focus on: san quentin

i would like to, when i have time, put together fact sheets of purely objective data regarding death rows around the united states of america. what better place to start than san quentin being as it was most recently the focus of a media frenzy surrounding the execution of stanley “tookie” williams.

san quentin holds california’s only death row. it was built to hold only 554 prisoners, but currently holds 647. well, i suppose 646 now, less tookie.

215 men met their end on san quentin’s death row by hanging.

from rotten.com: san quentin: The first gas chamber execution was carried out in 1938. The view from the gas chamber is the last sight a condemned man sees in life. The chamber at San Quentin is kept in the basement and is simply a large green box. Six feet across, eight feet high with a 30 foot chimney to exhale gas.

Gassing is painful and dangerous, not just to the victim but to the staff and witnesses as well. A gas chamber must be well maintained to avoid leaking gas. Death by hydrogen cyanide gas (2 NaCn + H2SO4 = 2 HCN + Na2SO4) is a messy business but less so than the previous choices available until 1890: electrocution and hanging.

San Quentin's gas chamber works like so: The subject is sealed in an air-tight, pressurized chamber. Pellets (or more accurately, briquettes) of sodium cyanide are mixed with sulfuric acid within the chamber. The subject, after a series of epileptic motions, dies from hypoxia, a condition that occurs when the brain fails to get oxygen. Death by gassing doesn't happen immediately, the prisoner is expected to play along and inhale the deadly fumes. It takes about ten minutes of twitching and straining against the straps for our subject to die. After ten minutes or so, the chamber is ventilated (another fifteen minutes). The remaining gasses are evacuated and the state is left with a corpse that must be scrubbed with bleach before it can be handled.

from: inside san quentin's death row
Execution is not the usual fate of Death Row inmates. On average, those who are executed spend 16 years in prison before they get a date with "the needle." So far, there have been 11 executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978. Twelve condemned inmates have committed suicide and some 30 have died of natural causes during that time.

san quentin was home at one point or another to charles manson, merle haggard, george jackson of the black panther party, sirhan sirhan, bobby kennedy’s assassin, and of course, stanley tookie williams, co-founder of the crips, nobel peace prize nominee, acclaimed author of anti-gang children’s books. the prison has hosted many shows with bonnie raitt, paul rodriguez, metallica - who aslo filmed the video for “st. anger” there, and, most well-known, johnny cash who released a recording of his concert
At San Quentin (The Complete 1969 Concert)

links of interest
california department of corrections and rehabilitation - san quentin
wikipedia entry for san quentin
rotten.com: san quentin
a visit to san quentin
inside death row at san quentin

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