Daniel Wozniak has been at San Quentin State Prison for over a month now and I know many of my readers have questions about how he’s settling in on death row.
For the first couple of weeks, Daniel was in the SHU. That’s the Special Handling Unit, where prisoners are sent when they have gotten into some type of behavior trouble in their regular housing unit. Apparently, San Quentin also uses the SHU as a holding unit for incoming prisoners.
When I read about that in Daniel’s first letter from DR (death row), I was concerned for his welfare. San Quentin seemed intimidating enough without being placed in the most dangerous “time-out” area in California.
It turned out this only meant Daniel would be unable to make phone calls or have visits until he’d been processed into one of the regular DR housing units.
I can imagine that taking away a prisoner’s phone and visiting privileges would be a genuine punishment, but I had imagined something scarier. Think Daryl on The Walking Dead being held prisoner by Negan and the Saviors.
The truth is, the living conditions at the Orange County Jail are a lot worse than even the SHU at San Quentin. I think that is the case with most prisons in California. They are all better living environments than county jails because they are designed for long term stays.
Daniel was in the OC Jail for six and a half years. That place was designed for people to stay months, not years. So for him, SQ is a big improvement. He’s been institutionalized for so long that within a week he was making a makeshift clothes drying line for his cell (using melted and re-shaped bar soap to stick homemade thread to a flat cement wall).
Living Conditions On Death Row
Daniel wrote me that the food in SQ is miles above and beyond the cuisine available at the Orange County Jail. It is higher quality and the portions are plentiful. The expression “three hots and a cot” is fairly accurate. He’s brought a hot breakfast and the fixings for his lunch in the morning. Then there is another hot meal served at dinner. So two “hots,” and a cold.
As far as the “cot” goes, Daniel is a lot happier with his bed now, too. It’s no Posturepedic, but compared to the “yoga mat” thin mattresses at the county jail, it’s an improvement.
For the first time in years, now that he’s in prison Daniel gets to enjoy the “great outdoors.” He got sunburned during the first week because he hadn’t been in the sun for so long. He also told me about still choosing to take his yard time one day, even though it was pouring rain. He thought he’d be the only prisoner willing to stand in the rain for hours (once they go out, they have to stay out the entire duration of yard time), but many inmates still chose getting soaked to being a cell.
I can’t say I blame them.
Daniel was moved to his assigned cell early in November and he was able to use the telephone again. He sounded the same as always. Chatty, funny, and filled with interesting stories. He’s pleased because he has access to both the extensive law library and the well-stocked regular library.
Today we talked about a “Critical Thinking” class he attended. The topic of discussion was the Dunning-Kruger Effect , which is basically when people think they are a lot smarter than they actually are.
He told me about working out in the yard while “Highway to the Danger Zone” and other 80s classics were played over a loud speaker. He played Chinese checkers with another inmate and a psychiatrist. Since arriving at San Quentin, he got a physical and visited the dentist. He’s also been to therapy.
Does all this mean that it’s a treat to be sentenced to death row in California? No. Of course not. But Daniel Wozniak was already institutionalized long before he arrived on DR.
There is no way I would trade my life for Daniel’s. Sure, I don’t like traffic on the freeway. I’m not a fan of waiting in line at the grocery store. Paying bills is no treat, and my email box is always filled with junk.
But if facing the day to day minutiae is what makes it possible to be with my family and have control over my own life, I’ll choose that over being kept in a cage any day.
The meditation and focused breathing class he attended this afternoon sounded kind of cool, though.
Daniel wishes he could go back in time and undo the horrible things he did. However, it isn’t because he feels sorry for himself in any way. So many people’s lives have been destroyed because of his selfishness and stupidity, and he does live with that guilt every day.
Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi don’t get to eat three meals a day. They don’t get a good night’s sleep. They don’t get to read books or listen to music. They can’t take classes or work out or play Chinese checkers. They’ll never feel the sun or rain again. Sam and Julie can’t send letters to their family and friends. They won’t get any phone calls or visits.
Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi had their lives stolen from them, and the two of them were stolen from their loved ones.
California 2016 Death Penalty Propositions
On November 9, California voted on two death penalty related propositions:
Proposition 62 was to repeal the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. It lost with 54% of the vote.
Proposition 66 was to change procedures governing state court challenges to death sentences.
It won by 51% of the vote.
Daniel Wozniak’s life won’t be changed much with these election results…at least not for now. It does show that California isn’t quite ready to give up the option of capital punishment.
I don’t agree with the death penalty, but I understand why someone might feel that Daniel’s current living environment isn’t quite enough of a punishment for what he did.