Growing up at San Quentin

Interviews with the children of employees who lived and grew up on the Prison grounds

MCGS Interview Team; Carl Black, Jana Black, Cathy Gowdy, Joyce Rhodes

Picture contributed by Dick Mack - Warden Duffy stands at the podium
L to R: (back row) Bill Bryce, ?, Linette ? (middle row) Sid Shadle, ? Shirley Keffer (front row) Pat Praetzel, Moy Bejar, Dick Mack

On 28 July 2002 a reunion of the San Quentin Grammar School took place on the grounds of the Prison. An energetic & enthusiastic group of about 80 adults with spouses, children and grandchildren in tow gathered in the San Quentin Recreation Center to greet each other, compare notes, take a tour and hear about future plans for the facility they had once called home from the current Warden, Jeanne Woodford. Ages of the former residents ranged form 50 to 80 years as the school closed in the 60s. Vernell Crittendon, Public Relations Coordinator was the Master of Ceremonies.

Interviewers from the Marin County Genealogical Society were invited to come take oral histories of participants and chronicle their collective experiences. For most of the the interviewers, it was our first foray inside Prison walls even though several of us had lived most of our lives in Marin County and routinely passed the Prison as we went about our daily business.

The day went by in a heartbeat. Former residents never ran out of stories to tell. What you will read here is a compilation of answers to a given set of questions. The interviewers were among the very last to leave and we came nowhere close to interviewing everyone who was willing to share.

Life at the Prison, according to these folks, was pretty wonderful and they were treated as very special residents. As the interviewers joined the former residents on the bus for a tour of the grounds, we were struck with the enormous size of the grounds. Residents referred to areas of the grounds, the valley, the hill, the Warden's house and discussed how much time it took them to get around. They pretty much had full run of the area except for the Prison house itself, they knew prisoners personally and it was not unusual for lifelong relationships  to be formed between the families. Click on any name to read their interview:

San Quentin was established in July 1852 at Point Quentin in Marin county as an answer to the rampant lawlessness in California at that 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.

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