Story by Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Video archive by Eric Owens, CDCR Staff Photographer
Office of Public and Employee Communications
(Editor’s note: CDCR takes a close look at a recently rediscovered newsreel from 1942. This is part of a series of CDCR Time Capsules featuring historic video. Some websites and embedded video, such as YouTube, may not be viewable on a CDCR computer.)
In CDCR’s archives, a newsreel from January 1942 claims to be the first ever filmed inside San Quentin State Prison. The short film also makes frequent references to the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, which led to America entering World War II.
CDCR employees, see the video: http:\\Fdcmedia\opec\2016\San-Quentin-Time-Capsule-1942-Duffy.wmv
Watch the YouTube video:
The reel is narrated by then-Warden Clinton Duffy and details some of the day-to-day operations of the prison as well as their willingness to do their part for the war effort.
“The inmates of San Quentin Prison are as interested in the welfare of our country as you and I. When the Japanese first bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, the first word of this came over the prison loudspeaker in the yard,” Duffy said as he sat behind his desk. “The inmate population was so incensed over this outrageous attack, this stab in our nation’s back, that I was besieged with letters and requests for immediate release to join the forces of our country.”
One of the requests came from a group of convicted murderers and kidnappers.
“One of these petitions, offering to set up a suicide squadron, was signed by 13 long term inmates, all but three of whom are serving life sentences for murder or kidnapping. Their spokesman will briefly explain their purpose,” the warden said.
An inmate, wearing a warm coat to guard against the chill, spoke into a microphone.
“The boys here in San Quentin feel as every true American does. And when we learned about this outrageous attack by the dastardly (Japanese) on Pearl Harbor, 13 of us decided and agreed to volunteer as an organized suicide squadron. We want it understood that we are not trying to gain our freedom. If we should be given this opportunity, and any of us survive, we will be glad to return and finish our sentences.”
Warden Duffy said the prison newspaper also had suggestions.
“Another national plan has been sponsored by the San Quentin News, a weekly paper published by our inmates,” Duffy said.
The newspaper article indicated inmates could join the military or civilian workforce.
“There are, in our prisons, tens of thousands of able-bodied men who are eager to contribute as much as possible to their country’s defense. We know, of course, that all these men cannot be freed. We do believe that the majority of them could be ready on condition they serve their country. America needs workmen as well as soldiers,” reported the San Quentin News in December 1941.
Duffy also explained some of the prison’s rehabilitative efforts.
“San Quentin Prison is an institution where men can find and take advantage of an extensive training program. It is our aim to send men back into society, when eligible for release, better fitted to education, trade training and proper mental attitude to resume their places as good citizens,” he said.
He said the prison was ready to train men for employment.
“And finally is punishment. From the day a man enters the prison gate, rehabilitation should begin. In addition to our school program, we have many departments where trades can be learned, trades that will prepare them for national defense jobs. Most of our newcomers receive their first job assignment in the jute mill where grain bags and burlap are made. In due course of time, if their work and conduct are satisfactory, they are placed in the trade training units of the prison.”
Entertainment for the men was also part of the rehabilitative process.
“With the exception of the lapse of five years, an annual New Year’s show has been enjoyed by the inmates on this day. Last year I revived their show in order that the men can find, might have for their entertainment, a show of outside talent,” Duffy said. “This year they opened their show with a patriotic theme, joined by the 4,000 inmates of San Quentin Prison – 4,000 men who are willing and ready to do all within their power to aid in national defense.”
Warden Duffy then committed the prison to helping with the war effort.
“Each and every man within the walls of San Quentin realizes that he, as an individual, is an integral part of our nation and that regardless of how little a part he may play, all would aid in the final victory of our nation over those who would transgress on our liberty,” he said.
The newsreel wraps up with the inmates pledging allegiance to the flag. A keen ear might notice the absence of two words – “under God” – because those words weren’t added until 1954.
History of the pledge of allegiance
The original pledge was written in August 1892 by Francis Bellamy and published the following month in “The Youth’s Companion.”
As originally written, it reads: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
In 1923, the words “of the United State of America” were added after the word “flag.” Source: Independence Hall Association.