospital in 2013.
  • Hans Reiser: developer of the ReiserFS file system and convicted for the murder of his wife, sentenced to 15 years to life in 2008.[115] He is currently at Mule Creek State Prison.[116]
  • Joe Remiro (born 1947): member of the Symbionese Liberation Army who murdered educator Marcus Foster in 1973. Incarcerated in Pelican Bay State Prison.[117]
  • Abe Ruef: San Francisco political boss, for bribery.
  • San Quentin Six: six inmates who participated in a riot during an escape attempt in 1971 that resulted in the deaths of six people. Fleeta Drumgo was shot dead after he was released in 1979 and Hugo Pinell was stabbed to death during a riot in 2015 after spending 45 years in solitary confinement.[118][119]
  • Sanyika Shakur: Member of the Crips and author. Spent 36 months in San Quentin.
  • Glen Sherley: musician who spent time in San Quentin in the 1960s.
  • Thomas Silverstein: leader of the Aryan Brotherhood, incarcerated during the 1970s for armed robbery. Died in ADX Florence in 2019.[120]
  • Lawrence Singleton: raped and cut the forearms off a teenage girl before leaving her for dead. Was controversially released after serving eight years and was forced to live on the grounds of San Quentin in a trailer while on parole. Murdered a woman in Florida and died in North Florida Reception Center in 2001.[121]
  • Sirhan Sirhan: assassin of Robert F. Kennedy, sent to death row at San Quentin in May 1969.[122] After the California Supreme Court struck down the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment, Sirhan was transferred to Correctional Training Facility.[123] He is currently at Donovan State Prison.
  • Danny Trejo: actor—inmate between 1965 and 1968.
  • John Pence Wagner: prison evangelist-inmate between 1966 and 1972. writer of the poem featured on the rear cover of the 1971 album "Guilty!" by Jimmy Witherspoon and Eric Burdon. Died from cancer in 1999.
  • Tex Watson: a former associate of the Charles Manson "Family" currently serving a life sentence in prison.
  • Anthony Wimberly: serial killer arrested for grand theft auto. Currently incarcerated in Mule Creek State Prison.
  • Earlonne Woods: convicted of attempted armed robbery. Most known for his work in co-creating and co-hosting the award-winning podcast, Ear Hustle along with Nigel Poor. His sentence was commuted by Governor Jerry Brown on November 30, 2018.[124]

Deaths in prison[edit]

  • Leung Ying: mass murder who killed 11 people on a farm with a rifle and hatchet. Sentenced to death and committed suicide in his cell two weeks before his execution.[125]
  • George Jackson: co-founder of the Black Guerrilla Family and one of the Soledad Brothers. Shot to death during an escape attempt on August 21, 1971.[126]
  • Mack Ray Edwards: child killer who buried bodies under freeways he worked on. Committed suicide by hanging on October 30, 1971.
  • Richard Chase: "vampire killer," in 1979 sentenced to death in gas chamber for murdering six people. Committed suicide by drug overdose on December 26, 1980.[127]
  • James Mitose: martial artist convicted of murder. Died from diabetes complications on March 26, 1981.[128]
  • Stuart Alexander: convicted in the 2000 shooting deaths of three USDA meat officials he claimed were harassing him. Sentenced to death in 2004. Died from a pulmonary embolism on December, 27, 2005.[129]
  • Brandon Wilson: convicted in the 1998 slashing death of nine-year-old Matthew Cecchi. Sentenced to death in 1999.[68] Committed suicide on November 17, 2011.[130][131]
  • J. C. X. Simon: member of a group of Black Muslims who committed racially motivated murders in San Francisco in the 1970s known as the Zebra murders. Found dead in his cell on March 12, 2015.[132]
  • Andrew Urdiales, serial killer who killed eight women. Committed suicide on November 2, 2018.[133]
  • Anthony McKnight: serial killer, rapist, and kidnapper sentenced to death for the murders of five women in 1985. Found dead in his cell on October 17, 2019.[134]
  • Lawrence Bittaker: serial killer convicted of torturing and murdering five young girls. Found dead in his cell on December 13, 2019[68]
  • Phillip Carl Jablonski: convicted of killing five women. Found dead in his cell on December 27, 2019.[68]
  • Lonnie David Franklin, Jr.: convicted of ten murders and one attempted murder in Los Angeles, California. The attacker was dubbed the "Grim Sleeper" because he appeared to have taken a 14-year break from his crimes from 1988 to 2002. Found dead in his cell on March 28, 2020.[135][136]
  • Scott Erskine: Sentenced to death in 2004 for killing Jonathan Sellers, 9, and Charlie Keever, 13. Died at the age of 57 on July 3, 2020 after contracting COVID-19.[137][68]


The San Quentin gas chamberoriginally employed lethal hydrogen cyanidegas for the purpose of carrying out capital punishment. It was later converted to a lethal injectionexecution chamber but was restored to its original purpose when a new lethal injection chamber was built.
  • Theodore Durrant: convicted of murdering two women in San Francisco. Executed by hanging on January 7, 1898.[138]
  • Mose Gibson: convicted of murdering a man but confessed to seven total murders before his death. Executed by hanging on September 24, 1920.[139]
  • William Edward Hickman: convicted of kidnapping, mutilating, and murdering 12-year-old Marion Parker, died by hanging on October 19, 1928.[140]
  • Gordon Stewart Northcott: convicted of killing three boys in the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, was hanged on October 2, 1930.[141]
  • Juanita Spinelli : first woman executed in San Quentin's gas chamber on November 22, 1941.[142]
  • Raymond "Rattlesnake James" Lisenba: convicted of killing his wife, he was the last man to be executed by hanging in California on May 1, 1942.[143]
  • Sam Shockley and Miran Edgar Thompson: convicted of killing a guard in the 1946 Battle of Alcatraz escape attempt, executed together in the gas chamber on December 3, 1948.[144]
  • Louise Peete: convicted murderer, executed in the gas chamber on April 11, 1947.[145]
  • Billy Cook: murderer of Carl Mosser, his wife Thelma, their three small children and motorist Robert Dewey. He died in the gas chamber on December 12, 1952.[146]
  • Barbara Graham: convicted murderer, executed in the gas chamber on June 3, 1955.[147]
  • Burton Abbott: convicted of the rape and murder of a teenage girl; executed in the gas chamber on March 15, 1957.[148]
  • Harvey Glatman: convicted of raping and strangling two women, he died in the gas chamber on September 18, 1959.[149]
  • Caryl Chessman: convicted rapist, was given the death penalty in 1948 and executed on May 2, 1960.[150] The last man executed in California for a sexual offense that did not also involve murder.
  • Elizabeth Ann Duncan: convicted of hiring two men to kill her daughter-in-law, executed by gas chamber on August 8, 1962. Fourth and last woman to be executed in San Quentin.[151]
  • Aaron Mitchell: convicted of shooting a Sacramento police officer, executed by gas chamber on April 12, 1967.[152]
  • Robert Alton Harris: convicted of murdering two boys, died in the gas chamber on April 21, 1992.[153]
  • David Mason: convicted of murdering five people, he was the last man to be executed in the gas chamber on August 24, 1993.[154]
  • William Bonin: convicted of 14 murders, the "Freeway Killer" (one of three men to have the same nickname) became the first person in California history to be executed by lethal injection on February 23, 1996.[155]
  • Thomas Martin Thompson: convicted of the 1981 killing of Ginger Fleischli, executed by lethal injection on July 14, 1998.[156]
  • Manny Babbitt: convicted murderer who died by lethal injection on May 4, 1999.[157]
  • Darrell Keith Rich: convicted serial killer, executed by lethal injection on March 15, 2000.[158]
  • Stephen Wayne Anderson: convicted murderer, executed by lethal injection on January 29, 2002.[159]
  • Donald Beardslee: convicted of two murders, executed by lethal injection on January 19, 2005.[160]
  • Stanley "Tookie" Williams: convicted murderer, co-founder and early leader of the Crips street gang. Author (several children's books about his experience at San Quentin[161]) and cause célèbre. Executed by lethal injection on December 13, 2005.[162]
  • Clarence Ray Allen: convicted for ordering the killing of three people. At age 76, he was the oldest person ever executed in California (by lethal injection on January 17, 2006) and the last in the entire state of California .[163]

In media[edit]


Performances and music videos[edit]

  • Country music singer Johnny Cash performed at San Quentin at least twice in his career. The first was in 1958, which included among its audience members a young and incarcerated Merle Haggard; Haggard was inspired to pursue music after being released in part because of that concert.[165] Eleven years later, on February 24, 1969, Cash played another live concert for the prison inmates. The 1969 concert was released as an album At San Quentin and as a television documentary Johnny Cash in San Quentin (filmed by Granada Television). "A Boy Named Sue," taken from the concert, was Cash's only Billboard Hot 100 top ten hit, peaking at number two, and winning the 1970 Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. During the concert, the song "San Quentin," about an inmate's loathing for the prison, received such an enthusiastic response that Cash immediately played an encore.[166]
  • In 1990, B. B. King recorded Live at San Quentin in the prison; it won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album in 1991.[167]
  • On November 19th 1957 San Francisco Actors Workshop put on a performance of Waiting for Godot, despite concerns the audience of 1’400 prisoners wouldn’t understand the play it received a standing ovation and would inspire inmates to perform the play[168]
  • In 2003, heavy metal band Metallica filmed the music video for their song "St. Anger" from the album of the same name in San Quentin, which featured many of the prison inmates and security staff, and also included then-new bassist Robert Trujillo for the first time since being inducted into the band.


  • The 1937 Warner Brothers film San Quentin featured Pat O'Brien as the captain of the yard and Humphrey Bogart as an inmate.
  • William Beaudine directed the film Men of San Quentin (1942).[169]
  • Humphrey Bogart played a character who escapes from San Quentin in the 1947 film, Dark Passage.[170]
  • The 1954 film Duffy of San Quentin tells the story of Clinton Duffy, who was warden of San Quentin between 1940 and 1952.[171][172]
  • In 1968, the prison scenes in Woody Allen's film Take the Money and Run were shot in San Quentin.[173]
  • The 1993 film Blood In Blood Out was used as a location
  • Quentin, the main villain in the 1997 film Cube, is named after the prison.
  • In the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You, it is rumored that Patrick Verona, a character played by Heath Ledger, spent a year in San Quentin. [174]
  • The 2013 film Fruitvale Station used the prison, in which real life character Oscar Grant did time, as a filming location for a flashback scene. Actual prisoners served as extras.[175]
  • In the 2015 Marvel Studios film Ant-Man, the main character Scott Lang / Ant-Man is imprisoned then released from San Quentin for burglary.
  • In the 2015 Get Hard, Will Farrell's character James King is sent to San Quentin for 6 months on a gun charge.
  • In the 2018 Marvel Studios film Venom and its 2021 sequel Venom: Let There Be Carnage, where the serial killer Cletus Kasady (portrayed by Woody Harrelson, later known as Carnage) is imprisoned. Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) visits him to conduct the first of a series of interviews in this post-credits scene.[176]

Fiction, literature and publications[edit]

Gang-pulp author Margie Harris wrote a story on San Quentin for the short-lived pulp magazinePrison Stories. The story, titled "Big House Boomerang," appeared in the March 1931 issue. It used San Quentin's brutal jute mill as its setting. Harris' knowledge of the prison came from her days as a newspaper reporter in the Bay Area, and her acquaintance with famous San Quentin prisoner Ed Morrell.[177]

The 1915 novel The Star Rover by Jack London was based in San Quentin. A framing story is told in the first person by Darrell Standing, a university professor serving life imprisonment in San Quentin State Prison for murder. Prison officials try to break his spirit by means of a torture device called "the jacket," a canvas jacket which can be tightly laced so as to compress the whole body, inducing angina. Standing discovers how to withstand the torture by entering a kind of trance state, in which he walks among the stars and experiences portions of past lives.


  • Ear Hustle is a podcast created by Earlonne Woods with the help of Nigel Poor. Interviews inmates at San Quentin about life on the inside.[178]

See also[edit]


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Inmates san quentin

Justice News

SAN FRANCISCO - Keith Christopher and Isaiah Wells appeared in federal court today to face the charge of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud using interstate wires, announced Acting United States Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Craig D. Fair.  A third co-defendant, Tanisa Smith-Symes, will appear tomorrow in federal court in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she was arrested today.

According to the complaint, Christopher, 37, of Pittsburg, California, Smith-Symes, 45, of Las Vegas, Nevada, and Wells, 32, of Tracy, California, conspired to smuggle cell phones into San Quentin State Prison’s East Block, where condemned inmates are housed.  Cell phones create safety and security risks for prison employees and other inmates, and state law deems them contraband and prohibits their possession by inmates.  Christopher is a Corrections Officer at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County.  The complaint alleges that Smith-Symes worked with a Death Row inmate with whom she had a relationship to obtain the contraband phones and ship them to Wells, who then provided the phones to Christopher, who in turn smuggled them into the prison.  Using this scheme, the complaint alleges that the conspirators successfully smuggled at least 25 phones into the prison and that the inmate working with Smith-Symes sold the phones inside the prison for up to $900 each.  Smith-Symes sent bribery payments to Christopher through Wells and others whom Christopher had appointed to receive the money.  The complaint further alleges that Christopher charged $500 as payment for each phone he smuggled into the prison.

The complaint filed against Christopher, Smith-Symes, and Wells charges each defendant with one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud using interstate wires in violation of 18 USC §§ 1343, 1346, and 1349.  The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  Any sentence following conviction, however, is imposed by a court only after the court’s consideration of the United States Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 USC § 3553.

Christopher and Wells appeared today on the charges before United States Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim, who sits in San Francisco.  They were released on bond and are scheduled to next appear in federal court on September 17, 2021. 

Charges contained in a criminal complaint are mere allegations.  As in any criminal case, the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Office of Internal Affairs. 

Inside San Quentin’s Death Row - KQED Newsroom

San Quentin State Prison (SQ)


San Quentin State Prison is California’s oldest and best known correctional institution, which was established on the site currently known as Point San Quentin, in July of 1852, as an answer to the rampant lawlessness in California at the time. During its construction, inmates slept on the prison ship, the Waban, at night and labored to build the new prison during the day. San Quentin housed both male and female inmates until 1933 when the women’s prison at Tehachapi was built. The prison rests overlooking the bay on 432 acres, and is located just 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge in the county of Marin. The walled prison is made up of four (4) large cell blocks (West, South, North, and East Block), one (1) maximum security cell block (the Adjustment Center), Central Health Care Service Building, a medium security dorm setting and a minimum security firehouse. The state’s only gas chamber and death row for all male condemned inmates are located at San Quentin.

This facility provides both outpatient and inpatient mental health services for patients with a serious mental disorder. The licensed Psychiatric Inpatient Program at this facility is designed to provide more intensive treatment for patients who cannot function adequately or stabilize in an outpatient program.


The area that San Quentin State Prison sits on was originally named, “Puenta de Quentin” after the Native American Chief Quentin (“Kaynteen”). The actual spelling and pronunciation has been obscured in history. However, a 1834 Spanish land grant clearly establishes the name “Puenta de Quentin”. The U.S. Coast Survey Team of 1850 named the site, Point San Quentin.

San Quentin State Prison is California’s oldest correctional institution. It was built in July 1852 on the site known as Point San Quentin, Marin County. The 20 acres of land was purchased for $10.000.

San Quentin was initially established to replace a prison ship known as the Waban. There are no historical proof of facts, but folklore has it that on July 14, 1852, (Bastille Day {French Revolution}) the Waban arrived off shore with 40 to 50 convicts. San Quentin State Prison has been known as the “Bastille by the Bay”.

By October 12, 1852, a contract to build the first cell block had been negotiated.


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