It Worked For The Other Guy

I know I promised a post about the recent San Quentin State Prison lockdown, but I’m putting that on the back burner for a bit so I can discuss a major ruling recently made by Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals in the case of the People v. Scott Dekraai.

Who Is Scott Dekraai?

Scott Evans Dekraai has the dubious honor of being the worst mass shooter in Orange County’s history.

On Oct 12, 2011, he walked into a Seal Beach hair salon and gunned down nine employees, patrons, and a bystander outside. Eight of the victims died in the attack, which Dekraai claimed was motivated by his anger over a child custody battle with his ex-wife. She had been one of the stylists at the salon, and died there.

As with Daniel Wozniak five months earlier, the Orange County District Attorney’s office sought the death penalty against Dekraai.

There would end up being many more similarities between the Wozniak and Dekraai cases, the most important being their shared attorney: Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders.

The Wozniak – Dekraai Connection

Sanders would discover some troubling “coincidences” as he prepared to defend his two high-profile clients.

It turned out that while being housed at the Orange County Jail, both men had openly spoken about their criminal activities to another inmate. And this same inmate was, out of the goodness of his heart, willing to testify against Wozniak and Dekraai.

Attorney Scott Sanders didn’t buy it. He started digging into the background of this convenient informant, and ended up discovering a hidden system where inmates were cultivated and then rewarded for getting other inmates to incriminate themselves.

The Orange County Snitch Scandal

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office denied the existence of an informant program. The Orange County DA’s Office claimed no knowledge of such a program, and denied ever using any of the information gleaned from inmates. However, through the Wozniak and Dekraai cases, Scott Sanders brought what was to become known as the infamous Orange County Snitch Scandal to the light of day.

The Orange County Weekly journalist R. Scott Moxley has written numerous outstanding articles on the jailhouse informant controversy / snitch scandal. I highly recommended checking out all his work on the subject, especially a recent cover story about Scott Sanders.

The simplified version: the Orange County Sheriffs had their own “snitches” inside the jail trying to dig up dirt on prisoners, without those prisoners’ knowledge, or attorney consent.

That is illegal.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “That’s nothing compared to the crimes committed by Wozniak or Dekraai.”

True. No doubt about it. But through his research, Sanders discovered this infringement on inmate rights had gone on for decades in Orange County. These sneaky tactics had been used over and over again, but most cases don’t have as much damning evidence as was available in Dekraai’s or Daniel’s.

Sanders Files Motions

Defense attorney Scott Sanders wrote long, detailed, and example-laden motions for each of his clients. The one for Daniel’s case was over seven hundred pages long. The Dekraai motion was over five hundred pages. With these motions, Sanders requested hearings on the legality of having a death penalty sentence in two cases that were so tainted with misconduct on the part of the Orange County justice system.

Judge Thomas Goethals, who presided over the Scott Dekraai case, read the lengthy motion submitted by Sanders and agreed to a hearing.

Goethals decided to completely remove the Orange County DA’s Office from the Scott Dekraai case. Judge Goethals stated that Dekraai could not receive a fair trial from Orange County. The case was then handed over to the California Attorneys Generals Office for prosecution. The Orange County DA fought the ruling and lost.

On a side note, Scott Dekraai actually pled guilty to eight counts of murder back in 2014, before all the informant scandal brouhaha. Scott Sanders wasn’t attempting to get either of his clients released. Dekraai’s guilt was not in question. The issue was how he would be punished.

When Dekraai’s case was handed over to the Attorney General’s office in 2015, it was presumed the death penalty would be dropped.

That’s not what happened.

The Dekraai Decision

Finally, Judge Goethals shocked everyone on August 18, 2017, when he ruled that Scott Evans Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the history of Orange County, would no longer be eligible to receive the death penalty. Instead, Goethals sentenced Dekraai to “eight consecutive sentences without the possibility of parole.”

 Family members of Dekraai’s victims had mixed reactions. There had been a desire to see this killer face the ultimate punishment, but there was also a sense of relief to have the trial over. But a question remained: would those responsible for the illegal informant program be punished for their own crimes? Judge Goethals stated when handing down Dekraai’s sentence, “No individual or agency is above the law.”

Read the Ruling

I’ve attached the nineteen-page ruling by Judge Goethals – which is more interesting than you’d think – but if you don’t want to read it, it basically states that taking away the death penalty was his method of punishing the OCDA for wrongdoings (“Sanctions related to ongoing discovery abuse.”)

Goethals clearly wasn’t happy about having to make this choice. From the ruling:

If this case had been prosecuted from the onset by the Orange County District Attorney within the most fundamental parameters of prosecutorial propriety this defendant would likely today be living alongside other convicted killers on California’s Death Row in the state prison at San Quentin.

And the Wozniak Decision?

That brings us back to my friend Daniel Wozniak, who has been living on death row for a year now.

Judge John D. Conley, who was presiding over Daniel’s case, received Scott Sanders’ 754-page motion, but somehow didn’t find it convincing enough to even grant a hearing on the question of prosecutorial misconduct.

Conley himself was actually named in Sander’s motion for possible involvement in the use of illegal informants during his own time as a prosecutor, but that probably didn’t influence his decision at all… right?

Where Judge Goethals saw egregious behavior on the part of the Orange County Sheriff and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Judge Conley detected no infringement on Daniel Wozniak’s constitutional rights.

I have to say though; Judge Conley must have seen some similarities in the two cases because during Daniel’s trial, Conley once accidentally referred to him as “Daniel Patrick Dekraai.”

Look I’m no “Rocket Lawyer” (“Lawyer Scientist?”), but it sure looks like Daniel will have some major, taxpayer funded, appeals coming his way specifically because of Judge Conley’s refusal to hold a hearing about the use of illegal informants.

I heard (and read) Matt Murphy’s repeated claims that the prosecution wasn’t planning to use any of its illegally obtained information during Daniel’s trial, so nobody’s rights were violated.

Rachel and Tim are Charged… A Consequence of Informant Info?

Although, two years after the crime, and soon after Daniel’s contact with the snitch, the OCDA arrested and filed charges against Rachel Buffett and Daniel’s brother, Tim.

They found out some new information… somewhere…

Even if the Orange County District Attorney learned absolutely nothing from the OC Sheriffs to “use against” Daniel Wozniak during his trial, they still violated his rights. Judge Goethals didn’t need to see the District Attorney’s office use illegally obtained information against Scott Dekraai before he decided to punish the DA by taking away the death penalty.

The Future For Wozniak and Dekraai

Right now, Daniel is on death row, and Scott Dekraai will be heading to a maximum-security prison for his eight life terms without parole. We can assume both men will die behind bars.

But with over seven hundred death row inmates ahead of him, there is a very low likelihood Daniel will ever be executed by the state of California. There will be a lot of money spent on him before he, one day, dies of natural causes.

Maybe there are family members of Dekraai’s victims who are livid that their murderer escaped the death penalty.

During the punishment phase of Daniel’s trial, we heard gut wrenching testimony from the loved ones of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi. There was no doubt they wanted Daniel Wozniak to die in San Quentin (sooner rather than later). Sam’s dad, Steve, called Daniel the “poster child” for the need to have a death penalty in California. So, maybe it gives the families a tiny bit of relief from their misery imagining Daniel living “under the threat” of death every day. If so, that seems as good a reason as any for Daniel to be on death row.

I suspect Daniel will spend quite a few years in his current location, but will eventually have his death penalty overturned on appeal.

Don’t stress out though. He’ll still die behind bars. Just not with a view of San Francisco Bay.

More Articles About Goethals and the Dekraai Sentencing

Responding To Your Comments and Questions

Hello Blog Readers!

I wanted to check in with you guys and let you know I have been busy writing the book. It means a lot to me when commenters say they are looking forward to reading it. I wish I could write it faster. It would nice to have all the time in the world to work on it. It will be done, though… I promise.

Killing for You

I know there was another book recently released about Daniel Wozniak and the brutal murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi. It’s called Killing for You, by Keith Elliot Greenberg.

Have any of you read it yet? I plan to. I’m writing more than I’m reading these days, but I did buy it for my bio-mom. She said, It’s written well,” but his style, “isn’t very exciting.” Also, she didn’t learn anything new about Daniel or the case. In Greenberg’s defense, she does have some insider knowledge.

The Author’s Visit

During Daniel’s Wozniak’s first year of incarceration at the Orange County Jail, Keith Elliot Greenberg contacted him about writing a true-crime book. Mr. Greenberg did not make a great first impression with Daniel when he showed up one day, without warning, during Daniel’s visiting time at the OC Jail. Daniel was brought in for his visit expecting to see his mom and dad, and instead saw this “Jim Henson look-alike” waiting for him.

Reporters are supposed to go through a specific process to visit with inmates. They are expected to identify themselves and, if an inmate agrees to be interviewed, the reporter will not take up regular visiting time.  Sometimes a writer hopes to surprise an inmate and perhaps catch him off guard.

Daniel suspected this was the case with Keith Greenberg and immediately ended the visit. He told Mr. Greenberg to go back to check in and tell them Daniel Wozniak had refused to talk to him.

Killing for You is not going to give you any insights into Daniel’s motive or his account of the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi. However, Mr. Greenberg most likely had a great deal of access to the friends and loved ones of Julie and Sam. That’s the part of the story where I’m sadly lacking, and maybe Keith Greenberg’s book will give me some insight.

What To Expect From My Book

As for my book, well you’ve probably already figured out it is not going to be a typical true crime book. I am going to piss some people off, and hurt some people emotionally. I don’t take this fact lightly.

Maybe that’s why I’m so slow to finish my book. Plenty of people will read it and call me (well…Daniel Wozniak) a total liar. It will be up to you what you choose to believe in this story, but I’m guessing many of you will, as I do, find Daniel’s explanations to be believable…

My book will not try to convince you that Daniel isn’t a murderer. My friend is a murderer. I understand and accept that fact. There is nothing that can be done to change that. But I’m also going to try to show you there’s more to Daniel Wozniak than the worst thing he ever did, and that he was found guilty of some crimes he did not commit.

Who (Else?) Done It?

“But Murderer Musings, if Daniel didn’t do something, then who did?”

“Good question, Clever Reader. But you know I’m not going to tell you that in the blog. That’s for the book.”

I have to admit; you readers are coming up with some pretty accurate scenarios with your comments. I’m impressed.

My daughter is binge watching Game of Thrones. She wants to be caught up before the final season airs. I’ve been watching from the beginning and know everything that’s happened up to now. When she talks to me about episodes from early seasons, and makes predictions about the future of the show’s characters, I’m not allowed to say anything in response. I can’t even make a facial expression because she’s worried I’m somehow going to give something away.

This is the same reason I don’t answer your questions about motive, and the possible involvement of other people in this crime.

Objectivity

Readers often comment on the blog and Facebook page that my writing isn’t “objective.”

Objective (of a person or their judgment) – Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

I might as well just set this straight right now: My book will not be objective. It will most definitely be influenced by my own personal feelings and opinions. I’m also completely aware that Daniel could be lying to me about everything.

Has he possibly stretched the truth or misremembered a piece of the story? Maybe. But I think he’s been truthful with me. You guys will have to read and judge that for yourself.

The ultimate truth is, Sam and Julie are dead. Neither of them did anything to deserve being murdered. That, I do know. There is nothing that can bring them back or stop the pain felt by the Herr and Kibuishi families. I also don’t believe they’ve received all the justice they deserve.

By the way, it appears Rachel Buffett’s trial (accessory to murder after the fact) has been pushed back to October sixth, 2017.

My Identity

To answer another common comment: I am definitely going to reveal my identity when the book is published. Not that it’s such a big deal, but at this point I might just as well wait and spill that information when I spill everything else.

A Recommendation

Hey, if you’re a podcast listener, I highly recommend checking out Ear Hustle. It’s from inmates in San Quentin. It’s not from death row, it’s the mainline, but it’s a great podcast. It’s funny, touching and informative.

In the next post, I’ll tell you all about the recent nearly three-week long lock down at San Quentin (which they mentioned on Ear Hustle).

Visiting Day Two, or, Oh Come On, I’m Still Too Sexy For the Prison?

After all the inconveniences during my Saturday visit, I was determined to avoid any issues on Sunday.  I didn’t bring a toothbrush. I left my Fitbit in the car (which meant losing so many precious steps), and I wore pants!

On a side note – I showed some friends the dress that caused me trouble on Saturday. One of them said, “Add another inch to that dress and you could be Amish.”

Nonetheless, I wasn’t going to argue with the San Quentin prison guards about my dress length. So I decided to wear a pair of simple Old Navy capris pants to the second visit. They are black with white polka-dots.  I’ve worn them to volunteer at the student store for my kid’s middle school. Imagine Audrey Hepburn’s style circa 1962.

Well, it turns out my body type is a little more “all about that bass” than Audrey’s.

It took three guards to confirm that my curves are a security risk (thank you?), and they were seriously not going to let me go in for the visit. I was genuinely surprised and horribly embarrassed.

Often there is a visitors’ assistance group on hand to loan clothing in these situations, but they were not open that Sunday.

One guard asked me if I knew where Target was. I told him I didn’t know where anything was.

You guys know I have a terrible sense of direction.

 I started to think about other clothes I had back at the hotel. Since I’d only packed for the weekend, I didn’t have a lot of extra stuff. I knew I had a pair of jeans, but denim is on the no-wear list.

“Do you have any emergency clothes in your car?” asked Target-suggestion guard.

I had to tell him I didn’t.

“It’s pretty common for visitors to keep extra clothes in the car,” he continued. “Why don’t you ask the other women if someone can loan you a skirt or something?”

Clothes Angel

So I walked back into the main waiting area and made an announcement/request to everyone in the room. A woman near the end of the line held up her hand and said, “Yeah. I think I have something. What size are you?”

“Medium? Like size six?”

She walked me out to her car and dug around in the backseat. Then she tossed me a white skirt (with a built-in slip) and told me to try it on. I put it on over my pants and we went back to the check-in building.  In my opinion, a white skirt is more attention grabbing than black pants, but the extra layer of clothing got me approved for the visit.

I asked the woman how I could get the skirt back to her, and she told me to just keep it because her visit was going to end before mine.

I thanked her profusely and made a mental note to keep extra clothes in my car. Maybe one day I can pay it forward and help out another visitor with a wardrobe malfunction.

The woman who rescued me was named Angel. Seriously. How perfect is that?

Angel, if you end up reading this one day; thank you for literally “saving my butt.”

Why The Extra Concern That Weekend?

Daniel broke into laughter as soon as he spied my bizarre ensemble. He was pretty sure he knew why there was so much extra security that weekend when it came to female wardrobes.

Remember that screaming and belligerent inmate who had been dragged past Daniel’s cell early Saturday morning mentioned in my last post? Daniel had heard through the prison grapevine that inmate had been enjoying some oral gratification from his female visitor. Unfortunately for the “trying to be happy” couple, there was a mom with her young child visiting in the next cage, so the amorous activities were reported and halted immediately.

Informants?

Daniel and I conversed while eating fruit cups and “calorie free” ice cream. He was in a chipper mood.

He introduced me to an inmate in a nearby cage. The two of them talked about another inmate who is a suspected snitch.

The topic of jailhouse informants is still prevalent in Daniel’s life. Even though the Orange County informant scandal didn’t have any specific relevance for his own case, he believes a lot of important information came out during his trial that can help other inmates find justice.

Does Thou Not Protest Enough..?

Daniel regularly explains to me that he doesn’t feel like he’s missing out on having a fulfilling life. He tells me he’s content. There are so many people on this planet without even the basic necessities, whereas Daniel has food, clothing, water and shelter. On top of that there are of the bonuses of watching TV, visiting with friends, reading great books, and generally just being able to enjoy many of the things life has to offer.

Daniel never complains about what he’s lacking.

Which is good, because unlike Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi, Daniel still has a life.

I do sometimes worry about him, though. There’s a part of me that wonders if he just puts on a happy face when I visit or when we talk on the phone. Is his real life actually much more miserable than he ever lets on?

 A Dangerous Place Full of Dangerous People

Even though he introduces me to fellow inmates and acts like everybody is chummy, this place is still a maximum-security prison. The people behind those bars are dangerous, or at least they can be dangerous in certain circumstances. And Daniel is one of them.

If a man is already on death row, what does he have to lose? So, no matter how much Daniel tries to convince me that his life is hunky-dory behind bars, I’m always waiting for something bad to happen.

Often Daniel tells me about a stabbing or a shooting that took place in some other part of the prison. I can never find anything on the Internet about it, but I’m not sure what is actually considered newsworthy.

 For example, on Sunday I had to sit in my new pretty white skirt and wait 15 minutes for an alarm to be turned off before I was allowed to enter. Shots had been fired somewhere on the prison grounds.

 That’s all they told us. This wasn’t newsworthy.

I didn’t spend our entire five-hour visit grilling Daniel about his crimes, but I do ask a lot of questions. Throughout the past two years, I’ve been piecing together Daniel’s version of the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi.  It varies greatly from the story given in court, but Daniel’s account doesn’t make him look any better.

He never claims he’s innocent. In fact, I believe he’s been quite forthcoming with me, despite his worries that I might end our friendship because of the horrible things he’s done.

I won’t, though. Daniel is my friend, but I long ago accepted he deserves to be right where he is.   I know that Daniel Wozniak would never hurt me personally; I get locked in a cell with him with no trepidation at all.

Does that mean I can guarantee Daniel is no danger to society? I can’t.

Obviously, there is a side to my friend that can be sent over the edge.  His motives help me understand why he did what he did, but they will never make his choices acceptable. I reiterate this to him constantly.

What If

When we talk, I can’t help playing the “what if” game with him. I go crazy thinking about all the opportunities Daniel had to stop the course of events that led the murders of Sam and Julie. I don’t need to point any of this out to him. He’s spent seven years thinking about it.

I still have to say it to him, though. Just for me. It’s so I know he’s continuously regretful about destroying two families.

Even with all of this, Daniel still looks forward to my visits. As do I. We are friends. If there were no blog, we’d still be friends. If there were no book, we’d still be friends.

There is a book though. And I plan to answer all of the questions I’ve gotten on the blog. (Yes, I have much to say about Rachel).

Another  “Sexy” Visitor

After the visit was over, I was walking back to my car and ended up in a conversation with another exiting visitor.  She was a tall, thin, seventy year old woman (she told me her age), and she was not what you’d describe as curvy. But she was lamenting about how the guards had made her cover up her white blouse with her sweatshirt for her entire visit.

Her: “I wore this exact same blouse a month ago and they didn’t complain about it being see-through then.”

Me: “I think the guards were being super strict this weekend because one of the inmates was caught getting a blowjob yesterday.”

Her: “Oh that explains it. One time I was wearing big thick cable knit sweater, and the guards could still tell I wasn’t wearing a bra underneath it. I had to put on one of the loaner bras that the visitor helper group keeps in stock. The only people in there were me and a little boy getting a trade out for his camouflage T-shirt.”

Me: “They were closed this morning. I had to borrow this skirt from another visitor. I was lucky she had it in her car.”

See guys?  I wasn’t the only one with clothing issues.

We headed to our cars and told each other to have a nice day.

Rear View Mirror

When you’re heading west on the 580 freeway, San Quentin is the last exit for Marin County. Driving home from my visit, I could see San Quentin reflected in my passenger side mirror as I crossed the Richmond/San Rafael Bridge. The prison got smaller and smaller and I felt such heartbreak for all the destroyed lives it represents.

I’m Too Sexy for the Prison?

It had been around four months since the last time I saw Daniel Wozniak in person.

Readers know I was pretty nervous the first time I visited the San Quentin State Prison death row. I wasn’t afraid of the prisoners, but I was worried about unknowingly breaking a prison rule and getting banned for life (or shot from a guard tower). However, beyond a couple of mishaps (getting lost on my practice run day and forgetting to take off my sunglasses), I aced my first death row visit.

OK, yes, I did also spill some coffee on the visiting room floor, but I cleaned it up, and no harm done.

So I headed into my most recent visit with a sense of reassurance that only comes from having knowledge and experience.

Before I left for my trip, I reviewed the visitor clothing rules (no denim, no leggings, no chambray blue, no khaki, and no underwire bras, etc.).

No problem. The majority of my wardrobe is made up entirely of black, white, and gray. I figured I had this down.

It was much colder the last time I visited. This time we were in the middle of a heat wave in California. Since I was meeting with friends immediately after each visit, I wanted to dress both appropriately for prison and comfortably enough to go for walks after lunch.

I bet some of you have already figured out, from the title of this post, I had some mishaps.

We’ll get to that moment.

More Than the Guards Could Chew

When I was packing up my clear baggie with quarters, comb and unopened Kleenex (the items I’m allowed to take in with me), I realized the last time I visited Daniel at San Quentin, I didn’t have my Invisalign braces yet.

I will be wearing these clear plastic braces for a few months, and I’m supposed to have them on for twenty two hours a day. I need to take them out whenever I eat anything, and I am also supposed to brush my teeth before I put them back on. During a five-hour extended visit with Daniel, I could either not eat or drink anything, or I could brush my teeth after partaking in those delicious vending machines snacks.

When I got the Invisalign braces, I bought a bunch of individually wrapped and pre-pasted disposable toothbrushes to carry around in my purse when I’m out in the world. While I was packing for my trip, I had a thought: If I am allowed to bring in new unopened packages of facial tissues, perhaps the San Quentin guards would also allow me to bring in an unopened toothbrush as well.

Now, before you start to think I’m crazy, the prisoners already have access to normal-sized toothbrushes. So there would be no reason for Daniel to want to keep my toothbrush and “smuggle it” back with him (yuck).

I figured. No harm in trying, right? That is sort of a mantra of mine.

I was totally right, by the way. There wasn’t any harm in it. I had to throw away my unopened toothbrush during Saturday’s check in, and Sunday I didn’t bring one. No harm.

To their credit, the guards at San Quentin are extremely amiable. I think they even wanted to let me bring in my toothbrush. They could see my logic. The guard told me, “That’s a new one,” and he even went up the chain of command just to confirm that I was not allowed to take in my toothbrush. Well, not without a doctor’s note. Fair enough. I might ask my dentist to write me one next time.  Simply rinsing my mouth with water seemed inefficient after vending machine ice cream.

Side note: I’ve decided that the ice cream in the SQ visitors’ room has zero calories and therefore I can consume it, guilt free, at every visit.

After the toothbrush adventure, I got through visiting check-in and headed in the direction of the prison. Within seconds, I was called back by one of the guards so he could examine my clothing.

Fashion Police

Let me tell you what I was wearing: Flat sandals and a plain black t-shirt dress. The dress was very loose fitting. It stopped just an inch above my knees (two inches above the knee is the rule).  And luckily, I was wearing a pair of shorts underneath.  The guard scrupulously examined the length of my dress (while other visitors walked past), and told me he was considering not letting me in. Because of the shorts, I passed inspection.

I promised to wear pants the next day.

After that, everything went fine. Once we’d gone through the process of handcuffs and musical doors, and when we were locked in our visiting cage, I told Daniel about my clothing close call. He was surprised my dress had caused a problem, but he also told me he’d noticed extra security in the visiting room that morning. He thought maybe it had something to do with a prisoner he’d seen being dragged back to his cell an hour earlier.

Fitbit Snit

Now that I was sitting down, I figured I’d check how many steps I’d taken so far that day, and I wanted to show Daniel my Fitbit. I figured the trek from the visitor check-in to the prison itself would register an impressive number of steps. When I looked at my wrist and pushed a button, Daniel was immediately shocked that they let me bring that in.

The guard in the booth behind me was also shocked. My prison naiveté was showing again. It turns out visitors are not allowed to have any device with Bluetooth capabilities because a savvy inmate can turn a Bluetooth device into a phone.

Who knew? I guess it just looked like a regular watch when I went through security. The guard confiscated my Fitbit and said he’d return it when I was leaving. I almost asked him if he’d be willing to wear it so I could get credit for his steps, but I figured I might be pushing things a little too far with that one.

Thankfully, that was the end of me causing trouble on visiting day one. Daniel was in a good mood. He was cheerful. He made jokes. He introduced me to other inmates in nearby cages. “Oh, there’s so-and-so. I told you about him. He’s my friend from yard.”

Friends and Monsters

Everyone was polite and friendly. It’s easy to forget I’m not meeting Daniel’s co-worker at an office party. Every one of these men is a murderer. That includes my friend with whom I get locked in a cage. It’s disheartening to think about all the lives that were changed and destroyed by these men. I see a guy reading Bible verses with his wife or another playing checkers with his sister.

But out in the world, these men were someone’s monsters.

Including Daniel.

I’m guessing it’s good they are all locked up.

The rest of our visit was pretty uneventful. We ate fruit cups with sporks. We talked about how fast our hair grows (Daniel is part of a prison Locks of Love program. He’s growing his hair out and says it’s the longest he can remember ever having it.)

I also asked him a lot of questions about his crime. I want to take advantage of these opportunities to talk to Daniel without being recorded. The more I work on the book, the more questions I have. I know all you readers have questions about Daniel’s motives and how he was able to do the horrific things he did.

There are also a lot of theories about Rachel Buffett.

I want all those answers too, guys. I think Daniel is telling me the truth, and it’s not always easy to hear. The deaths of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi were so avoidable. In 2010, Daniel Wozniak’s life was a disaster waiting to happen; he was a tornado of tragedy that swooped up those two innocent people.

It will be very interesting to see if any of what Daniel shared about Rachel comes out during her trial in September. Rachel Buffett was Daniel Wozniak’s entire life. His feelings for her do nothing to negate committing murder, but it does make it easier to follow how someone like Daniel could end up doing what he did.

Next Time…

In my next post, I’ll tell you about Sunday’s visit, more wardrobe infractions, and why the visiting room security was beefed up the entire weekend.

Sun Dancer

We all know the stereotype about prisoners discovering God from behind bars. It’s almost a punch line.

The “non-incarcerated” are often rightly suspicious of a convict who claims to have found religion after being locked up. Is it genuine? Is it just a way to impress the parole board? Maybe he’s only trying to get the kosher meals.

There is also the possibility a person finds God in prison because that is the time when they most need the comfort offered by religion.

Daniel Wozniak and Prison Religion

Click to see full size.

In Daniel’s very first letter to me, he brought up God and religion. He told me he’d “written several church groups requesting volunteers in attempts to grow the ministry” at the Orange County Jail. I was immediately suspicious this was an attempt to impress me.

It turns out it wasn’t an act, but it wouldn’t have worked anyway. I’m one of those run-of-the-mill agnostic liberal types: hopeful there’s something beyond us “mere humans,” but never quite sure. I do tend to lean toward a belief in reincarnation, but with a “you do you” viewpoint regarding other people’s faith.

Daniel was raised Catholic. His devout mother made sure her family attended church regularly. He’d likely call himself a Catholic still, but he doesn’t limit himself to only one religion. Daniel is a true believer in the existence of God and a life after death. He finds all religions interesting. Luckily for him, San Quentin Prison offers numerous services for the inmates.

The Native American Religious Experience In San Quentin Prison

Click to see full size.

During yard about a month ago, a man named “Chino,” who can trace his genealogy back to the Aztecs, invited Daniel to attend a Native American religious service. A member has to invite you to the service if you are not of Native American descent. Invitees are called honored guests.

The next time services were held, Daniel was escorted outside to one of the smaller recreation yards.  He was initially confused why they weren’t in the “multipurpose chapel” where all the other religious services at San Quentin are held. He’d find out later.

There were seven other inmates in attendance. Six of them were of Native American descent, and the seventh was another honored guest. A Native American chaplain named Hector ran the service. According to Daniel, he “looked like he was in his 40s even though he was in his 70s.”

A History

Hector told them about how San Quentin was the very first prison in the world to incorporate Native American services, and he (Hector) was one of the men who started that program back in the 1970s. Native Americans weren’t even recognized as having an actual religion until Jimmy Carter (who is part Cherokee) became President.

Daniel heard accounts of San Quentin not-always-accommodating treatment of Native American inmates in the past.

Most of the service was a history lesson about Native Americans in prison, and how long and hard they had to fight to have their religion officially acknowledged by the state prison system. Services had been cancelled because of random facility lockdowns. There were occasions when members were harassed by guards, and sometimes Hector wasn’t even allowed to enter the prison under claims he was a security risk.

The passing of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000 opened the way for all the prisons in California to incorporate Native American services. Daniel was told that San Quentin State Prison even has an authentic sweat lodge with a fireplace that can be traced back to the grandfather of Crazy Horse.

Pipe and Feathers

When they were nearing the end of the service, Daniel discovered why the Native Americans were outside. The eight inmates and their chaplain passed around an actual peace pipe to smoke. This is a pretty big deal considering all California prisons are smoke free.

The final part of the service was a tradition of choosing a feather from the handful Hector fanned out before them. Daniel likened this to “choosing a straw” because the stems were concealed in Hector’s palm.

The feathers all looked alike.  They’d been collected on a nearby reservation where hawks and eagles are bred. There is a ceremony conducted after the birds molt their feathers. Feathers are collected, prayed over, and passed out to members of the tribe to be sewed into clothing or a headdress or just kept in the member’s dwelling.

The inmates chose their feathers in order of their ages. Daniel went first and ended up choosing the only eagle feather in the bunch. Later it was explained to him that there is only one eagle feather, which can be differentiated from the hawk feathers because it has a distinct point at the end of its stem (although this couldn’t be seen until after the feather was chosen).

Hector told Daniel that it is an honor and fated for one to choose the eagle feather. Then Daniel was bestowed the title of “Sun Dancer.” It would be his duty to pass on the knowledge he’d learned to generations that follow.

Daniel hung his feather on the door of his cell, and then he passed the knowledge to me, and I’m sharing it with you.

What’s Next?

When Rachel’s trial starts in September, I’ll get back into blogging about the crime. In the meantime, I’ll have occasional posts about Daniel’s prison experience and other topics. Stay tuned!

All About Murderer Musings

It turns out that quite a few blog and Facebook commenters are curious about my personal life.  I guess there’s a need to understand what kind of person would befriend a man like Daniel Wozniak, and then actually write about him.

Of course, lots of people have written about him, and put his story on TV. And I know mine won’t be the only book on the subject, either. But I will be the only writer who is actually friends with the murderer.

Some people don’t appreciate me “giving him a platform” to tell his story to the world.

Well, if you’ve read the entirety of this blog, you know all the major news networks were willing to give Daniel air time if he’d agree to be interviewed. Producers kept saying they wanted to let him tell “his side” of the story. I did post his letter to the readers because commenters were asking specific questions about Daniel’s day to day life in San Quentin. But none of that was related to his crimes.

My book will include Daniel’s story of the murders. I’m writing about the influences that helped push him to make the worst decision of his life, and crush so many other people’s lives.

I can reassure you all though, there won’t be any claims of his innocence. Daniel Wozniak committed atrocious acts. His motives do not change what he did. But his side of the story answered a lot of questions for my inner Nancy Drew and Carl Jung.

About Murderer Musings (Me!)

I won’t deny I’m a little unusual. I have blue hair and tattoos and I’m chums with a murderer on death row. If that were the description of a character in a play, it would be an actor’s dream to portray her.

But does being atypical mean there is something wrong with me? I don’t think so, but many a commenter has suggested just that. I must be sad and lonely (except for all my cats?) and a bit of a nut job to befriend an evil murderer.

That just seems like a way to marginalize me, and use that as an excuse to ignore what I’m writing. I show the human side of a person who many believe to be unworthy of breathing. A story of Daniel trying to rescue a bird may be upsetting to some people, but that is the same man who committed murder. These juxtapositions are what fascinate me the most.

As far as me being a money hungry fame seeker who is out to make a name for herself by riding on the coattails of a killer, well, the majority of true crime authors have not become famous or rich from their writing, and I honestly don’t expect to, either.  Do you know, if you search for “True Crime Books” on Amazon.com, you get over seventy-two thousand results? Of those, how many can you name (without looking)?

The truth is I just want to write a book on a topic I find interestng. I’m glad so many of you find it interesting as well. I feel lucky to have thousands of people read my blog regularly, and of course I hope you’ll all read my book too. I am putting a lot of work, thought, emotions and miles into this creative project (I recently got an exercise bike desk).

My Family and Friends

I also recently decided to ask some of my close friends and family members how they personally feel about my blog and my friendship with Daniel Wozniak. I interviewed some people, and others sent me their thoughts in writing.

My Husband

Let’s start with my husband, because you guys ask about him a lot.

I’ll admit it, I’m annoyed when people wonder “if my husband knows about my blog.” Of course he does.

But what is the implication there? My husband will find out about my secret writing project, and then he’ll put the kibosh on it?

That is definitely not the guy I married. My husband is completely supportive of my writing. He has a very successful creative career, and he’s completely open minded when it comes to anyone else’s artistic pursuits.

I talk to my husband about my blog all the time. I share interesting, entertaining and sometimes disturbing prison tidbits that I learn from Daniel’s letters and phone calls. When I get a complimentary comment on the blog, I tell my husband about it. Sometimes I share the comments which aren’t so nice, and he reminds me to ignore the Internet trolls. He watches all those ID Network crime shows with me. He gives me Christmas presents like books about the last meal choices of Texas death row prisoners. And recently, my husband got me into a famous rock star’s house so I could see some original paintings by John Wayne Gacy (Pogo the Clown is so creepy).

My Kids

My daughter is an eighteen-year-old college student who is mostly absorbed with her own busy life. She gets great grades, she volunteers at a hospital, and she went to Coachella this year.

She also loves to watch true crime shows. We recently devoured the three-part Casey Anthony special. Our current series favorites are Crime of the Century and See No Evil. As far as my friendship with Daniel, she sees it as part of my work. Sometimes she’s annoyed when Daniel’s phone calls interrupt something, for example tea time, a conversation, or watching a movie.  When that happens, she calls him Danielle. “You’re going to tell Danielle you’re busy and can’t talk on the phone, right?” Of course, she already knows the answer. My family is always my priority.

And my daughter does not care that Daniel only has limited access to a telephone. She likes to say, “Hey, if he wanted to talk on the phone all the time, he shouldn’t have murdered someone.” She’s a smart girl.

My fourteen-year-old son is not interested in the true crime genre at all. I asked him if he has any feelings about my blog and my friendship with a murderer. He told me he never even thinks of it at all, but I shouldn’t take that personally. He doesn’t really care about his dad’s career either, except for the time he got to meet Cam Newton. My son’s life is about his friends, video games, guitar, eating and sleeping, family and school. Did I mention he’s fourteen?

The plus for all my family members (and my dogs) is that I’m home a lot more now that I’m writing. When I was directing plays for the Hunger Artists, I would be at rehearsals every night for months. Weekends were also spent at the theatre. But now, I can make my own schedule that doesn’t need to include working around the availabilities of actors and designers.

My Brother

Every story needs to be told and every person has a story and they need someone to trust and to respect enough to open up to. My sister has a deep understanding of humanity and the experience and compassion to go to uncomfortable, dark places in pursuit of truth and knowledge. Her finely tuned writing skills help to outline and color in the picture being painted.

My Parents

For these next two people, you’ll need a bit of backstory on me. I was adopted when I was a baby. As an adult, I met both of my biological parents (at different times and years apart). Now they are both important parts of my life.  My biological dad isn’t interested in true crime at all.  He’s not a fan of the genre. My biological mom, however, watches and reads anything true crime related. She’s another ID Network addict.

I couldn’t be happier about their relationship. My daughter is very open minded and adventurous. She took a chance and it’s been good for both of them. They truly give equally to each other as friends. She doesn’t deny his wrongdoings, but wants to understand how a basically decent human being with many virtues went down this awful path. They met briefly because of their mutual love of theater and now she’s using another creative talent to tell his story – and hers. I’ve talked to Daniel on the phone and exchanged pleasantries, and I can’t lie – it touched my heart. ~ My biological mother

At first I wasn’t very happy about it. I was afraid he could escape and come and kill my daughter. Over time I’ve changed my mind and decided it’s a good thing for him and for her. For him it’s having someone who cares about him and a contact to the outside world. For her it’s a little more complicated. It’s friendship, social work, writing project and maybe a little walk on the wild side. ~ My biological father

My adopted dad passed away eight years ago. He was super supportive of everything I did, but I know he wouldn’t want to talk about this case at all. Sam’s and Julie’s murders, and the loss to their parents, would be incomprehensible for him. I believe he’d have trouble thinking of Daniel as a person. He was open minded, and had a huge heart, but he wouldn’t feel comfortable with me visiting Daniel. He’d likely be (unnecessarily) worried about my safety.

My adopted mom is not in my life.

My Close Friends

Here are the comments from some of my close friends (each has known me for at least fifteen years).

I feel like the friendship that you have with Daniel has given you back your “spark.” You are very interested in this subject and writing about him seems to energize you. I’m not concerned about your safety or your sanity. You are a smart, educated women. Of course, you’ve always been slightly off your rocker.

 

I have mixed feelings about this blog. I believe this man is guilty.  I am glad this man will remain behind bars for the rest of his life (I am not a supporter of the death penalty). I am frustrated that he is getting attention for his deed. But I am curious.  I do not believe the motive for the murder given during the the trial.  I would like to know the real story. Maybe my friend can get to the bottom of it. But maybe she is just getting duped. Unfortunately, I think that a lot.  I am just glad he was convicted because honestly, I was worried that if by chance he was acquitted and set free my friend would have remained friends with a man who got away with murder.

 

The story is fascinating – especially the theatre connection. I wasn’t surprised at all that my friend would choose a project like this. It’s right up her alley. She has friends from all walks of life. I’m really impressed by my friend’s writing and I’m hoping she’ll eventually turn her blog/book into a solo piece. I think my friend is what’s interesting about this story. She’s more interesting than Daniel. It’s her take on the story that keeps me reading it. Also, I’m a firm believer in supporting one’s friends. True friends look past your mistakes and support you no matter what. That’s what she’s doing for Daniel. Daniel wasn’t a serial killer type. His crimes were situational. But I might have a twinge of worry for my friend if Daniel got out of prison for some reason.

 

While I’m fully supportive of your artistic endeavor and I love hearing all about it — I can’t say that I don’t think it’s weird and scary.  I don’t stay up late at night worrying about your safety, but I worry about you getting too emotionally involved or being used or being caught up in some psychological fuckery. I don’t trust people in general, but I really don’t trust people who committed murder and I never for a second thought he was innocent.  Like I said, I’m starting from a place of trust issues.  But at the heart of all of this, I am a fan of the concept and of your creativity and I think this is a helluva story to be told. As a writer, I’m jealous of the opportunity to unfurl what is potentially a great story to be told. As a reader, I look forward to reading about your experience with this more than Daniel’s motivation or excuses.

As a friend, I don’t like him or trust him, sorry.  There are so many interesting people to write about who haven’t committed a double murder and aren’t sitting on death row.  But since I know you to be such a solidly good person with such a drastically different life, I am primarily riveted by YOUR journey on this.  I would never do it. I could never be so open-minded.  But I’m never going to understand how you can maintain the relationship. When I think about Julie, I immediately think about my two at OCSA and all those talented wonderful kids there. And then I think about how he killed two people for such little money and it enrages me. There is nothing Daniel can ever say or do to make me feel anything but scorn and hate for him when I think about the victims.  And ultimately what I hope for all of this is that this might bring to light some detail for the victims’ loved ones, as well as result in a work of art that sheds light and maybe understanding for those who have a complicated relationship with someone who has caused this much pain & destruction.  I think we all sometimes forget that these monsters are actually people on the inside. I want to know what changes them.

 

When Murderer Musings told she was going to start conversing with a suspected murderer, I have to admit I thought it was an intriguing, but an odd idea. I love a good murder mystery as much as anyone. The fact that my friend knew Daniel Wozniak ahead of time was interesting. Then my head went to safety. What if they do become friends and he somehow gets out of jail at some point; will my friend be safe? What about her family being safe? My concerns of safety have become greater since the blog started, and seeing the viciousness of some of the comments. These are the people I now see as the most dangerous to my friend and her family. I don’t want her to tell her identity.

I learned a lot from these comments. I hope you guys found them interesting. There aren’t many warm fuzzies toward Daniel, but that’s to be expected. It was nice to know that my peeps have faith in me, and everyone supports me writing the book. Oh, and I promise I didn’t throw away a bunch of comments that I didn’t like! I also made a point to select friends from different circles and walks of life.

Next!

In the next post, I’ll tell you about Daniel’s recent religious gathering with the Native Americans at San Quentin.

Seven Years

It has been seven years since the brutal murders of Samuel Herr and Julie Kibuishi. Seven years since my friend, Daniel Wozniak, destroyed many lives – including his own. I think about all the things I’ve done in the past seven years, all the life experiences I’ve had, and I can’t help feeling sickened when I contemplate all that was stolen from Sam and Julie, and from the people who loved them.

Julie Kibuishi should have celebrated her thirtieth birthday on February fourteenth, and Sam should be blowing out thirty-four candles next week (May twenty-ninth). Neither of them got a chance to graduate from college, get married, have kids… Would Julie be working in the fashion industry? Would Sam have returned to the Army as an officer? These questions haunt me, and I can’t even fathom the pain and anger that their families are forced to revisit every May. Hell, every day.

I’ve been writing this blog for two years now, and I can honestly say not a day goes by when I don’t think about Sam and Julie. I didn’t know either of them personally, but my friendship with Daniel is laced with an inherent guilt I feel over him having a life (even a limited one), when his actions stole the lives of two other people; two people who were so young, so loved, and are so missed.

Samuel E. Herr was twenty-six when Daniel killed him. Sam was an only child, and he was the center of his parents’ world. He was an Army veteran who had been a combat solider in Afghanistan. He was going to Orange Coast College on the Army GI Bill and had plans to one day become an officer.

Juri (Julie) Kibuishi was only twenty-three. She still lived at home with her parents. She was a graduate of the prestigious Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA). She was a student at Orange Coast College studying fashion design. She was also tutoring her friend Sam in anthropology. Julie was one of four children and is always described as the kind of person who would do anything for a friend.

My friend caused their deaths. This fact haunts me. I’ll talk about myself more in the next post (and my family members and some close friends have chimed in). But for now, I just want to acknowledge that May twenty first is the depressing anniversary of the murders of Sam and Julie. I send out my sincere condolences to their loved ones.

An Open Letter From Daniel Wozniak

Dear Readers,

My name is Daniel Wozniak and if you’re reading this blog, then you obviously know a great deal about me already.

However, it’s been brought to my attention that there are still some curious minds out there inquiring about my day to day life behind bars since being sentenced six months ago.

I understand that for the majority of readers out there, many of you think me to be a heartless, uncaring sociopathic monster who have reserved feelings for not giving a damn about anything concerning my life (other than how soon you wish for it to end). I’m not trying to, nor do I feel I can, take away the pain and hurt I’ve caused you to feel and all I can offer to you is a sincere apology for my actions. I know it will not do much (if anything) to ease the hatred you have for me, but it truly is all I can do at this stage.

The truth is there are no words I can say, or actions that I can perform that will change how you feel, and I’m not trying to rob you of those feelings because I know you need them to help you cope and deal with the pain you’re experiencing.

This letter is not my way of trying to justify my past because nothing on Earth can erase what’s been done. This is merely a response to certain individuals who for some reason or another are curious about life in prison in general. With the overflow of inquiries my friend (the author of this blog) is receiving, I thought writing this might be a way to help answer those questions being regularly asked.

I’ve been given the death penalty and not a day goes by that I don’t feel all the painful thoughts and angry wishes directed my way by so many people. I know in what some of you would consider to be a perfect world, I would have already been put to death, but sadly that’s not the reality of the present.

So what options do I have? I could sit around all day in a small cage doing absolutely nothing but watching the clock hands tick on by… OR… I could actually try to do something with the time I do have left to make SOME form of a positive difference around me.

The majority of my day is spent in the confines of a cell measuring roughly 11′ x 4.5‘ (about 50 sq. feet). I live somewhat akin to a new-age monk. My cell consists of a bed, a toilet, a sink and 2 storage shelves – nothing else. The walls are bare and painted taupe in color; and my cell front consists of an open, metal bar door through which to enter and exit (as well as listen to about 500 other inmates housed around me in this section of Death Row).

My only means of seeing anything in the outside world is by the use of a TV or radio. I also get access to the telephone a couple times during the week to which I’ll get timed fifteen minute calls. I’ll mostly reach out to my blog-writer friend who will keep me posted on current events, and will also touch base with family, other friends and lawyers.

My day starts each morning at around 5 AM, when I wake up and do my daily prayer/study and meditation that I’ve done since being at County. Breakfast arrives between 6-7 AM to our cells on trays (none of us walk to a typical “chow-hall”). The trays are then collected about thirty minutes later and then program within the facility begins.

Depending on the day of the week I’m either going to yard or going to class. San Quentin has seven recreational yards for this section of Death Row. I’m placed on Yard #6 (which has roughly 50 – 100 other inmates classified to be out there with me). All the yards have concrete floor (no grass) and are separated from one another by a gap and chain-link fence. Each yard has a couple stainless-steel-top tables with attached seats, a basketball hoop, a set of dip bars, push up bars and pull up bars (and surprisingly a punching bag).

The yard here is not like most other prisons which are generally racially segregated and for the most part everyone integrates quite well with one another. (We haven’t had a violent incident on our yard for the last 8 years now). Some inmates will play dominos, others will play cards or chess, others will work out and/or lead routines and some guys will just walk laps talking with another inmate as they walk.

Then you have individuals who are more cerebral and will have / lead discussions ranging from topics of law, politics, theology, random jeopardy trivia, etc.  I usually tend to try my hand at a little bit of everything, as do most of the other inmates on the yard (not many stick to doing just one thing). I think because all of us are in the same boat of being under a death sentence, there’s not as much friction or problems experienced elsewhere. (Surprisingly San Quentin statistically has one of the lowest rates of violent activity on the yards in comparison to other California prisons.)

On other days, I attend classes ranging in subject matter. There are several programs made available, but I personally try to focus my field of study to those educational and therapeutic in nature. (Critical Thinking, Nutrition and Meditation, Yoga, etc.). It’s helped me find whatever meaning still remains in this life and with the knowledge under my belt I feel I can pass it on to others. That’s what a great deal of my time is centered on: helping others find meaning and purpose in their own lives.

I know some of you categorize “criminals” as outcasts who don’t deserve another chance at life, but that’s where some others vary in their opinions (including myself). In the many years of my incarceration, I’ve encountered individuals who have given up on themselves to the point of not even wanting to continue living. I guess a part of me feels that if I can help them find that “meaning” that is seriously lacking in their lives, that I can justify my continued existence on this planet while awaiting my execution.

I’m also still very much active in staying up on the ongoing judicial issues. I subscribe to several publications (Prison Legal News, Prison Focus, etc.) and have submitted a couple articles for their consideration. It’s a battle I feel that’s very much worth fighting for. I’m an avid believer of Crime and Punishment as long as it’s legal, but so many issues continue to present themselves with the same win-at-all-costs mentality that continues to plague the justice system. There’s a reason why 70% of death penalty cases have been overturned and / or modified, and why only thirteen people have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in California! (And sadly, the public isn’t told the REAL reasons as to why.)

Again, I want to voice this is not ME saying I shouldn’t be here – but there are (and have been) so many people given this sentence who truthfully do not deserve it legally. Not to mention the countless others who have already died unjustly here of natural causes; people who technically should never have been here in the first place.

Those who ‘legally’ shouldn’t be here aren’t being punished by death… they’re being murdered! (Think about it!)

Spirituality also plays a crucial role in my life, as well as in the lives of other inmates at San Quentin. The prison offers several religious services (Catholic, Protestant, Judaism, Islam, Buddhist, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormon Latter-Day Saints and Native American Indian Tribal Councils). Due to the large number of inmates and a limited number of seats in the chapel area, sometimes you only get called out for service once a month. The television, however, provides an excellent array of broadcast services that you can tune into everyday, which is very nice.

I’m currently also enrolled in a couple of Bible Colleges that I do via correspondence through the mail in addition to keeping in contact with various chaplains I’ve met over the years and still keep in touch with. The yard also provides an excellent means in which to learn, minister, teach and study with so many interested individuals from so many different backgrounds. Everyone comes together and shares their faith and testimonies of how their “path” has brought them some form of inner peace and it reassures fellow believers that faith is a powerful tool which can save and improve so many lives in various ways.

I never thought I’d ever see the day where so many people from different religions and cultures aren’t as hostile and dominant in defending their religion, but rather share, add to and grow the unity of everyone around. There’s so much to learn!

The final thing to mention is handcuffs. Every time you leave your cell for ANY kind of movement, you are placed in handcuffs. You are then either escorted to wherever your destination is with a Correctional Officer escorting you the whole way or you walk alone to said destination, cuffed with your hands behind you back. You’re even handcuffed when going to the shower. It’s a shared community shower stall (that’s twice the size of your cell) and you get showers every other day. However, most everyone here has ways to shower creatively in their cells so we can shower every day, anytime we want.

After showers, the final action of the day before final lockdown is mail pickup and drop-off. This occurs at around 6:30 – 7:00 PM, Monday – Friday. The C.O. will hand us the mail we receive, then pick up our outgoing mail. Next he will apply a secondary lock on the cell door for added security each evening. (This is called “dropping the bar”). From 8:OO PM – 7:00 AM, everyone is locked inside and there is no movement ANYWHERE within the building and it’s “lights out.” Then the cycle repeats each and every day, very much like the film, Groundhog Day.

I hope this helps answer the questions some of you have been asking and that you all have a closer look into the prison that has now become my life. I wish you all well and hope this ‘view into prison’ helps answer your inquiries. Have a nice day.

Respectfully,

Daniel Wozniak

If You’re Going To San Quentin, Be Sure Not To Wear Anything In Your Hair (Part Three – Daniel)

You might expect to enter a completely different world when you walk through the gates of San Quentin State Prison. I sure did. I imagined the grounds would be teeming with dangerous inmates being hovered over by intense guards with itchy trigger fingers.

Instead, the grounds seemed quiet and deserted. “Hit the town makeup,” the woman who’d checked in right before me, was nowhere to be seen. I couldn’t even tell which entrance she’d used. It seems like the prison staggers the visitor entrances. I wonder if that is purposeful. Another security measure perhaps.

So, now I had no idea where to go next (aside from the obvious: “head toward the giant prison.”) I know this place isn’t Disneyland, but a guidepost with convenient arrow-shaped signs would’ve been nice. Adventureland is this way. Frontierland is around the corner.

Would that mean death row is No-Tomorrowland?

I decided to try the building with the two large turrets first. Its rows of arch-shaped windows sort of made it look like the entrance of a medieval castle. This seemed as good a place as any.

The lack of armed guards standing around was surprising, but I was pretty sure they could see me even if I couldn’t see them… and I had no doubt there was fully loaded arsenal inside that gun tower.

I walked down the road and approached the first entrance I saw. The heavy steel door slid open for me.

Inside there was a small standing area. On the left was another steel door. Straight ahead was the enclosed guardroom.  I asked the guard inside if this was death row visiting and he directed me to the next entrance over.

I walked along the side of the building for about thirty more feet and came to another steel door that had a small wooden board, no bigger than a street sign, affixed on the wall next to it. It looked as though it had been around since San Quentin’s first execution in 1893. It just said, “Condemned.”

The door didn’t open right away this time, and I was worried the guard couldn’t see me. The window in the door was so high up, I wasn’t sure the guard could even see the top of my head waiting outside. I wondered if I should attempt to knock. I even glanced around for a doorbell.

If death row had a musical doorbell, what song would it be? “Don’t Fear the Reaper?” “Highway to Hell?” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door?” Perhaps just a classy Chopin’s “Funeral March?”

“Death Row’s Doorbell” would make a good name for a speed metal band.

I stood up on my tippy toes and the heavy steel door opened in front of me.  I don’t think those two things were connected, but who knows? The guard probably saw me on a camera (looking for a doorbell like an idiot).

It was the same setup as at the other entrance. I walked inside the standing area. There was a place to pass paperwork through the glass into the guard booth, which was raised up a couple of feet. I had to really reach to slide the paper I’d received at check in, and my driver’s license, to the smiling guard inside. He kept the paper and returned my license.

The steel door closed behind me.  Then the other steel door opened, and I walked inside the visiting area.

Inside The Visiting Area

The large room, lit with florescent lights, held two rows of cages. They were numbered, counting backwards from the far wall.  Cages twelve through seven were on the side closest to the entrance, and six through one were on the far side. Cage number one was farthest away. A walkway for the guards divided the two rows of cages.

A guard was waiting for me. She told me Daniel was in cage number two. I couldn’t quite see him yet from where I was standing.

Now, I was under the impression getting snacks from the vending machines was a big treat for the inmates. I even saw a woman microwaving a hamburger (at 9 am) that she’d just purchased. So I asked the guard if I could have a minute to peruse the snack machines (remember I had a bag filled with quarters and singles), and she told me to find her when I was ready.

The guards there are pretty nice actually. Are there Yelp reviews for prisons?

I looked over the many food selections, but my stomach was still a little “churny” from nerves. I tried to figure out something Daniel might want.

I bought a water bottle for each of us, and a giant “Texas Cinnamon Bun” (no idea why), and placed them on a pinkish brown cafeteria tray I took from a pile near the microwave.

I glanced around and caught a glimpse of Daniel standing in his cage. He was smiling at me. I could tell he was happy to see me. I did a little wave at him, and he waved back. I held up one of the water bottles so he could see it (also not sure why).  The guard came over to me again and asked if I was ready, but I told her I needed to visit the restroom first. I didn’t know how easy it would be to get let out of the cage for a pee break.  I looked for a place to put down my tray.

Mental note: Pee first – then vending machines.

I decided to dash over to Daniel’s cage and leave it on the floor by the door.

“Hi! It’s so great to see you! Be right back. I have to pee.”

I heard him chuckling as I headed to the restroom.

No Glass Between Us

The guard was waiting for me when I got back to Daniel’s cage. The cage was about four by eight feet and had two doors in it: one on the visitor side and one on the guard / inmate side. A male guard was in the walkway between the rows of cages, waiting next to the other cell door.

Now the guards had to go through a very specific security process to get me inside the cage. Daniel stood with his back to the guard in the walkway and was handcuffed through the bars. Then the guard unlocked the door and Daniel stepped out into the walkway. The door was closed and locked again. The guard on my side unlocked the visitor’s door. I stepped inside.

I put my tray on a small white plastic table, that looked like one my daughter had in her playhouse when she was five. There were two molded white plastic chairs in the cage as well. They were normal-sized. The guard on my side closed the door behind me and locked it again. Then Daniel was let back into the cage through the other door and had his cuffs taken off through the bars.

Those guards aren’t taking any chances with their safety. I guess for us visitors it’s a “hey you made the choice to come see the guy” level of security.

This is probably a good spot in the post to answer a question I’ve been asked by a number of friends and family members: No. I was not scared at all to be locked inside a cage with Daniel Wozniak. This would be the first time the two of us would be in the same room, no glass between us, since before his arrest seven years ago. Nonetheless, I had absolutely no “fear for my safety.”

That wasn’t because there were armed guards nearby. Let’s be honest, Daniel is a big guy. I’m a small woman. Technically, he could do some serious damage to my person before a guard could even react.

But, when Daniel Wozniak’s cuffs were removed, I walked over to him with open arms. I didn’t even think about not hugging my friend. Hilariously, he immediately got down on his knees so I could reach him.  I told him to stand up because I felt like Dorothy visiting the Lollypop Guild.

Hard To Get A Good Cup Of Coffee…

When we sat down in the chairs, he looked at the water and the “Texas Cinnamon Bun.”

We each took a water, and neither of us ate the cinnamon bun.

I actually took that cinnamon bun home with me. My fourteen-year-old son and his friend split it (it was a big bun).

“That’s a death row cinnamon bun you’re eating, boys. Straight from San Quentin State Prison.”

I ended up buying a variety of vending machine snacks over the length of our two visits:

  • Yogurt (peach for him and raspberry for me).
  • Fruit cups with tiny sporks for easy consumption (both visits because they were pretty yummy.
  • A regular Coke for him and a diet Coke for me.
  • Coffee (Mocha for him and vanilla for me)

Buying the fruit cups on the first day turned out to be challenging and embarrassing. I ended up wasting three dollars because I didn’t realize you need to push a button to move the compartments forward, so you can reach one that isn’t empty. THEN you slide the little door open and take out your fruit cup.  Lesson learned. Thank you to the nice lady who had to show me the obvious.

Buying coffee was even more embarrassing and also painful.  This time I understood how to attain the coffee, but when I fetched the cups from the compartment, I realized just how DIY this caffeinated beverage project was going to be.

I remember the old coffee machines: first a cup would drop, and then the scalding hot liquid of your choice would come squirting out of the machine into the cardboard receptacle.

The San Quentin vending machine coffee consisted of a cardboard cup with an envelope of Folgers Crystals, a packet of flavored sweetener, and a stir stick inside.  I immediately identified one major problem – no hot water. I’d remembered Daniel telling me about the hot water spigot that was in the day room at the Orange County Jail. So, I figured there might be one of those in this waiting room.  I wandered around for a bit and then I went to the guard booth to ask about hot water.

No spigot.

I bought another bottle of water, filled the cups, and microwaved them (for what seemed like forty-five minutes), in order to boil the water.  Finally, I had two mediocre cups of hot coffee.

You know what else they don’t have in the San Quentin visiting area? Cup sleeves. There also weren’t any trays left, so I carried the coffee cups in my bare hands back along the row of cages, having to stop every few seconds to quickly put the cups down on some flat surface, just to give my hands a tiny break from the scalding pain.

When I finally got over to Daniel, my hands were burning so much that I had to immediately put the cups down in front of the cage, spilling some of the coffee onto the floor in the process. It was against the rules to just hand them to Daniel through the bars.

I Love Lucy: The Death Row episode

The guard got me some paper towels to clean the spill. If patience is a virtue, then this guard was pretty damn virtuous with me.

The coffee was decent. Daniel said it was really good, but asked me why I bought a water bottle instead of getting it from the sink in the restroom.  I told him the coffee was good because I didn’t use the restroom sink water.

Two Days of Visits

On both Saturday and Sunday, we had five-hour visits that flew by.  The two of us were never at a loss for words. Daniel repeatedly told me how much he appreciated that I’d come to see him.

Some of you may have made the connection that this was the first time Daniel and I were able to have a non-recorded conversation. You can imagine I had plenty of questions for my book.

We had our picture taken together (at both visits). I was a little disillusioned when I discovered Death row doesn’t let you pose in front of a cheesy photo background with palm trees or a sunset. However, the guard was kind enough to let people approve their pictures before he printed them. The visitor gets to take the photos home. The only way the inmate can get the picture is if the visitor makes a copy and sends it in the mail (which I did).

When it came time for me to leave, I gave Daniel another big hug and collected my photos and giant cinnamon bun.  The guards repeated the process of handcuffing and musical cell doors. Then I was back out in the fresh air and sunshine…squinting, because I had no sunglasses.

Back Out In The World

My mind was racing as I headed back to the visitor’s building. It was odd thinking I would soon be chatting with friends at a crowded restaurant, while Daniel would be “searched” and locked back into his cell. I didn’t feel sorry for him, though. He made his bed. Because of Daniel Wozniak’s actions, Sam Herr will never get to take another smiling picture with a buddy. Julie Kibuishi will never share another cup of coffee or a funny story. Of course I wish none of this had never happened. But it did, and Daniel is where he deserves to be.

When I got back to the visitor’s building, I asked a different guard about my sunglasses in the little basket. He held up a pair, and I took them with gratitude.  I was glad to have them back when I got outside again, but they were so smudged with fingerprints I could hardly see out of them. I kept taking them off and cleaning them with the corner of my cardigan.  Luckily, I realized before I drove away, that I’d accidentally been given someone else’s bifocal prescription sunglasses instead of my cheap drugstore pair. I hustled back and made the switch with no harm done.

I’m hoping I won’t have as many mishaps the next time I visit San Quentin. It will probably be a few months before I can get back. It’s definitely more challenging than visiting Daniel in Orange County. But I will visit him, because in spite of all he’s done, Daniel Wozniak is my friend.

Next Up – Daniel tells you about his average day on “the row.”

If You’re Going To San Quentin, Be Sure Not To Wear Anything In Your Hair (Part Two: Arrival)

I woke up pretty early Saturday morning. Mornings are not my friend, so normally it takes at least two snooze sessions to get me out of bed. But the morning of February 11, my eyes popped open the second my iPhone “ripples” alarm went off.

I tried to eat something. My stomach was in knots. Even choking down a protein bar was a challenge. My hotel room had a microwave, so I made myself a cup of herbal tea.

I’d planned my outfit before I even left Orange County, but I was still nervous about all those San Quentin apparel rules.

I had on grey pinstripe pants, a light blue button-down shirt with tiny white polka dots, and a black cotton cardigan sweater. I made sure to wear a bra without an underwire (like I need a bra that supportive anyway). I also checked that my shirt wasn’t see-through.

I usually wear a layering tank top under a button shirt, but the San Quentin dress code specifically forbids tank tops. I assumed they meant no tank tops as your actual shirt, but the rules for the x-ray procedure state, “You must be down to your last layer of clothing,” and I wasn’t taking any chances on my first visit. I wonder if a camisole would still count as a “tank top.”

My visit was scheduled for 9:00 am. I gave myself ample time to get from my hotel to the prison.

After my practice run the day before, it only took about fifteen minutes to drive there. I was parked in the visitors’ lot by 8:30 am.

The lot was busier than the day before, but it wasn’t a madhouse like I’d feared. Considering that San Quentin State Prison can house over three thousand inmates, I expected the place to be packed on a Saturday.

At The Visitors’ Intake

There were about two dozen people standing around, or sitting on the wooden benches. About ninety percent of the visitors were women, and a lot of them were probably moms of inmates. I did not envy them visiting their sons at San Quentin.

Camaraderie

I sat in an empty spot on the bench closest to the entrance and asked the women sitting nearby if this is where you wait when you have an appointment. One woman nodded and smiled. Another told me she liked my hair. I thanked her and made a comment about all the clothing color rules and how I was happy that didn’t apply to hair.

The women laughed (yup, that’s where I got the idea to write that in the last post), and the four of us started up a casual conversation. The lady sitting next to me leaned closer and gestured toward a young woman standing against the wall. “She’s never going to get in with jeans,” she tisked.

The place started filling up with more visitors, and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do next. Along one wall were two glass doors an equal distance apart that led to the check-in room and metal detector. Even though the doors went into the same room, it appeared that each door had its own check-in station.

The doors were locked and could only be opened when a guard pushed a security buzzer from inside the room.  The door would buzz; a visitor would open the door and go inside. How anyone knew it was their turn, though, was beyond me.

I put out a general inquiry to the women around me, asking if they were also visiting condemned prisoners. This seems to be the official term used in San Quentin correspondences when referring to death row inmates.

I wonder if that sounds any less threatening?

 It turned out they were all visiting general population inmates and I was sitting on the wrong end of the building.

The Death Row Visitors’ Section

I made my through the people and past the doors to the death row visitors’ section (no wristband needed), and noticed there was an invisible line of division between the death row visitors and everyone else. It was less crowed at this end and it looked like one of the doors/check-in stations was designated for death row only.

A pretty thirty-something woman with perfectly straightened long dark hair smiled at me when I sat down on the bench. Her heavy “hit the town” makeup was perfectly applied. She looked like she was going on a date

“I was on the wrong side,” I shared with her.  “This is the condemned side, right?”

Organizing The Visitors

She nodded and asked my appointment time. She was also scheduled for 9:00 am, and she explained to me how the process works, for which I was extremely grateful.  It reminded me of when I used to help other visitors at the OC Jail by explaining the workings of the lockers. Oh memories.

Within your time slot, you check in by order of arrival. The first person to arrive with a 9 am appointment, for example, is the first person to be checked in during that appointment time. It’s up to the visitors themselves to keep track of the order.

“Hit the town makeup” was the first 9 am to arrive that morning. It turns out you are actually supposed to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment. I was informed that the prison was running uncharacteristically late that morning, and the 8:30 visitors hadn’t all been checked in yet. I was used to visits running late from going to the OC Jail. I wasn’t bothered. That was the norm.

I found out later that Daniel had started to worry when it got to 9:15 and I hadn’t shown up yet. He’d gone to ask one of the guards to take a look outside for me, but realized he didn’t know my current hair color.

Now that I was finally in the correct waiting area, there were four women ahead of me for the 9:00 time. The one who was supposed to be second said she’d noticed me when she got there earlier (the hair color again), and that meant I’d arrived before her. So everyone agreed that I would be the second 9 AM visit to check in. There might not be honor among thieves, but there is honor among inmate visitors.

Getting Through The Door

When it was my turn, I couldn’t seem to muster the hand/ear coordination it took to pull open the door when the buzzer sounds. After my third attempt, someone else opened it for me.

On visiting day two, I handled the door fine. On that first day though, I was still nervous about getting through security. I’d already seen one woman have to come back out two times because of the number of keys on her key ring. She finally just put her keys in a locker. She was allowed to take the locker key in.

I’d taken my car key off my key ring at the hotel. That was the only key I had on me. It was inside a clear plastic sandwich bag alongside my driver’s license, a small comb with no handle, and twenty-five dollars in quarters and singles.

You’re allowed to bring fifty dollars, but I didn’t think I’d need that much in the way of vending machine food. You can also buy photo tokens for two dollars from a machine next to the check-in. Daniel told me he’d already ordered tokens, so I didn’t need to get any this time.

I saw a couple of women carrying clear plastic purses instead of sandwich bags. I’m going to look into getting one of those.

The guard looked at my driver’s license. A second later, he handed me a print out with Daniel’s picture and his information on it.  There was also general name and address information about me. Then, the guard looked at me and pointed at my head.

“Sorry. No sunglasses.”

“Yikes. I’m so lame,” I sputtered because I’d completely forgotten about them after pushing them up on my head when I came inside the building. My fair skin immediately flushed like I’d just downed a double shot of chilled Patron. “They’re pretty cheap. I can throw them away if you want.” I pulled the sunglasses off my head and headed toward a large trashcan.

The guard chuckled and pulled out a small plastic basket that contained a few other forbidden items.  A pen. A cell phone. I remembered that Daniel told me his mother had to take the bobby pins out of her hair.

I placed my sunglasses in the basket and thanked him for not making me go back to put them in a locker. He told me I could get them on my way out.

I went over to the x-ray machine and stuck my sandwich bag in a plastic bin. It headed down the conveyor belt to be thoroughly examined.

For my first attempt through the metal detector, I’d forgotten to take off my shoes. I was wearing Doc Martin Mary Janes with the big silver buckles, which obviously set the buzzer off. After swiping the wand over me, and discovering my shoes, the guard started to laugh. He was the second one to find my antics amusing, and he wouldn’t be the last. I took off my shoes and put them on the belt to follow my coin and comb bag.

I chided myself internally, “Have you not been on an airplane in the past sixteen years? Hello?”

I cleared the metal detector on my second go, and I balanced on one leg and then the other to put my shoes back on.

I found out when I came back the next day that I should have received a wrist stamp at this point in the process.  I also noticed a sign on the second day that said, “Don’t forget your stamp.”

Oh well. The stamp is obviously another measure to insure inmates don’t escape.  I guess an inmate and a visitor could attempt to trade clothes during a visit. This was not a concern with Daniel and me.

The two of us wearing each other’s clothes is more of a hilarious mental picture than an actual escape threat.

Behind The Walls

I’d made it through prison security and was pointed toward an exit that leads back outdoors. Even though I was just a few feet from where I’d entered the visitors’ building, I was now officially inside the gates of San Quentin State Prison.

I walked toward the massive guard tower that stands between the prison and the outside world. The sun bounced off its whitewashed bricks. I squinted and shielded my eyes with my hand. I wished I had my sunglasses. My eyes are super sensitive to the light even on a cloudy day, and that day was bright and sunny.

The air was crisp and fresh coming off the bay. It was a beautiful day.  But I was looking forward to spending it indoors. Locked inside a little cage with my friend, who is a murderer.

(Outside San Quentin photo credit: Nancy Mullane)