me for just dropping off like that...ugggh! I have losts of excuses...none
too good though. In any case, I'm repentant.
"We had a small crisis a few weeks
ago. Our cell block began to fill with smoke and the Fire Marshall couldn't
figure out where the fire started so the block had to be evacuated. Since
this is death row the evacuation entailed some pretty serious security.
Death row is on the sixth floor with a solid floor which separates us from
the lower tiers, so we can't see or hear them. Access to death row is by
elevator only which stops only at the top floor. Prison staff has nick-named
my residence the 'Shelf" - we are 'put on the shelf' so to speak. I'm just
a jar of pickles it seems. Or perhaps...I could be a bottle of fine wine
quietly maturing...yeah right.
"Evacuating us involved a well established
security-ridden procedure where all staff at home and on the gorunds, whether
security employees or just secretaries, are called in to make a human gauntlet
some half mile long. It took nearly 500 employees to evacuate the 64 of
us who live on the Shelf...all the time smoke bellowing about. It was a
surreal experience. Turned out, the fire was merely a small electrical
burn in the ventilation system.
"As death row residences go, there are
few better than San Quentin. The Shelf is where all the 'older' cons are
kept, me being one, and since we usually stay out of trouble we are the
ones who fill the 64 cells here. The other 500 or so death row prisoners
are kept in East Block, which is just a regular cell block. Crazy stuff
happens on East Block. But here where I am we're all sort of just into
living as peaceably as possible in this place.
"I'm pretty fortunate in my opinion.
I've seen those new prisons all over the nation with their neon lighting,
tiled floors, and pale yellow cell walls. Living in one of those antiseptic
environments would have driven me nuts long ago. In contrast, San Quentin
was built nearly 150 years ago. It started as a barge out in the bay where
Chinese immigrant prisoners were kept. As time passed, cell blocks were
built on the shore. My block was built some seventy years ago from large
granite stones. The plumbing is ancient and often bad, there is cracks
in all the walls, and many fear us crashing to the ground with a good quake.
But to be honest, I'd rather be in this Shawshank type of setting than
some modern institution. At least there's a little ambiance here...smile.
"Until a few yers ago, before they remodeled,
the windows were all broken out. When it stormed the bay wind would blow
the rain right through the windows and into your cell. You had to batten
down the hatches. When it was hot the walls would sweat, and temperature
changes made the pipes bellow haunting noises all night. That's atmosphere...let's
you know you live somewhere. There were hundreds of cats and birds that
lived in the blocks. The birds just flew in and out through the broken
windows. All kinds, from finches to robins and even the occasional San
Francisco parrot. Some guys would capture one or two for pets. I had two
finches. The cats were prison cats...mean suckers raised by themselves
in the block alleys and conduits which line the cement walls. To grab a
hold of one was to insure having your hand tore up by the meanest little
bag of fur you ever saw in your life. But now, the animals are all gone,
we have new windows and forced air heating. I miss the wind."