A penitentiary located just a few miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge on San Pablo Bay in California. San Quentin has been running for around 135 years and is famous along with Alcatraz for its portrayals in televsion and movies. And it is also well know as a maximum security prison meaning only the worst criminals are housed there.

from Prison Life is Different by James A. Johnston (1937)

....A group of men came over in a motor boat. It was a wonderful day on the bay and they had an exhilerating ride. Everything they saw at the prison was new to them, and they were complimentary concerning the order, system, and cleanliness. In the hearing of the prisoners, they talked about their trip and about the beauty of the location. The prisoner who kept accounts for the steward of the general mess used to make out a menu every day and bring it to my office in the afternoon so that I could see what was planned for the following day. He got quite a kick out of hearing the visitors enthuse about the location. That evening the usual menu for the following day was on my desk, but it was dressed up and illustrated like a hotel prospectus and this was the copy:

Never since the opening in 1852 has the San Quentin Tavern enjoyed greater popularity or deserved better reputation than under the present management. Scenically San Quentin is unsurpassed. The location is superb. The climate is ideal. Nestled at the foot of the mountains of Marin, basking in the glorious sunshine of California, fanned by the breezes of the beautiful bays of San Francisco and San Pablo, the adventure-weary are allured and captivated and find rest and solitude so satisfying that many stay for years during all the seasons, and some for life. Many who only stayed a short while on the first trip, after trying other resorts, have returned again and again, and on each succeeding visit for a longer time.

At present we have several thousand regular boarders, and the transients bring the average of meals served to over nine thousand daily. Guests are always talking about our table. The cooking is plain but good and wholesome, and meals are always served on time. Regular boarders preferred. As a special inducement all who sign up for one year are given twelve months' board for ten months' pay. The place is very valuable as a mineral property, being especially rich in "copper." In case of fire do not leave your room before the door is unlocked. Guests departing before expiration of the time named in the contract will eventually be required to pay in full. Before going away leave your permanent address at the photograph gallery, as we want to have your name on our mailing list and keep in touch with your whereabouts.

Exerpt from: http://www.notfrisco.com/calmem/sanquentin.html

San Quentin, California's oldest correctional institution was established in July, 1852 at Point Quentin in Marin county. At the time, lawlessness was rampant in the area, and a place was needed to house the many offenders. While the prison was being built, prisoners slept on the prison ship, The Waban, at night and worked on building the prison during the day. The name for the prison came from an Indian warrior named Quentin. He was a sub-chief of Chief Marin. Quentin led the Licatuit Indians in their last stand against the Mexican troops at the spot now occupied by San Quentin. The San (Saint) was added because at that time the local population was zealously Catholic. San Quentin housed both male and female prisoners until 1933 when a nearby women's prison was built at Tehachapi. The state's only gas chamber is located at San Quentin, and Death Row for the state of California is housed here. All the men condemned to death by California are at San Quentin. There are currently over 560 men on Death Row here.

San Quentin was designed to house 3,417 prisoners. It currently has around 6,000 inmates. It employs 1548 people, 915 of them guards and other custody staff. The rest are support and clerical workers. The 1999-2000 operating budget for San Quentin was $120 million dollars.

Furniture and mattresses are manufactured inside San Quentin by the prisoners. Also performed inside the walls by inmates is dry cleaning, electrical engineering, graphic arts & printing, landscaping, machine shop, plumbing, sheet metal. These are considered vocational programs, teaching the inmates skills to be used when they are released.

Escape has not been a big problem at San Quentin for quite awhile. In the beginning the escape attempts were often mass attempts, 50 men or more trying to make a break. The local citizens, using deer rifles would come out and help capture the escapees. They shot to kill. The last mass escape attempt, however, was in 1864. After that, the attempts were lone and desperate. One man jumped into a milk truck, swimming around, waiting for an unguarded moment that never came. Another man attempted to walk away from the prison underwater, using a homemade snorkel. He drowned. A few attempts have been made in recent years, even fewer successful.

The prison at San Quentin sits on some of the world's most valuable real estate. Developers covet the State Prison's 432 prime acres in a well-heeled Marin County. Rising upkeep on the aging buildings, the huge costs associated with bringing the facility up to earthquake code, and the upcoming completion of new prisons nearby, make it quite possible that San Quentin State Prison will become a thing of the past.

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