A 1905 San Quentin inmate managed to turn her life around, later finding herself in a position to help others do the same. Newlyweds Aimee Meloling, a nurse by trade, and her husband Albert were convicted of burglary and sentenced to separate prisons. Aimee was shipped to San Quentin’s Women’s Ward while Albert was sent to Folsom State Prison. After their release, Aimee continued working on improving herself. She got a divorce, worked for numerous charities serving children and eventually landed a job with the Alameda County Jail overseeing the female inmates.
In 1914, the effort to reform the two state prisons and further inmate rehabilitation was given special attention by the governor. Moving the warden from Folsom to San Quentin unlocked a series of reforms implemented at the state’s oldest prison. One of the new warden’s first priorities was to shake up the Women’s Ward at San Quentin. Jessie Whalen, an “expert psychologist” regarding rehabilitation, had a long career in public service. Her story, like many early correctional staff, has been lost over time but their experiences helped shape today’s CDCR. As part of an ongoing effort to honor the memories of these pioneering penologists, Inside CDCR took a closer look at Jessie Whalen.
One of the early correctional officers at the state’s two prisons survived an attack by a notorious inmate, helped track down an escapee and sought to get a pardon for someone he believed was wrongly convicted. His story, like many early correctional staff, has been lost over time but their experiences helped shape today’s CDCR. As part of an ongoing effort to honor the memories of these pioneering penologists, Inside CDCR took a closer look at Ben Merritt
A veteran of multiple wars was one of the early correctional staff at what would eventually become San Quentin State Prison. Capt. William “Bill” Wallace Byrnes, of the California and Texas Rangers, was a veteran of the Mexican American War as well as many conflicts with Native Americans. When Gen. James Estell held the contract to run the state prison in the 1850s, he was eager to hire Byrnes, based largely on his war record. Byrnes served two years in his role in prison management before being called away to war once again.
Those who walk the toughest beat in the state deal with people who made very poor choices. From car thieves to thrill seekers, the reasons some of those early inmates landed in state prisons are varied. The following inmate, who served his time in the early 1900s, was a police officer who almost sparked an international incident. Joseph Gustav Munz put on a badge and patrolled the river in Shanghai to help keep the navigation channels open. Munz killed a Chinese citizen and his 1904 case strained relations between the two countries. To help calm the situation, Munz was loaded on a boat and sent to America to serve his sentence in San Quentin.
A Santa Rosa health retreat was the scene of an explosion Feb. 5, 1910, when a mother and her 9-month-old baby barely escaped with their lives. Investigators quickly turned their attention to the proprietor of the sanitarium – Dr. Willard Preble Burke. The aged physician claimed the woman was attempting suicide, but police soon discovered motive and means, all pointing to Burke. He was sent to San Quentin, where he turned his medical skills to helping new prison doctor Leo Stanley