MARIN COUNTY (KRON) — Death row at San Quentin has changed a lot over the years, with much tighter security–and it has to be.
In Part 4 of our special series, Life on Death Row, Alecia Reid takes us behind the prison walls for a closer look at what it takes to maintain order for those facing life on death row.
It has been more than 80 years since San Quentin’s Death Row was constructed. Back then, there were just 68 cells total. A lot has changed since then.
Also gone–certain freedoms most people take for granted, like a simple conversation…face to face.
All communication now is either through intertwined gates or thick glass.
Tables, chairs, and cupboards are also gone. They can be used as weapons.
“They can be a very, very difficult population at times to manage,” prison spokesman Sam Robinson said.
“The conditions are horrible,” inmate Tupoutoe Mataele said.
Watchmen take no chances. They keep a certain and necessary distance from inmates, so they do not let their guard down.
“I’ll ask them how their night went, I’ll ask them how it was out on the yard, how the weather (is) and that’s about it,” said one guard who did not reveal his name.
The guards are ever cautious and always on the lookout.
“It’s a little bit more tense back when I first started,” the guard said. “I don’t get personal with them and I don’t let them get personal with me.”
Things were quite smooth during Alecia’s visit. Guards stick to the script, understanding just how dangerous these inmates really are.
“We have a handle on it. This is a population that we’ve cared for, for a lon g time,” Robinson said.
There have been security breaches in the past. Ten guards have been killed on San Quentin’s Death Row.
The last one happened back in 1985, more than 30 years ago.
The isolation and stricter guidelines have forced inmates to adapt. Most of them communicate through walls.
“We play chess from cell to cell. I’ll call out the chess board…we number our boards, so we just call out the numbers and move our pieces. ( I) watch TV. Follow the Raiders,” Tupoutoe said.
Guards feel relations have improved with these measures in place.
Inmates, though, disagree.
“It is more difficult now that these new people coming in from the academy,” one inmates said. “And they’re training them differently than they used to train them,” Tupoutoe said.
Security is priority No. 1. There are strict procedures guards must follow in order to stay safe.
They know that at a moment’s notice they can be hurt, or even killed.
The guards said it’s simply part of the job, maintaining order in one of the world’s most dangerous prisons.