Since the first inmates boarded the state prison ship Waban in 1851, victims of their crimes have tried to be heard. It took more than 130 years before victims found their voices. In 1982, voters passed Proposition 8, officially recognizing victims’ rights. Six years later, the state corrections department established a special victims office, today known as the Office of Victims and Survivor Rights and Services. After more than a century of silence, Inside CDCR delves into some of the stories of those victims, finally giving them a voice.
In 1961, California Medical Facility (CMF) launched an arts program almost by accident when the warden at the time wanted the walls of the dining hall painted. Known back then as superintendent, William Keating enlisted some artistically inclined inmates for the task. “What started as a simple dining room improvement program has developed into a nationally famous art colony,” reads a 1965 brochure produced by CMF inmates for a spring art show. “(The superintendent) assigned a couple of inmates to create some paintings (for the walls). This accomplished, the artists asked for permission to continue painting. Other inmates expressed an interest in art (and soon) an art colony was born.”
Early in the state’s history, female inmates were handled by prison matrons but it wasn’t always the case. This is a look at some of those women working in a male-dominated environment that laid the foundation for women to follow a century later.
Since its inception, some employees of the state prison system have gone above and beyond the normal call of duty to help those in need. In this installment of Unlocking History, we explore the stories of three of those employees going back to 1908.
On April 18, 1906, a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay area. The city and many of the surrounding communities were left in ruins and some unscrupulous types took advantage of the confusion and chaos. Meanwhile, the sturdily built San Quentin State Prison was relatively unscathed but the jolt certainly caused a scare among staff and inmates.
For over 150 years, California’s prison system has had to adapt to new media. In the early 1940s, San Quentin Warden Clinton T. Duffy wired cells for radios. But before movies and television sets were commonplace in prisons, the department grappled with the notion of allowing a filmmaker into the prison as early as 1897. Convicted murderer Theodore Durrant, dubbed “Demon of the Belfry” by the press, was due to be executed at San Quentin. To help raise funds for his defense, Durrant’s parents contracted with the operator of an animatoscope to film the inmate. The family charged admission for this early film to raise money for his defense as his appeal was before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1895, Durrant was convicted of murdering two young women and hiding their bodies in a church belfry and a closet. His trial went on for years, garnering headlines and multiple pages of coverage.