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

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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

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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!