Unlocking History: World-famous actress continues rehabilitative effort in 1913

Unlocking History: World-famous actress continues rehabilitative effort in 1913

On Feb. 22, 1913, a world-famous stage actress built on the rehabilitative efforts of previous actors, such as H.B. Warner, to bring art into San Quentin State Prison. “The Californian authorities invited (Sarah) Bernhardt, then on tour of that state, to play before the prisoners of San Quentin,” reported the Literary Digest, 1913. “This must have furnished a new sensation for even Sarah, who has not led an absolutely quiet life. In her audience … were 2,000 prisoners of all races and nationalities. … Women were not excluded (and) a dozen condemned to death (were placed) in the front row.”

Unlocking History: 1911 play ushers in ‘new era’ of rehabilitation

Unlocking History: 1911 play ushers in ‘new era’ of rehabilitation

The notion of arts in a correctional setting has roots dating back to 1911, when an innovative program, coordinated with private partners as well as a grizzled old steamship captain, came to fruition. According to many accounts, it was the first time inmates were entertained by an outside theatrical group. The tale presented to the offenders was one of hope after parole. Thanks to this initial offering, arts in a correctional setting evolved to become a recognized rehabilitative tool.

Unlocking History: Prison used ships since roads were often impassable, part 3

Unlocking History: Prison used ships since roads were often impassable, part 3

From its beginning, ships played a pivotal role in the state’s prison system. Without reliable transportation methods, the prison relied on ships for supplies and incarceration, allowing the inmates to work the quarry on a nearby island. This third installment looks more closely at the department’s small fleet of ships. 

Unlocking History: Inmates kept on multiple ships early in prison history, part 2

Unlocking History: Inmates kept on multiple ships early in prison history, part 2

Situated on the San Francisco Bay, the state prison came to rely on ships for trade, transportation and incarceration. Originally, three other ships were designated “the State Prison” prior to the Waban, which is commonly known as the state’s first prison ship. Inmates were also employed at a quarry on East Marin Island, kept on the ship at night, and had other posts in ships around the bay. Youth were also placed on an old sloop of war in the late 1800s to teach them maritime skills. The second installment of Unlocking History looks more closely at the maritime history of the state prison system.