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.