Daniel Wozniak has been sending me detailed letters about the move from San Quentin since he arrived at Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP). I’m probably not the only one interested in a first person look into this strange world, so here you go:
Right on cue I woke up a little after 1AM. I made myself a strong cup of coffee and got myself ready before packing my remaining items up that had not been TRANS-PACKED [Fan, TV, Cables, Folders, Books, etc. All the miscellaneous hygiene and extras I was not going to be taking with me I set aside in a separate bag (to be dropped off at one of my neighbors upon leaving.
At 4:30AM, I began hearing CO’s rolling property carts on the tier’s above me – collecting everything from the other 19 guys who were also transferring out with me. They finally came to my door around 4:45 AM and told me to leave my property on my bed. He cuffed me up & walked down to one of the holding cells downstairs. All my neighbor’s were up (surprisingly) and all of them bid me a pleasant farewell. WOW!
They had taken the first group of guys over to R+R and the rest of us would be brought over when the next watch came on (5:30-6:00). While in the hold cells I talked to a few of the guys I knew & asked if they were told where they were going. Like me, to one had been told. At 6:00, they finally came and escorted us over. I remember thinking that this was the last time I would be walking this path I normally made going to group(s) each week. Then we passed the building & kept on walking. I hadn’t been on this new path for nearly 5 years. I was oing back out the same way I first came in. Along the way I finally got to see and have a deeper appreciation for the “Dungeon” (the very first building constructed at San Quentin). We kept walking and made it all the way down to the R+R Building.
MON 07/12 cont.
They finally opened all our doors and we were escorted out single file and brought out to the bus. Before boarding they asked up to convirm our CDCR# and then placed us in these ‘specialized’ cuffs with hinges in lieu of chains. The bus was divided into 3 different sections and 4 ‘TOTAL SEP’ caged seates (for ‘ACTIVES’). The 1st area consisted of a bench on the left (which sat 3). The 2nd section was on the right & had 3 rows of 2 individual seats (side-by-side). Then the 3rd zone in the very back of the bus contained 8 double person seats (4 on each side) This is where I sat and since there were only 7 of us left each of us goat an entire bench to ourselves. Hence, it was a very comfortable ride the entire way (to our still unknown destination).
Day to Day Life at Salinas Valley State Prison
I’ve gotten eight fat letters from Daniel, and we’ve been talking regularly on the telephone. It definitely seems like day-to-day life for the inmates at SVSP (at least in his unit) is a big step up for the nineteen men who transferred from San Quentin and death row.
His telephone usage has become a bit more of a free-for all. At San Quentin, Daniel would sign up for a specific time period and a guard would bring a telephone to his cell. He would call me and call his mom. The calls were fifteen minutes each, and he could call two times.
At SVSP, telephone time looks like it does on TV and in the movies. There are two telephones in the unit’s day room. Daniel has to wait in line and return to the back of the line after each call.
The Day Room
He’s on a tier with about fifty other inmates. They all have access to the day room at some point every day.
The day room isn’t just for phone calls. It also has six single-man shower units, two televisions, and there are tables where inmates visit and play cards, eat, and whatnot.
Daniel is currently living alone in a two-person cell because the prison is still operating under some COVID-19 restrictions and there is currently no need to double up.
Inmates can actually be out of their cells from 9:00 am – 3:30 pm on weekdays. In order to leave their cell, an inmate flicks their light switch, a signal to the guard to press a button that opens the cell door.
As far as food is concerned, the inmates at SVSP get hot and, according to Daniel, pretty delicious food which is either served in a cafeteria setting. Alternately, hot food is brought to the cells.
At about 6:30 I looked out to see a work crew assemble a little min-serving station table and began to distribute the hot portions into these solid trays in assembly line unison. When the trays reached the end workers/runners began bringing each tray to every cell one by one until everyone was fed. It’s been awhile since having a hot breakfast
- Scrambled Eggs, Hash Browns, Cinnamon Oatmeal, 2 bananas & milk.
Like the night before, when finished they came back around to collect the trays & trash from everyone. The worker who collected mine paused
There are many activities available on the large and well-stocked yard. There’s a basketball court, and a soccer field. They have weights available to them in the prison gym.
However, I personally think there would be only four reasons to spend time on the yard: Their names are Kevin (a mocha-colored lab mix), Paloma (who Daniel describes as a “terrieresque furball,”) an aptly-named black lab, Chocolate, and Trixie, the tiny yet terrifying chihuahua. They all have training time out in the yard. Some of the dogs who go through the program are there to learn how to be ESAs (emotional support animals) and others are there to help make them more adoptable.
And since I wrote this – I’m happy to report that Trixie has graduated from the program and has probably gone on to be someone’s emotional support animal.
Seven days a week, inmates have a wide variety of support groups and informative classes they can attend. The list Daniel sent me included drumming, mariachi, meditation and an improv class. There were also AA and NA groups conducted in English and Spanish, and a group that works to help inmates understand the grief their victims have suffered because of their actions. The prison also offers various vocational training courses since many of these inmates are not serving life sentences and hope to find “honest” work when they are released.
There is no doubt that Daniel is more comfortable and has more freedom now. It’s a big improvement from San Quentin. No one can deny that.
It’s still a prison, though. When an alarm sounds (which happens a couple times every day) he’d better sit down immediately and not move until he’s instructed. Daniel still has no real control over his present life, and he doesn’t have much control over his future. I don’t envy his life, but at least he’s living in a place that is somewhat less terrible. I am personally happy that he’s “being treated humanely,” to quote one of my close friends.
Reactions to the Move
When I learned Daniel had been moved out of San Quentin and wrote the previous blog post, I contacted Steve Herr, Sam Herr’s father, before I posted it. I have great respect for Steve and Raquel Herr, and I try my best to be conscious of their feelings regarding my blog, my yet-to-be-published book, and my friendship with Daniel.
Steve returned the favor by letting me know about an Orange County Register story about Daniel’s move a day before it had been published. Steve was quoted in the article, which you can read here.
Daniel learned about the article from his family, who learned about it from his attorney. As Daniel told it, no one thought it was a particularly good idea to make his change of location public. He asked me to send him a copy of the story, and I did.
Coming Soon: Direct Word from Daniel Wozniak
After reading it, he decided he wanted to clearly explain to my readers why he was moved to another prison. He asked if I’d be willing to post something from him directly without editing it. I agreed, sight unseen. I’m writing a blog and a book about this person, so, in for a penny, in for a pound. I’ll post Daniel’s letter once it arrives, and I’m sure he’ll get some reply comments.
Oh and Hey Also the Book…
I had a commenter recently ask me about my book because I didn’t mention it in the last post. I just figured you were all probably getting tired of hearing me say things like “I had no idea this book would take so long to write” or “I could write a book about what’s it has been like to write this book.”
But don’t worry everyone, I’m plugging away. Thank you for reading the blog