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.

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

In California, a lot more effort is required to visit a prisoner who is on death row versus visiting someone in a county jail.

When Daniel Wozniak was in the Orange County Jail, there were rules and regulations that had to be followed to visit. Daniel had to put me on his “visitors list.” During the visit, I needed to put my possessions in a locker, go through a basic metal detector, etc. My visits with Daniel at County were non-contact visits, but the contact-visit people went through the exact same process I did.

Getting Into San Quentin (Without Committing A Crime)

San Quentin State Prison is a completely different animal. Just north of San Francisco, San Quentin is the oldest prison in California (opened in 1852), and it’s the only one to house a death row for men.  Prison is much more intimidating than jail, and there are so many steps necessary to visit an inmate.

Long before I could actually visit Daniel at his new home, I had to be approved by the prison. The inmate needs to request a visiting form, and then he mails it to the visitor. Daniel sent me the form, I filled it out, and mailed it to the sergeant in charge of visiting. After about a month (the normal waiting period), Daniel was informed I’d gotten the A-OK, and it was his job to pass that information on to me.

Once a visitor is approved, an appointment needs to be made. In the OC Jail, visits were granted on a first come, first served basis. On visiting days, an inmate was allowed only one visiting session a day. I often saw people being turned away by the deputies because someone else had beaten them to the punch.

There was no fear of that happening at San Quentin. I needed to make an appointment. Normally appointments are done by telephone, with assigned days and times to call and reserve for the upcoming weekend. However, since I live in Orange County, which is a six to eight-hour drive from San Quentin, I wanted to set up an appointment farther in advance.

For that, the visitor can make a visiting request by mail, if it is done at least one month ahead. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope if you’d like a direct reply, otherwise the sergeant will inform the inmate that an appointment has been scheduled.

I first learned about San Quentin being on lockdown a couple of weeks ago because I was added to a visitor’s mailing list when my request was accepted.

I was approved for extended visits on both days I’d requested. I was scheduled from 9 am – 2 pm, on Feb 10th and 11th.

I booked a hotel in the city of San Rafael, which is about five miles from San Quentin State Prison. No surprise – the hotel did not list San Quentin  in the local attractions section on its website. “We have a pool, a weight room, and we’re just a hop, skip and a jump from California’s death row.”  Conveniently, I have some very close friends who live in the San Francisco area, so I made plans for my non-death row time as well.

The Rules

Before I could pack my suitcase, I needed to learn a completely different set of rules from the ones for visitors to county jail. The restrictions on clothing were much more stringent. This is from the CDCR’s 28-page guide booklet for visitors:

At least the restrictions about color were limited to clothing and not hair, because I was sporting an array of all the Barbie furniture hues at that time. Phew!

Practice Run

For this first visit, I decided to drive from Orange County instead of flying. I wanted to have control over as much as possible. I might not be allowed to wear chambray blue or shower shoes, but I can make sure I don’t have to deal with a cancelled flight or lost luggage, and I wouldn’t have to worry about getting a cab or an Uber to get me to the prison on time.

Obviously, I had some concerns that I would somehow, some way, mess things up. I didn’t want to be denied the visit after all this preparation. I was also really looking forward to seeing Daniel again, and I know he felt the same way about seeing me. This was going to be our first unrecorded conversation.

I figured I’d drive up a day early so I could do a practice run and make sure I would be able to find San Quentin  from my hotel. Anyone who knows me would not put it past me to get lost, even though the prison was less than six miles away. Daniel told me his mom got all twisted around when she’d visited him the first time. He couldn’t understand how that was possible, since the prison, which occupies 275 acres on Point San Quentin, juts right out into North San Francisco Bay. “How can you miss the place?” he asked me on the telephone.

I’ll tell you how.

Your car’s navigation system just drops you onto a little tree lined road and says, “You’ve arrived at your destination.”

There were little blue and yellow and white beach cottages along the road and I was reminded of trips to Catalina Island.  I was not at my destination. I couldn’t even see the prison from that spot.

At least I knew to head towards the water. I started to see the prison peeking through the trees, but I had no idea how to get to it, and find its “front door.”

I ended up on E. Sir Frances Drake Blvd, where I, too, felt like I was attempting to circumnavigate a large land mass. I finally found a small road that went downhill into the prison. Admittedly, I was pretty sure this wasn’t the main entrance, but at that point it was the only entrance I could see.

The guard, who stood in front of a guard shack to my right, opened the gate for me. I couldn’t exactly tell if he wanted me to stop or not, but I figured I’d better ere on the side of safety. I needed directions anyway, so I rolled down my passenger side window and asked if this was the correct entrance for visiting.

“Who are you visiting?” He wasn’t hiding his irritation.

“A prisoner. A death row prisoner. Umm, not today though. Tomorrow. Today I’m doing a practice run, so I know where to go tomorrow. Is this where I go?”

“No. You need to turn your car around.”

I pointed to an open area just inside the gate. “Can I just pull in there and flip around?” My car is not small and I am not tall. At this point, there were other vehicles lined up behind me, including a UPS truck.

“No.”

“OK. Sorry.” I proceeded to do a fifteen-point turn to get my car heading back to Frances Drake.

I ended up driving kind of alongside the prison looking for another entrance road. Somehow, I ended up missing the surprisingly small sign marking the turn I needed to take.

That’s when I got stuck driving across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. The sky was clear and blue. It had rained the day before, but now the sun was out. It was a lovely scenic view… That’s what I told myself to keep from feeling like an idiot.

It wasn’t until I headed back across the bridge that I finally got a full view of the prison in all its glory. The place is huge and menacing. Photographs don’t do it justice. I can’t imagine being driven through its gates and knowing it would be your home for the rest of your life.

When I got back on the prison side of the bridge, the sign to turn was more clearly marked (or I knew to where to look this time).

I drove slowly through this residential area for a couple of blocks. I knew the property around there had to be super expensive. Waterfront views in the San Francisco area to not go cheap. A small three-bedroom house can easily fetch over a million dollars according to local real estate websites.

I finally got to the very end of the cul-de-sac, and there was the prison, The largest piece of real estate in the neighborhood. In 2009, there was even a proposal that the state should sell San Quentin and re-build the prison on property that didn’t have an ocean view. That didn’t happen.

This wasn’t an official visiting day, but there were still a number of cars in the visitor parking lot. It was the first of three large lots, but the only one you could enter without going through a guarded and gated checkpoint first. The white wooden guard shack was weathered, but no less intimidating. I carefully drove down the steep narrow road entering the lot and parked my car.

Self-Guided Tour

I walked halfway back up the road and looked at the wooden building that had a small “visitor entrance” sign over the door, that was probably hung up in 1972, and not touched since. The place was grungy and deserted.  A puddle of water on the cement floor told me the roof probably leaked during the most recent storms. I didn’t want to imagine an alternative scenario that would cause a floor puddle.

On the right side of the narrow interior was a wall of beat up blue metal lockers.  Who knew the visiting area at the Orange County Jail could look so clean and modern by comparison? County had plenty of plastic molded chairs for the waiting visitors. San Quentin had a couple of old benches.

I spent some time looking around and snapping pictures of the numerous informational bulletins hung all over the wall. Many of the signs re-iterated the clothing and other visitor rules I’d seen online. If the guards deem your clothing to be unacceptable, you can borrow some used clothing they have available for such a circumstance. It reminded me of how my son’s middle school has a similar policy when kids forget their PE clothes. The loaner PE clothes are pink.

There was a locked door heading into an office check point and metal detector. I figured I had the gist of the place, and I was glad I’d made this practice excursion. It made me feel less stressed about coming back the next morning.

Ye Olde Prison Gift Shoppe

On my way out of the parking lot, I saw a small wooden sign shaped like a pointing hand hanging outside a building just in front of the main prison gates. It said “Hobby Gift Store.”

I parked my car alongside the road next to a one-hour parking sign. I had to check it out. A San Quentin gift store was the kind of thing that would have grabbed my attention long before meeting Daniel.

Unfortunately, the store was closed, but I could see inside the front window. The store was a place to sell crafts and art work made by the inmates in classes. (Daniel later told me there is a long waiting list to get into those classes. They are very popular).

I took a couple more pictures before a guard came around from the gate and suspiciously asked me if I needed help. Once again, I explained that I was taking a test run for my visit the next day. I guess I could have said I’m a writer working on a book. That’s true, too.

I decided it was time to get out of there for now.  I was going to be spending enough time around the place that weekend. I took a deep breath of fresh air and headed back to the hotel to get some writing done. Along the way, I stopped at the Redwood Café and got a grilled cheese sandwich and a café latte to go.

Lock Down

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what to write here. There’s not much new happening with Daniel’s appeal yet.  And if there’s any new information I’m learning about alternate motives for the murders, Daniel’s actual timeline on the day(s) Sam and Julie were killed, or the chance that Sam’s cell phone wasn’t always in Daniel’s possession, I’m saving it for now.

That leaves us with Daniel’s daily life on death row as the main blog topic.

On Thursday January nineteenth, I got the first of numerous emails from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) stating that parts of San Quentin State Prison were on lockdown. That included East Block where Daniel is housed. Visits and inmate programs were cancelled until further notice.

Unfortunately, there was no reason given for the lockdown, but my imagination had field day. I couldn’t find anything online about a prison riot, inmate escape, or hostage situation, so I decided it couldn’t be too terrible, right? But what warrants locking down a maximum-security prison?

The Flu!

San Quentin is experiencing a major flu epidemic. Inmates have flooded a local hospital and the SQSP infirmary is overflowing into other areas of the prison. Inmates are on a “modified” schedule until further notice. This has included the cancellation of most inmate programs and classes, the elimination of yard time, and being forced to wear masks when moving about the prison. And all visits were revoked indefinitely.

I had a visit planned for that weekend, but luckily, I’d cancelled it because I didn’t want to drive in the snow over the grapevine.

Last October, the inmates were offered flu shots. Daniel declined. He thought it was illogical because the possible side effects of the shot were the exact same as the list of flu symptoms. I’ve never had a flu shot. I know people who swear by having one every year, but I don’t get the flu very often and when I do, it’s short lived (knock wood).

Daniel is not sick, by the way. He tells me he pretty much never gets sick. He’s blessed with a strong immune system and he’s very careful to keep his cell clean. Also, he’s made sure to wipe down the inmate phone with bleach before using it. I guess that’s not much different from me wiping off a grocery cart handle with a Clorox wipe.

Not having the flu hasn’t kept Daniel worry free. So far two inmates have died. One was an older man, but the second was a man in his thirties only a couple of cells down from Daniel. It must be scary to be sick in prison. During an epidemic like this, I’m sure it’s not that easy to get to see a doctor. I figure it’s also nerve-wracking to be healthy and yet locked down with numerous contagious sick people.

The Reality of Prison

I envision this world of Daniel’s, which is so how far removed my own, and it makes me even more curious about how he lives. I mean that in terms of living and coping.

I think everyone has a mental picture of what we think prison is like. If you’re anything like me, you’ve even wondered how you would handle being incarcerated. A lot of it would depend on where you were locked up, and for how long, of course. Could I survive the world of Orange is the New Black? And when I do imagine this awful scenario for myself, I’m always innocent of the crime. Doing time you don’t deserve seems unlivable.

You just have to watch the ID Channel to know innocent people get put in prison all the time. Of course, that’s usually because they let the police question them without a lawyer. (Come on, even if you can’t afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.) That’s the first thing you learn from watching Dateline.

Imagine if Scott Sanders had been Daniel’s defense attorney from the beginning. I bet Scott Sanders imagined that himself quite a few times during the trial. Whenever I re-watch Daniel’s confession video, I can’t help thinking, “Shut up, stupid. Ask for a lawyer.”

Daniel Wozniak is guilty, though, and should be behind bars. So, I don’t really feel bad for him that he didn’t have the wherewithal to ask for a lawyer. Because Daniel is remorseful for his crimes, and he knows be deserves to be punished, doing his time is made somewhat easier.

Of course, the fact is, Daniel spending the rest of his life behind bars won’t bring back Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi. Even if Daniel is one day executed by the state of California, he will still have had a much longer life than either of his victims. Nothing about that is fair. I’m hopeful Sam’s and Julie’s families find a little bit of solace in knowing that Daniel Wozniak isn’t walking the streets. His life is greatly restricted. He’s lost his freedom and his future.

Long before I met Daniel Wozniak, the thought of San Quentin’s Death Row would bring to mind images of bars and bricks surrounded by ice cold water. The thought of doing life in that prison, or worse yet, being on death row, would give me the same chills down my spine that I experienced while touring Alcatraz prison. That’s still the case, but now I also imagine inmate yoga classes (which are currently cancelled because yoga takes place on the yard).

I understand some people may look at Daniel’s current existence and feel it is far too cushy and “livable” for the likes of a cold-blooded murderer. I get that. Admittedly Daniel is living a full life behind bars, but it’s not a life I would want to live. Daniel will never be as relaxed and comfortable in his cell as I am right now in my house.

He might argue that one with me. He’s a strong proponent of prayer and meditation as a way to inner peace. I’d still rather be in front of my fireplace, a glass of wine in my hand, and my family surrounding me.

What Do You Want To Know?

Readers – Please let me know in the comments if there are any specific aspects of Daniel’s life that you’d like me to cover.

Next

The next post topic will be on Daniel’s ex-fiancée, Rachel Buffett. I was in court during her “pre-trial” hearing on Friday January 27th, and her case has been postponed again. She’s back on March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day!)

Bye Bye Birdie

Daniel has been on San Quentin’s death row for a couple of months now and he’s settling in quite nicely. It will probably be at least a year or so before there is any action regarding his appeal, which means he won’t be going anywhere for a while.

San Quentin’s condemned unit is a well-run machine. Daniel’s life is much more scheduled now. He’s taking classes regularly, he attends various religious services, and he goes to dental appointments.

Daniel was recently assigned to yard group six, and can go outside every day. He assured me that it is a very safe group, and that’s why he requested it specifically. The inmates in this group aren’t in gangs (or have dropped out of gang life). Yard group six hasn’t had a violent incident in eight years.  Also, Daniel already had a buddy in that group he met when they were both locked up in Orange County.

The condemned unit of San Quentin has a fair and organized yard use system. There are six large outdoor areas on one side of the prison and one smaller outdoor area on another. The inmate groups rotate from day to day, meaning each group will be in the smaller yard once a week. On Daniel’s first day out with the group, they were assigned to the small yard, and even then, he was still impressed with the size.

I was looking forward to hearing all about Daniel’s first outing with his new group. Did he have fun? Were the other inmates nice? Is there a tetherball court?

I may be a little too used to questioning my kids after their first day of school.

But the first thing Daniel told me was how he had come close to getting his first major write-up since being incarcerated.

Uh oh. My mind immediately went on a tangent; graphic scenes from episodes of Oz were playing in my head. Did another inmate come at him with a shiv? What’s a person supposed to do then? You have to defend yourself if another person attacks you with a sharpened ring pop. Maybe he mouthed off to a guard? That didn’t seem like Daniel at all, but if he’d made a joke that wasn’t taken the right way, he could be heading to solitary confinement for the next five years.

“I had a bird in my pocket.”

A pocket bird. I didn’t see that one coming.

Daniel was an amateur magician in his teens, so maybe he was planning to practice tricks in his cell?

Bird-man of San Quentin?

Daniel had noticed a small bird, possibly a sparrow, walking around amongst the thirty or so inmates who had come out for yard. Daniel thought the bird looked injured, and the little guy wasn’t flying at all. He suspected this was a baby that had fallen out of a nearby nest.

Inmates get a sack lunch each day they can bring out to the yard, so Daniel tried to offer the bird a small piece of bread from his sandwich. The little fellow didn’t immediately trust Daniel’s offering. For the next thirty minutes, Daniel calmly followed the bird around the yard’s running track, repeatedly putting out his hand to offer bread.

I asked him if he tried throwing some bread to the bird to gain its trust. He laughed and admitted that was probably a good idea and wished he’d thought of it.

Nonetheless, “Birdie” finally came around (or was just tired of all that walking), and took some bread from Daniel’s hand.  By the end of yard time, this little bird was standing on Daniel’s index finger and eating out of the palm of his hand.

At that point, Daniel decided “Birdie” needed a warm safe place to recuperate for a while. He figured he could make a comfy little bed on the empty shelf in his cell. When yard time ended, he gingerly placed his fine feathered friend in the pocket of his jacket.

They would have made it too if that bird had just laid low in the pocket for a couple of minutes.

When inmates return to their cells after yard time, they go into a small gated area to be handcuffed before entering the prison building again. It’s sort of like a chamber lock system. The inmate stands facing the yard, with his back to the guard. The inmate’s hands are behind his back, where the guard can see them, waiting to be cuffed.

The guard who was preparing to cuff Daniel was, rightfully, taken aback when Daniel’s jacket pocket starting jumping around. Daniel is lucky the guy remained calm and didn’t shoot him immediately. Instead he asked Daniel what the deal was and learned about the bird in the pocket. Despite Daniel’s urge to give the bird a good home, the guard told him he couldn’t bring a bird into the prison.

Oh well. It was a nice thought. Daniel took the bird out of his pocket and put it on the ground, and “Birdie” walked back toward the yard. Daniel plans to keep an eye out for him, so he can share his lunch.

Of course I know trying to rescue a baby bird does not make up for committing murder. I don’t think there is anything Daniel could do that would redeem him in that regard. But I wanted to share this story because it shows the side of Daniel Wozniak most don’t get to see, or don’t believe exists. This is the Daniel I know. This is my friend.

It’s The Holiday Season… In Prison

We are smack dab in the middle of the holiday season. You can’t turn on the TV, listen to the radio, or go into any store without being reminded of this fact.

Occasionally, when I’m talking to Daniel Wozniak I will mention something fun I’m doing with my family, like going Christmas tree shopping, and then I immediately feel a little bad. I assume it must be so depressing to be reminded of the holidays when you are incarcerated.

Last year at this time, Daniel was being found guilty by a jury of his peers, and the topic of Christmas wasn’t in the forefront.

But this year is his first Christmas on death row, and he is living pretty far away from his family and friends. It’s also the first holiday season since Daniel’s father passed away.

This situation would get anyone down, and I was worried about my friend. I asked Daniel if it was OK for me to even broach the topic of how he is feeling around this time of the year, and he said he was fine with that. I told him I would come up with some questions so I could “interview” him during our next phone call.

The first thing I asked about was Daniel’s first Christmas incarcerated. I’ll be honest with you guys, I was expecting a tale of woe about the difficulties of that first year locked up at the Orange County Jail.

Nope.

Daniel’s First Christmas At The Orange County Jail

Daniel cheerfully told me about how he, “Raphly, and Doug” preceded to make a “little spread” for the other 28 inmates on their tier during their dayroom time. They made bowls of soup (ramen), with beans and Cheetos and crumbled up Sun Chips for the topping. The guards let them pass the food out to everyone in their cells. Daniel got to have a Christmas show on the television during food prep (the Jim Carey Grinch movie), and Ralphy led the tier in a song and then said a prayer.

I could tell by his voice that Daniel is still moved by the memory of making sure everyone on his tier got a good meal on Christmas.

That first Christmas wasn’t sad. Why, that first Christmas sounded glad.  

Making food for his fellow inmates became a tradition he continued each Christmas at the Orange County Jail. Leave it to Daniel (Mr. Glass Half Full) to manage to have fond memories of Christmas at County.

Daniel’s First Christmas On San Quentin’s Death Row

I asked Daniel about the general atmosphere behind bars during these weeks leading up to Christmas. For the most part, the inmates just ignore the holidays. As opposed to the OC Jail, at least San Quentin has special visiting days on holidays (even when the holiday doesn’t land on a regular visiting day). Other than that, it’s just like any other time of the year.

I can’t imagine trying to block out the holidays when every other television commercial shows a new car with a bow on it, or people baking pies, or children on Christmas morning happily playing with their recently unwrapped toys.

I guess when you’re incarcerated, you do your best to block out that sort of thing. For most of the inmates, the best part of the holidays is getting a good meal (traditional holiday fare) and watching football on Thanksgiving and basketball on Christmas.

At the OC Jail, there was one TV for each tier. Located in the day room, it wasn’t visible from all the cells.

When Daniel talked about “watching” football and basketball, that often meant just listening to the games and relying on the person in the dayroom to keep everyone else updated on the score.

This year he’s most pleased to have his own TV inside his cell. See, aside from football and basketball, Daniel really enjoys Christmas movies and specials, whereas most of the OC Jail prisoners had no interest in watching Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

I have numerous programs I need to watch every year or else it doesn’t feel like Christmas. They are (in no particular order):

  • A Christmas Story
  • Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • Elf
  • Miracle of 34th Street
  • Home Alone (only the first one)
  • The Year without a Santa Claus
  • The Grinch (animated – I do not need to watch that Jim Carey movie)
  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town
  • Frosty the Snowman
  • The Santa Clause (only the first one).

 And two that aren’t for the whole family: 

  • An Always Sunny Christmas
  • The Trailer Park Boys Christmas Special.

This year Daniel has already watched Rudolph, The Grinch, Frosty, and his favorite Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.

What Daniel Misses

Of course, Daniel misses being with his family.

He spoke fondly of how they would pick up his grandma on Christmas eve and go to “vigil” at five o’clock (a vigil is a Catholic mass held on the evening before the event being celebrated. Mass on Christmas Eve would be the Christmas Vigil mass). Then they’d visit various aunt’s and uncle’s houses to eat and socialize, and end the night with midnight mass. When the family got home, he and his two brothers would each get to open one present.

Daniel’s mom visited him on Thanksgiving Day and will visit again over Christmas.

I just got approved to visit, so I’ll be doing that early in the new year.

Despite Daniel’s ability to put on a happy face, I asked him to tell me a tradition he misses about Christmas on the outside.

He told me about setting up little “villages” all around his house every year. The family custom started at his aunt’s and grandma’s houses. That is where Daniel apprenticed in the art of setting up these elaborate displays of moving parts, twinkling lights and snowy landscapes. He told me he got a kick out of people enjoying the moving ice skaters and miniature scenes of children waiting in line to see Santa.

Daniel seems to be doing fine, though. He’s been behind bars for seven Christmases now, and he’s used to it.

Perspective

The Herr and Kibuishi families have had seven Christmases without Sam and Julie. I’m sure they are not used to it, and never will be.

Every year I unpack ornaments my kids made when they were little; photos of them in Santa hats (and missing front teeth) that are glued into snowman picture frames. I smile when I pull the ornaments out of the box and reminisce about those Christmases years ago. Sometimes I even tear up a little. My kids are safe and sound. I have them.

When you get right down to it, Daniel’s family still has him, even if he is in San Quentin. Daniel can still celebrate the holidays with friends (even if they are also murderers). Sam’s and Julie’s families don’t get that luxury. They only have memories of Christmases past.

Home Sweet Home

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).

Jail MacGyver?

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.