Monday, February 11, 2019

The History and Corruption of San Quentin Prison

San Quentin prison was first a Prison ship docked at the base where San Quentin was built. Below is the Wanban Prison Ship drawing.

In 1849, they purchased the Euphemia for $3,500 and turned the vessel into a floating prison ship. By 1850, the ship began housing prisoners.

 The ship was reportedly acquired by San Francisco County Sheriff Jack Hays and was contracted with the State of California to be operated as the first state prison ship.

 The Dec. 20, 1851, edition of the Daily Alta California chronicles the ship’s first foray as a prison vessel.
“The bark Waban, with about forty state prisoners, was towed over to Angel Island yesterday by the steam tug Firefly, Capt. Grifflin. We learn the prisoners are intended to work in the stone quarry, under the direction and supervision of our efficient Sheriff, Jack Hays,” the newspaper reported at the time.

 The state opted for a permanent prison, rather than a ship, and in 1852, the state purchased 20 acres of land at San Quentin for $10,000. Later, Estell became the sole owner of the contract.

As folklore has it, the Waban arrived on July 14, 1852, (Bastille Day) with 40 to 50 convicts. On Oct. 12, 1852, a “contract was let for the first cell building,” according to reports. The building was completed in 1854. Inmates slept on the ship at night and worked to construct the prison during the day.
March 1858
He was the first Warden at San Quentin

As time went on and more prisoners arrived and more wardens took over, San Quentin had a reputation of being harsh and the escape rates were outlandish at times.

There was a fire in 1856 destroying a building. 

By 1902 there was a Convict Ring at the prison and Warden Martin Aguirre was at the helm. Gov. Gage made an inquest and with all the evidence found Aguirre was made to resign.


CONSTERNATION reigns in San Quentin Prison. A scandal which, in its proportions, in its revelation of wholesale crime has had few equals in this State, has burst over the institution involving Warden Martin G. Aguirre and Henry T. Gage, the Governor of California. Warden Aguirre has been guilty of gross crimes and Governor Gage, his friend, associate, and adviser, has been the beneficiary of these criminal acts. The State treasury has been systematically and craftily robbed by a gigantic ring, of which Warden Aguirre is the inspiration and governing genius. Supplies, clothing and luxuries have been purchased with the money of the State, and fraud, forgery, misrepresentation, deceit, dishonest bookkeeping and the consummate craft of Warden Aguirre have blinded the Prison Directors to the crimes and have filched dollars dishonestly won from the treasury of the State. At the direction of the prison authorities convicts, expert in forgery, have been employed to forge bills upon the penitentiary, to substitute dishonest demands for honest ones, to make false entries in the prison books, to conceal criminal transactions in the maze of crooked bookkeeping, in order that the family of Governor Gage, through the criminal assistance of Warden Aguirre, might thrive upon a dishonoring bounty. Convicts have been employed to manufacture the most costly furniture, which has been sent by Warden Aguirre to friends of his and of Governor Gage in this city and elsewhere. A mammoth nest of official thievery, upon which Warden Aguirre is hatching, has been uncovered. Great firms in this city have been imposed upon, & rid has ruled at San Quentin, extravagance there has had no curb, penitentiary records have been mutilated, accounts have been fuddled, convicts have been made to commit new crimes to hide the crime of their official guardians, and the State has been robbed that Warden Aguirre might show the generosity of a thief and Governor Gage might be his beneficiary. How far this official crime has progressed, to what deep extent the State has been robbed, it is the duty of the Prison Directors, by immediate and careful inquiry, to determine.

Wholesale Fraud Practiced Under the Mask of False Bills and Mutilated Books

Crafty Ring Systematically Robs the State Treasury Under Official Protection

Skilled Men Are Used for 

y j v, . • - * • Charge Goods to Bogus Items.

Forgers Made to Change Bills.

Stage Settles for Ladies 9 

Raid Made on the Public Funds.

Warden Lives in Lavish W-v Style.

Crime Shows on Face of Books.

Gives Costly Presents to Friends.

AFTER a most thorough investigation The Call is prepared to prove that one of the most corrupt rings ever banded together for the purposes of crime is now conducting the affairs of the State Prison at San Quentin, with the knowledge of Warden M. G. Aguirre, the bosom friend of Governor Henry T. Gage, and with the assistance of the Warden’s intimate deputies.

Planned by a mastermind, the ring has utilized the services of convict forgers, thieves and murderers for the purpose of obtaining goods by false pretenses for the benefit and comfort of Governor Gage, his family and friends, committing forgery, substitution of bills, falsification of records and engaging in a general conspiracy and being guilty of fraud, deception, misappropriation of public funds and malfeasance in office.

The manner in which the financial affairs of San Quentin prison are being administered

by Warden Aguirre and his lieutenants is a disgrace to the community, and The Call is prepared to prove that some" of the men who are paid to conduct the business of the penitentiary have committed offenses that should doom them to be inmates of prison cells, garbed in the felon's stripes. Goods Obtained by Fraud. Goods and supplies, ordered presumably for the prison at San Quentin, have been delivered to the Governor's family and his intimates,, and in order that the State Board of Examiners might be deceived, forged bills have been sent 1 to' Sacramento and paid out of the public funds. San Francisco ' wholesale houses have on orders shipped costl goods to the prison,- and the bills for the same have been', altered', or substituted by convict '.clerks' at San Quentin so that they State Board of Examiners might be duped "into paving. for tht articles. These goods were not for the.

use of the- prisoners or the.,officials of the prison, but were obtained so that Governor Game's family and the friends of VVarden

Aguirre' might; enjoy, luxuries; at the expense ¦ of the . taxpayers. .[ 1 n the Penal Code of California. such .transactions are design-

natec as : ¦.¦•felony, and the members of ;• .the' ring that" controls " San Quentin prison have rendered themselves amenable to' the out-

raged- majesty, of the .law. For; the comfort :and convenience of Governor Gage's family, dainty articles of; feminine apparel have been supplied by wholesale; houses on the order of Warden Aguirre or some of his relatives. -These goods have been shipped to San Quentin prison and billed by the shippers to the penitentiary.' account. In order that the criminal' transactions might .be covered; up. forged bills, purporting to be for genu-. jhe "r prison supplies, have been prepared by convict clerks. These bills ; have been ; passed by the commissary of the prison. Francis Foley, and by Warden Aguifre. Certify to Forced Bills. With the signatures ' of Foley and Aguirre, on their face,, the' forged bills' have 'been sent by 'Aguirre before the Board of Prison Directors. "The forged documents have been forwarded to  Sacramento •_ and duly ordered :paid by the- State Board of Examiners and the State Controller. With the permit for the forged

bills to be paid, the ring of forgers at' San Quentin has sent the original bills back to San Francisco merchants, accompanied by checks in payment. The original bills have been duly receipted for and returned to San Quentin.

This skillful plan has enabled the ring to obtain large quantities of goods for personal use and secure payment for them by the State under the guise of genuine prison supplies.

Convict labor has been utilized to make costly furniture, harness and sole-leather trunks for the friends of Governor Gage and Warden Aguirre. The material has been charged up in the books at San Quentin to various accounts and the State defrauded

Convicts Are in Control.

In the matter of subsistence for Warden Aguirre's house at San Quentin the grossest fraud has been carried on. Though the law allows the Warden the sum

of $100  month for subsistence, the records show that this sum has been exceeded twice and three times over. -The books of the commissary department have been k . altered deliberately by convict ,clerks A under direction of officials. The Warden's subsistence account has. been reduced monthly to the. limit allowed by law and the excess charged to the prisoners" mess account or to cement sidewalks or other items.

The system of the commissary department at San Quentin prison is run en-

 tirely by clever convict forgers, with the full • knowledge of Warden Aguirre. the bosom friend' of Governor Gage and to whom the Warden owes this position.'

The reputed commissary officer, Francis Foley, is entirely ignorant of what is carried on in his department. He is unable to explain any entries on his books, always calling upon the convict clerk to give  information. 

Warden Aguirre allows . the convict Clerks in the commissary- department  to do as they please. General Overseer J A. Aguirre, the brother of the Warden, admits that he knows nothing of the books of the commissary.

The manner in which the commissary books are  kept the grossest frauds to be .perpetrated by the ring, in control of San Quentin prison,' aided and abetted by the 'convict clerks. ,  Fruits Charged as Fuel,

Thousands and thousands of dollars worth of supplies are charged annually, to the prison at San Quentin. The book 3 do not even show that the goods have" ever reached the prison, j The only proof presented is a bill, from the shipper and the entry? made by a convict clerk.Collusion between the ring, in control- and corrupt shippers opens" the door to the defrauding of the State of enormous sums.'

In the matter of ordering and distributing supplies for: the prison the system in vogue Is "farcical. Entries-. -can be found

in the' books at San" Quentin showing that costly 'tableware '-and. ''articles of clothing have been entered as '"bed furnishings." These goods; sent to* the Warden's house, have been €harge up to "furnishing and fixtures," leaving no clew as to their destination. : 

corrupt ring.that controls San Quentin- prison and. the. disbursements of large sums of money has entertained lavishly. ' Wines and cigars, fruits and delicacies : have been partaken of by Gover.r,or Gage's family, and the friends^ of Warden Aguirre and his brother, J. A. Aguirre, and charged by the convict

clerks acting under instructions to various departmental accounts In the guise of wc'od.^coal, cement, iron work, cloth, etc.

Criminals Leave Clews*

Particular care has been taken by the convict clerks -to cover up the purchase and supply of goods destined for the members of-- the controlling ring: and its friends. As in all criminal work, however!'a clew has been left* and The Call is prepared to prove, its assertions here set forth.

The lavish entertainment carried on by Warden" "Aguirre arid his* brother "of 'San Quentin. has- been, done, with the knowledge of Governor*' Gage. The Governor has been a", very, l frequent' guest of his bosom friend, Warden Agulrre, and must have known that his host could not afford to entertain' as tie 1 did ori ah 'allowance bf 5100 per month. ' ; ¦; - '-!\i '-'' * 1

It is now the duty of the Board of Prison Directors to. make an Immediate inveStigation and ask The Call to prove Its charges, which this paper is prepared to do in a full and complete manner. '


(Sorry about text above if there are mistakes, it was transcribed by someone from a newspaper account).

San Quentin 1900

San Quentin Prison 

This prison has a very long history and is still in use today.

Here are some mugshots through their history

If you had an ancestor who lived in California maybe they have a criminal record, these and Folsom Prison mugshots and records can be found on Ancestry.

The following timeline is provided by California DOC

Historical Timeline For 

1851: State Legislature passed Criminal Practices Act, authorizing six counties to set up and operate a state prison in California.

1852: Waban, a state-contracted prison ship, sailed to Point San Quentin. State purchased 20 acres of land for construction of a permanent prison. Construction of first cell block began, using inmate labor. The inmates slept on the ship at night and worked during the day.
1853: The warden’s residence, originally constructed at a cost of $14,453.75, became known as the Lieutenant Governor’s residence.
1854: First cell building constructed.
1857: General James Estell, contract-holder with the State to run San Quentin, turned over the business to John F. McCauley.
1858: The Legislature declared the contract with McCauley null and void and advised the State to take immediate charge. On May 1, Gov. John B. Weller took over the prison “by force,” according to reports.
1859: McCauley won a lawsuit against the State and the Governor. The State was ordered to return the prison to McCauley.
1860: State settled with McCauley for $275,000 to return the prison to the State.
1882: Jute Mill Constructed in 1882 at a cost of $69,086.02.
1904: The youngest prisoner received was Claude F. Hawkins (20863) from Yuba County. He was 14 and sentenced to serve 16 years for murder in the second degree.
1913: Warden John Hoyle, who was appointed in 1907, abolished the use of striped uniforms.
1915: Stables with reinforced concrete and a frame roof are constructed.
1920: Inmate James “Bluebeard” Watson (33755) arrived. He confessed to killing seven of his 22 wives. He died in San Quentin in 1935 and is buried at the prison cemetery.
1933: The last of the San Quentin female prisoners were transferred to Tehachapi. In 1937, the Women’s Department of San Quentin at Tehachapi became the California Institute for Women.
1944: Senate Bill No. 1 passed, establishing the Department of Corrections. Richard A. McGee named Director of Corrections by California Gov. Earl G. Warren.
1945: Guards officially became known as Correctional Officers after the Department of Corrections first set of rules and regulations was issued.
1946: The Correctional Training Facility – South (then called the Soledad Barracks) began operation as a satellite of San Quentin. In 1945, the Legislature had authorized construction of a medium-security prison at the site. Also in 1946, statewide educational and vocational programs were established.
1947: Soledad separated from San Quentin.
1951: The Jute Mill burned. According to a newspaper report published at the time, on April 19, 1951, a fire destroyed the prison’s jute mill, causing $3 million in damage. Two inmates risked their lives to drag Guard James D. Powell to safety after he was overcome by smoke. The fire broke out when 700 of the mill’s 850 workers were returning from lunch. At the height of the fire, the flames and smoke were visible for eight miles.
1956: Cotton textile mill opened in San Quentin, replacing the Jute Mill. The mill ceased production in 1969 and the equipment was sold to a private firm and moved to Peru.
1959: The last of the Old Spanish Prison was demolished. It was the original prison, sometimes referred to as the “old prison.” Inmate Tony Ditardo (33707), received at San Quentin in 1920, was the last to live in the cellblock.
1966: New gym construction completed on site of old Jute Mill which was destroyed by fire in 1951.
1967: Woody Allen filmed part of his movie, “Take the Money and Run,” within the confines of San Quentin.
1969: The dairy was closed and razed in a controlled burn.  The dairy herd had been transferred to Folsom State Prison in 1966. Cotton mill was also closed and the ice house discontinued.
1971: Musician Merle Haggard performed and recorded music at the prison. Haggard was a former inmate, sentenced in 1958 and paroled on Feb. 3, 1963.
1972: This year marked the beginning of female custody staff working at San Quentin. According to one of those first female Correctional Officers, Ilene Williams, “no females were placed at San Quentin until 1972.” She was the first woman to wear a uniform. Before then, women employed by the department wore normal clothing. Williams began her career with the department in 1967 and retired as a Chief Deputy Warden at California State Prison-Corcoran in 1994. The other first female Correctional Officer at San Quentin was Joyce Zink, who retired in 2000 from Folsom State Prison as a Captain. The pair were featured in the July 28, 1972 edition of San Quentin News. According to Williams, women had been assigned in 1971 but a riot delayed placement at San Quentin for a year. (Note: The first female Correctional Officer assigned to a male prison was in 1971 at California Training Facility, Soledad, according to CDCR’s “50 Years of Public Safety, Public Service” pamphlet dated 1994.)

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