It was 1984 or 85 as best I recall, the old diary’s are in storage.
For the last week or two we have been working inside the walls of San Quentin State Prison…
I am with my right hand, Ann Bullard. Ann is running the level, I have the Frisco Rod... we are under escort, deep inside, a couple of hours in. We are running levels and making detailed sketches as we work our way across the concrete canyon of the Death Row Exercise Yard…
We have been many days out here in this little prison/city on the edge of the bay, the sky is gray and the wind is thrashing us… all the while we can see the wind surfers over in the other world. It is simple topo work. The requirements and expectations are low, the conditions a bit difficult… it is not all glamour for us, but we pay our bills.
Of all things, this is a Plumbing Job. There is some sort of drainage problem with the maze of more than 130 years continually cutting ditches and gutters; the installation of drains, sewers, supply lines, steam ducts, and of course the replacements, retro fits, accumulated and patched and re routed pipes, tunnels, shafts, cables…
The plumber/escort is telling us it is purposely not very accurately documented or mapped “for security”. “We just make it work.”
The concrete yard is all chopped into little squares of tightly doubled up 8 foot high chain link fences, with doubled up gates, like a bunch of little air locks... and all of it is topped off with razor wire!
Take another breath… lots of uniforms, some above us.
The prisoners are outnumbered, all separated and singled out, no two can touch. When they are moved they are hobbled and their wrists are shackled to their hips, like penguins with orange jumpsuits. Sometimes the hobbles and shackles stay on.
Our escort is pointing out that we are in sight of The Green Room, the last place on earth. Then whistles, whistles, whistles.
We hear whistles back in the main cell block.
Our escort says “we get out now, they are locking down, Do Not Run …”
We carry our gear in a little huddle as we work our way back past the guards and thru the doubled security ports and into the main cell block… we go and then past days of our TBMs and across to the far wall … to the ports out to the main yard…
… the whistles continue all around us, ports closing on our heals as we hurry thru…
we pass the last port with our escort continuing to chant under his breath “do not run, do not run, do not run…”
At last we step into the sunlight of the main yard!
Big deal. Had to be there, take my word for it.
The lock down only lasts about an hour, we return to our level circuit…
As we head with our gear back we the hear the chant “dead man walking, dead man walking, dead man walking” get louder and louder. The escort stops us.
A few guards, the Dead Man in the hands of guards, and then a few more guards work their way past… the prisoner has dozens of small cuts on his face… all of the cuts are bleeding a little bit, he has the blood stained collar of a white T shirt jerked up.
Our escort says “… if they wanted to finish him they would have, this way is worse, marked for life… who knows what he did to “them”… ”
Back to work, we want to get done