I want to thank you all for sticking around.
My posts have been few and far between, and I don’t often chime in on Facebook or blog comments, so it might seem as though I’m not writing anymore.
I started the blog because I didn’t feel I was ready to plunge into writing a book. I wanted / needed some practice. Now, since diving into the deep end of book writing, I haven’t had much time for the blog.
I can assure you, though, that I am still deeply entrenched in writing about Daniel Wozniak and the murders of Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi. It’s just not happening on the blog quite so often.
Back To San Quentin
I visited Daniel at San Quentin on the weekend of September fourteenth and fifteenth.
It had been a long time since my last prison excursion. A family member had some health problems, but once they were thankfully resolved, I could finally justify a trip to San Francisco.
In August, I mailed a written request to the sergeant in charge of visiting the Condemned unit, and asked to visit on both Saturday and Sunday, with a request for extended time on both days. Since I drive about 500 miles each way, I always mail in my request a month in advance to make sure I am on the visiting schedule.
Daniel completely understood my postponing visits, but I suspect he may have been concerned I was never coming back. The entire week before my arrival, he was quite nervous that something would go wrong and my visit would be canceled.
For instance, last year, the prison went on lockdown four times. There had yet to be one lockdown this year, so Dan was positive one would happen and I wouldn’t be allowed to visit.
But there wasn’t one, and I did (pdf link opens in new browser tab).
Dress Code Revisited
It had been a long time since my last trip to San Quentin, so I made sure to review the visitors’ dress code before I packed my suitcase:
- No leggings
- No tank-tops
- No skirts or shorts above the knee
- No underwire bras
- Nothing too form-fitting.
You also want to make sure to not wear olive green or khakis… especially combined, since those are the colors worn by the guards. And nothing blue, not even skirts or dresses.
Daniel told me this particular rule is so guards know who to shoot at in case of a riot.
I didn’t even pack anything blue. I didn’t know about this rule before I changed my hair color, but I am glad my hair isn’t blue anymore…
I chose a pair of black pants and a gray pattern top to wear on Saturday. I also had an emergency skirt in my car, in case a guard had any issues with the pants.
I passed with flying lack-of-colors.
It’s best to try to arrive about thirty minutes before your scheduled visit, so I gave myself plenty of time to drive from my hotel in San Rafael to San Quentin.
I stood around in the visitors waiting area and chatted with other people scheduled for the 8:00 AM time slot. It’s impressive how many people come to see their family member / friend weekly. That is dedication. San Quentin isn’t the most cheerful place to spend your weekend.
I’m glad Daniel’s mother visits as often as she does. I imagine it’s quite depressing for those prisoners who never have any visits.
After I went through the check-in process, I walked from the parking lot to the prison’s visitors’ entrance and stood outside the door, waiting for it to open. I was pretty sure I was at the same entrance I’d used on previous visits, but I didn’t see the little “Condemned” sign that used to hang on the wall. I wonder if they took it down after Governor Newsom had the death chamber emptied out in March, 2019.
The heavy steel door clanked open and I walked into the little vestibule where a guard sat behind glass. I recognized the area.
Yes, I had been there before… but today, Daniel was in a different section.
I walked back out, and over to the next door.
I entered a different vestibule and slid my paperwork and driver’s license to a different guard behind glass. This time, the door to the outside world shut behind me, the door across from it opened up, and I entered the prison world.
I saw Daniel standing in one of the little cages. I waved to him, then headed to the vending machines. I bought two waters and a healthy snack, as is my usual routine.
I often see visitors with trays and trays of food. They microwave frozen burritos and cheeseburgers. I’ve asked Daniel if he wants me to get more food, but he says he doesn’t need junk food and would rather not waste our limited time waiting for me to heat up food.
On Saturday, I got him a yogurt parfait. It seems he had never been introduced to this delicious combination of fruit, yogurt and granola.
Baking Under Glass
This visiting area had different cages than the ones I was used to. Instead of bars, it was crisscrossed wires encased in thick Plexiglas.
At the time, we’d been going through a minor heat wave in California. Daniel had warned me that the air conditioning was broken when he had a visit with his mom two weeks earlier, and it might still be out of commission.
Our Plexiglas cage happened to be next to a little window to the outside. Daniel had the two chairs pushed into a shaded corner, but that didn’t help much, overall. I felt like a lizard under a heat lamp.
That’s not accurate. Lizards like heat lamps.
I made myself one of those folded paper fans using the information sheet I’d been handed when I first checked in. It had Daniel’s face on it. He told me it’s even hotter in the cell block, but then he described how he’s rigged his electric fan to hang from the ceiling of his cell. “It actually helps a lot,” he claimed.
I didn’t say this to Daniel, but I still prefer air conditioning… and not being locked in a prison.
Day To Day
Daniel seemed quite cheerful on both my visiting days, but I think it’s safe to assume that seeing a friend is probably pretty mood elevating – considering the day-to-day minutiae of being behind bars. Part of me always wonders if he’s putting on an act to make me feel better. How could anyone be happy there…ever?
A couple of readers have asked about Daniel’s day-to-day life schedule. He made this and said I could post it (pdf link opens in new browser tab).
A Chance For Some Questions
In total, over two days, Daniel and I talked for about ten hours. This was my opportunity to question him about aspects of the crime without our conversation being recorded.
By this point, I know the majority of Daniel’s story already; it’s what he says is the truth about how and why Sam Herr and Julie Kibuishi were murdered.
Why I Added the Question Mark
I will be honest with you guys: there have been times when Daniel’s story just hasn’t made sense to me, and it’s been a real challenge since I learned some hard-to-refute information that completely contradicts some of what Daniel has told me.
I want my book to be an honest examination of the facts and how Daniel’s version compares. I used the visiting time to ask about these new details.
Daniel and I talked about a lot of things during those ten hours. Much of it was mundane, you know, like the weather. Not having air conditioning puts the current heat wave at the front of your mind the entire time.
Also, a part of me feels guilty when I use this visiting time as a way to drill Daniel about the details of the crime. This is the only “break” he gets from the world where he lives, and I don’t want him to dread our time together.
A Seasoned Interrogator At Work(?)
So, I intersperse the tough questions throughout our conversations.
“It sure is hot in here!”
“You told Rachel about Sam’s murder as soon as you returned to your apartment?
“Hey, the new season of Survivor is starting in two weeks.”
“I need to confirm some information about the drug deal. You asked Sam to help finance it?
“I know! Yogurt parfaits are delicious!”
“Is that what Rachel told you happened during Julie’s murder? If you weren’t there, can you be sure Rachel was honest with you?”
“Yes. It sure is hot in here.”
And so on. It’s all about getting confirmation, and questioning the specifics.
About halfway through the visit, I needed to take a pee break and I wanted to buy some ice cream.
Corrections Officer Good Dude
The guard on Saturday was a really personable, considerate guy. He joked around with us about the heat as he was making his passes back and forth.
Daniel told me he’s like that all the time. The guard is, he says, a “good dude.”
I waved Good Dude over so he could let me out of the hamster cage. He had to handcuff Daniel before he was allowed to open the cage door.
It seems like a strange process. Daniel stands with his back to the door and his hands behind his back. Then he is handcuffed through a slot in the door. He then moves aside, and the guard opens the door and lets me out. The door is closed and locked, and then Daniel can have the handcuffs removed.
Inmates on death row must be in cuffs every moment they’re not locked in a cage. The condemned prisoner has no way to defend himself in the event of an attack from mainline prisoners, because he’s in cuffs, so those inmates have to turn their backs when the death row inmates walk past.
When I returned to Daniel, I held two ice creams (Twix, and one covered in nuts), and the guard joked the ice cream would melt before he could even get the cuffs on and off. He told Daniel I was going to eat both of them, and laughed.
I liked that guard. He made the whole experience nicer and more relaxed. He was, indeed, a “good dude.”
When I was back inside the cage, Daniel and I began some in-depth discussions about the Death Penalty, when he spotted an inmate he knows in one of the other cages. He told me the guy’s nickname is “Batman.”
It seems this inmate had been serving a life sentence for another crime, on the mainline of a different prison. The story goes that a convicted pedophile was about to be released from that prison. The pedophile told people he planned to return to a life of child abuse once he was released, so Batman murdered the pedophile.
Now Batman is on death row.
I spent a little time on the Internet trying to verify this story, but I didn’t know the guy’s name, and after all, there are plenty of inmates murdering each other behind bars.
It’s still an interesting story, and probably… true-ish. I do believe that someone told Daniel that story. There have been times when inmates serving life without the possibility of parole in a different California prison commit murder behind bars in order to end up on Death Row in San Quentin.
There was another story about a guy who ended up on death row because of a car accident fatality that occurred during a robbery. Daniel pointed out that this guy didn’t murder anyone, but he’s on death row.
By the same token, there are people on the mainline who have committed murder.
I told Daniel that his trial defense attorney, Scott Sanders, was definitely correct when he repeatedly described the death penalty as “arbitrary and capricious” throughout his closing arguments.
The District Attorney’s office gets to decide which cases to prosecute as capital crimes. The Orange County DA has made that choice often.
Speaking of prosecutors, our own Matt Murphy is leaving the DA’s office to “work as a victims rights attorney and a television legal analyst.”
Daniel and I spent some time discussing the possible future of capital punishment in California. Considering the anti-death penalty stance of our current governor, it seems possible the whole practice will eventually be eliminated from California completely.
Daniel thinks if the death penalty came up on the ballet again, Californians would finally vote it out.
If that does happen, the issue will be what to do with those people on the row. It would seem simple to just move the condemned inmates to the mainline. Just change their sentences to LWOP (life without parole, and no possibility of ever getting out.)
That is not how the justice system works. It’s a complicated process to re-assign over 700 prisoners. Also, SQ’s mainline is a “Level Two” security prison, and death row inmates have been convicted of “Level Three / Four” crimes.
So, the people on death row have a pretty hazy future. Even with the governor’s moratorium, California prosecutors are still sending people to death row.
Sunday Not-So-Fun Day
My Sunday visit did not run as smoothly as Saturday.
To start, when I arrived at the prison at 7:30 AM I couldn’t find my clear plastic prison purse. I had my suitcase and such with me in the car because I was heading home that afternoon, but no purse.
I had my vending machine money, my unopened package of tissues, my comb, and my driver’s license inside that bag. I’d put my ID in the bag the night before so I wouldn’t forget it.
I could get through a visit without buying ice cream or blowing my nose, but I wasn’t getting inside without identification.
Even though I’d left the hotel, I hadn’t officially checked out. I ran a little late on Sunday morning, and it had been my plan to check out from the room using the TV.
I swear, I’d checked out from there using that method before. When it wouldn’t work, I just left. The hotel had me scheduled to leave that day anyway.
I hightailed it back to my hotel in San Rafael and rushed back to my old room, all the while grateful I hadn’t checked out and still had my key. I went inside and there was my plastic purse, right in front of the door. It must have fallen out of the top of a grocery bag when I was pulling my suitcase out through the door.
Back To San Quentin
I drove quite fast. I’m glad I didn’t get pulled over, because who wants to tell a cop that your speeding to get to prison?
I made it by 7:55 AM.
On Sunday, I wore black capris and a burgundy Ear Hustle t-shirt. I thought it clever to show my support of San Quentin’s podcast.
Instead, I freaked out a guard, who pulled me aside before I could be put in a cage. She thought I was representing the show and there to interview Daniel. She was only half wrong; and she thought it was funny when I said I was “just a fan.”
It turned out that the most recent Ear Hustle episode (as I write this) was about death row.
The other guards were not nearly as friendly as “good dude” from Saturday. It took fifteen minutes of waving, and eventually me standing on a chair, to get let out for a bathroom break. I was scolded for standing on the chair.
“So hey, Mr. Guard,” I wanted to say, “I’m going to pee on the chair if you don’t let me out of here.”
Some guards treat you like a person, and others treat you like a speck of dust. The treatment is basically the same for the visitors as it is for the inmates.
“You get used to it.” Daniel said.
He said that often. I guess there are a lot of things to get used to.
We did get to have forty-five extra minutes to visit because no one came to take me out at 1:15 PM. In fact, at 2:00 PM, we were the only people still in the cages.
An announcement went out that the main visiting room was closed. Daniel joked that perhaps we’d been forgotten in there. I wondered if I should jump back up on the chair.
On The Outside
When I was finally back outside, I took a deep breath of the fresh ocean air. The view is much prettier when you’re walking away from that imposing 167-year-old brick fortress.
I ended up walking back with a woman who had been visiting her husband on the mainline. She was happy, because he was getting out soon. She said he was “going in front of the board” in a couple of weeks. She said she hoped this was the last time she’d have to come to SQ and leave without him.
I hope so, too.
Depending on the fate of the death penalty in California, it’s very possible I could one day be visiting Daniel on some other prison’s mainline. Maybe even closer to Southern California. Although I do really like the opportunity to see non-incarcerated friends who live in the Bay area.
He definitely will not be getting out any time soon.
PS: Look at the email I received when I got home from San Francisco
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation VPASS System has changed your preferred facility message. Your preferred facility is San Quentin State Prison.
BE ADVISED: EFFECTIVE SEPTEMBER 19, 2019 SAN QUENTIN STATE PRISON IS ON MODIFIED PROGRAM. THERE WILL BE NO VISITS STARTING SEPTEMBER 19, 2019 FOR ANY INMATES UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. YOU CAN ALSO CALL THE LOCKDOWN STATUS LINE AT 1-800-374-8474.
P.P.S. They are off lockdown now. It was for a mandatory full facility search.