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I've seen 'em come and go and I've seen them die
November 12, 2007 10:07 AM   Subscribe

High-resolution images of Death Row at San Quentin State Prison, California.
posted by fandango_matt (54 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Looks safe and humane to me!
posted by brain_drain at 10:15 AM on November 12, 2007


Jesus! How bleak and depressing. That this is on a State sponsored web site is amazing.

I've been in San Quentin, and anyone who says prisoners are coddled doesn't know what the hell they are talking about. And to see the mechanism of our death penalty is further reinforcement of how cruel and unusual this punishment really is.
posted by birdhaus at 10:19 AM on November 12, 2007


That green color is hellish.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:21 AM on November 12, 2007


Why does the death chamber look like part of a WWII submarine?
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 10:25 AM on November 12, 2007


Maybe the chamber doubles as a tranquilizing gas room in case the inmate flips out?

(Maybe I have no idea what I'm talking about?)
posted by tepidmonkey at 10:27 AM on November 12, 2007


The extra-long telephone cords are there just in case you need to receive a last minute stay of execution and throw the pasta in at just the right time.
posted by phaedon at 10:29 AM on November 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


It used to be the gas chamber.
posted by dyoneo at 10:38 AM on November 12, 2007


The injection room used to be a gas chamber, you know, before capital punishment became humane.
posted by Camofrog at 10:39 AM on November 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


Is it really necessary to have that list of phone numbers next to those particular phones?

(And this makes me feel a little sick inside.)
posted by inconsequentialist at 10:44 AM on November 12, 2007


This gives me the booboojeebees.
posted by brevator at 10:58 AM on November 12, 2007


Looking at these photos, it really does make you wonder if the bleakness of the execution chamber is happenstance, or if it is intentional.

On the one hand, it's hard to imagine that the powers that be are unaware of just how incredibly disturbing the whole place seems. The colors, the lighting, the cold metal -- everything is a frightening combination of clinical and menacing.

On the other hand, who, exactly, are they trying to impress? The majority of the people who see it are either already about to die for their crimes, or are witnessing such an event. In the former case, it's not as though they're going to be "scared straight", and in the latter, I'd like to think that watching the execution is enough of a lesson, if one is needed.

Very interesting stuff, either way, though.
posted by tocts at 11:15 AM on November 12, 2007


jibbly...jibbly...jibbly...
posted by nosila at 11:23 AM on November 12, 2007


Jails that look like mental institutions creep me out more than jails that look like jails. San Quentin feels like you're in jail- iron bars and the whole bit. You want creepy? Try the Pelican Bay experiment in social deprivation. If you weren't crazy going in, you're crazy coming out.


posted by small_ruminant at 11:25 AM on November 12, 2007


Hmm. Quote disappeared.

Opened in 1989, Pelican Bay has been a long-running scandal for the Department of Corrections. Prisoners are not relegated to the SHU because of the crimes they committed on the outside, but because of the rules they broke on the inside. And placement in the SHU is often for the duration of a prisoner's sentence. The 8-by-10-foot cells have no windows. The walls are white, and all that can be seen through the perforations in each cell's metal door is another white wall. Many inmates do not have televisions or radios. And, as at Marion, they are kept in their cells 22 and a half hours a day. Guards perched in control booths can open and close doors and communicate with inmates without ever leaving their seats. Human contact is minimal.

"It's like a space capsule where one is shot into space and left in isolation," said one inmate who testified in the suit. Significant numbers of inmates had mental problems that were exacerbated by the high-tech isolation inside the SHU. They experienced audio or visual distortions and outright hallucinations, aggressive fantasies, paranoia or problems controlling their impulses. Suicide attempts and violent outbursts were regular occurrences. Guard-on-inmate violence skyrocketed.

Despite its problems, Pelican Bay has become a model for dozens of supermax prisons popping up around the country.

posted by small_ruminant at 11:26 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is just crying out for a visit from the Changing Rooms team.
posted by quarsan at 11:31 AM on November 12, 2007


When I was but 18 I visited the death chamber in San Quentin, though lord knows why I took part in that little junket with other military guys. But that reminds me of the sign hung behind the electric chair in some western prison, which reads:
"Crime Does Not Pay"
posted by Postroad at 11:35 AM on November 12, 2007


Well, I guess my life could be worse.
posted by milarepa at 11:41 AM on November 12, 2007


Mmmm. Death chamber desktop photos.
posted by scblackman at 11:42 AM on November 12, 2007


Well, I guess it looks appropriately like what you'd think state-sponsored vengeance should look like.

Never having been visited by violent crime in my own life (knock wood), it's nearly impossible for me to say how I would react. However, knowing myself as I do, almost certain that if someone were to have killed one of my loved ones, I'd rather have them face the hell of living out their days in the situation that small ruminant describes than to permit the state to be a vehicle for my revenge.
posted by psmealey at 11:50 AM on November 12, 2007


I'd rather have them face the hell of living out their days in the situation that small ruminant describes than to permit the state to be a vehicle for my revenge.

That doesn't quite make sense!
posted by thirteenkiller at 11:52 AM on November 12, 2007


Into the mercy seat I climb
My head is shaved, my head is wired
And like a moth that tries
To enter the bright eye
I go shuffling out of life
Just to hide in death awhile
And anyway I never lied.
posted by Nelson at 11:54 AM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I know. Monday and all that. Mostly I meant that:

a: the state shouldn't commit murder on my, its own or anyone else's behalf, regardless of the crime committed, and
b: spending life in that supermax configuration sounds a helluva lot worse than death, so what's the problem?
posted by psmealey at 11:55 AM on November 12, 2007


ugh.

Well they're building a gallows outside my cell, I've got 25 minutes to go....... and so on.
posted by rooftop secrets at 12:01 PM on November 12, 2007


What the hell they are trying to achieve in Pelican Bay? People who end up in prison are not very good at evaluating correct emotional response to begin with, and then they're stripped from all of the ways to measure their own state. It is perfectly plausible that end result can have horrid violent outbursts without even understanding that he is angry at something.

If normal prison produces ex-cons, this produces undead.
posted by Free word order! at 12:08 PM on November 12, 2007


Prisons are an industry. The largest one in the country. These pictures show me an industrialization of death itself. I wonder why we are so quick to condemn those Germans.
posted by tehloki at 12:20 PM on November 12, 2007


This is like something from a medieval dungeon... complete with Gothic script.

Though that green of the execution cell is even more nightmarish. It's like someone sat down with a Pantone chart and thought 'right, what's the worse possible colour I'd want to see before I die'?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:48 PM on November 12, 2007


These pictures show me an industrialization of death itself.

That's ridiculous. If capital punishment were truly industrialized, putting someone to death would be cheap and quick -- this is not at all the case in the US today.

Congratulations on the Godwin, though.
posted by Krrrlson at 12:51 PM on November 12, 2007


I agree with Krrrlson- San Quentin is an example of an older, less efficient criminal justice set of standards.

Ironically, it has one of the highest levels in California's prisons of prisoner education and social programs. Studies, which I can't produce at the moment (argh!) show that when an inmate learns to read inside, for example, the boys in his family end up with higher literacy levels- even nephews, not just sons.

From a societal point of view there are 100 reasons to encourage these programs but generally they are lambasted as "coddling".

Also, because San Quentin is in a very urban area, families are more able to visit than is typical. The prison industry builds out in the middle of nowhere, which means that poor families (= most prisoners' families) can't visit. This has all sorts of negative repercussions on rehabilitation, recidivism, etc...

/soapbox
posted by small_ruminant at 1:16 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah Krrrlson, there's nothing of industrial and clinical efficiency about this. Good honest thinking there. But yeah, it never ceases to amaze the sort of mental gymnastics required to support the death penalty. It's extraordinarily, really almost surreal, that anybody still imagines that state sponsored death factories are a good idea.
posted by nixerman at 1:20 PM on November 12, 2007


Well, sir, I guess there's just a meanness in this world ...
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:21 PM on November 12, 2007


Does anyone know why this door is shaped the way it is, with that curved section in the middle?
posted by fandango_matt at 1:22 PM on November 12, 2007


this is not at all the case in the US today.

of course not, once upon a time blacks would get lynched quickly and swiftly -- now those nasty liberal activists rammed under America's throat stuff like courts, appeals, etc., and it takes, like, a decade to kill a black man

thank God many states, like Texas, are taking care of all that liberal crap
posted by matteo at 1:26 PM on November 12, 2007


f_matt: This "barrel door," located at the entrance to the cell block, was curved inward to give the officers a better field of view before they entered the cell block for rounds. From. Via.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:27 PM on November 12, 2007


At least Pelican Bay is honest. Prison is apparently about punishment, not rehabilitation.
posted by slimepuppy at 1:32 PM on November 12, 2007


Let me second what was said above. If someone kills one of my loved ones, sure, I'd be a hate- and rage-filled bastard for a while. Then, my cooler instincts would take over, and I'd realize that a life spent in ANY state prison, with staff-sanctioned brutality, rape, deprivation of any sort of meaning or kindness, well, hell, that's a fate far worse than ten years filing appeals on death row followed by a half-hour execution by lethal injection (or, IIRC, a three-second death by firing squad in Nevada).

If you want the perps to suffer long and hard, FORGET capital punishment. Throw away the key.
posted by John of Michigan at 2:16 PM on November 12, 2007


B-b-b-but they get to watch cable TV! some might argue.

That's part of the torture, man. Imagine, you're stuck in one of the lower circles of correctional hell, and the idiot box reminds you that the rest of the world not only has moved on and that you're forgotten, but look at the wonderful life you're missing.

Dante himself wished he could have invented a fiendish punishment like that.
posted by John of Michigan at 2:19 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


They would not need to inject me with anything. Staring at that hue of green for too long would kill me.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:23 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


This American Life has an excellent episode on prison called Lockup.

I think they touch on the issue that small_ruminant brought up about prisons being built in the middle of nowhere. This creates "prison towns", whose local economies depend fully on the prison. Local stores, restaurants, and motels exist solely for the prison staff, their families, and the visiting families of the inmates.

On the same episode they interview a Houston radio host who airs calls from prisoners' family members, meant to carry messages via the airwaves into their cells. I've heard this show late at night while driving on the outskirts of Houston, and it's one of the most riveting hours of talk radio I've ever heard.

Also, I have nightmares about being on death row.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 2:30 PM on November 12, 2007 [2 favorites]


the whole thing stands a reading...


It began when they come took me from my home
And put me in Dead Row,
Of which I am nearly wholly innocent, you know.
And I'll say it again
I..am..not..afraid..to..die.
I began to warm and chill
To objects and their fields,
A ragged cup, a twisted mop
The face of Jesus in my soup
Those sinister dinner meals
The meal trolley's wicked wheels
A hooked bone rising from my food
All things either good or ungood.
And the mercy seat is waiting
And I think my head is burning
And in a way I'm yearning
To be done with all this measuring of truth.
An eye for an eye
A tooth for a tooth
And anyway I told the truth
And I'm not afraid to die.
Interpret signs and catalogue
A blackened tooth, a scarlet fog.
The walls are bad. Black. Bottom kind.
They are sick breath at my hind
They are sick breath at my hind
They are sick breath at my hind
They are sick breath gathering at my hind
I hear stories from the chamber
How Christ was born into a manger
And like some ragged stranger
Died upon the cross
And might I say it seems so fitting in its way
He was a carpenter by trade
Or at least that's what I'm told
Like my good hand I
tatooed E.V.I.L. across it's brother's fist
That filthy five! They did nothing to challenge or resist.
In Heaven His throne is made of gold
The ark of his Testament is stowed
A throne from which I'm told
All history does unfold.
Down here it's made of wood and wire
And my body is on fire
And God is never far away.
Into the mercy seat I climb
My head is shaved, my head is wired
And like a moth that tries
To enter the bright eye
I go shuffling out of life
Just to hide in death awhile
And anyway I never lied.
My kill-hand is called E.V.I.L.
Wears a wedding band that's G.O.O.D.
`Tis a long-suffering shackle
Collaring all that rebel blood.
And the mercy seat is waiting
And I think my head is burning
And in a way I'm yearning
To be done with all this measuring of truth.
An eye for an eye
And a tooth for a tooth
And anyway I told the truth
And I'm not afraid to die.
And the mercy seat is burning
And I think my head is glowing
And in a way I'm hoping
To be done with all this weighing up of truth.
An eye for an eye
And a tooth for a tooth
And I've got nothing left to lose
And I'm not afraid to die.
And the mercy seat is glowing
And I think my head is smoking
And in a way I'm hoping
To be done with all this looks of disbelief.
An eye for an eye
And a tooth for a tooth
And anyway there was no proof
Nor a motive why.
And the mercy seat is smoking
And I think my head is melting
And in a way I'm helping
To be done with all this twisted of the truth.
A lie for a lie
And a truth for a truth
And I've got nothing left to lose
And I'm not afraid to die.
And the mercy seat is melting
And I think my blood is boiling
And in a way I'm spoiling
All the fun with all this truth and consequence.
An eye for an eye
And a truth for a truth
And anyway I told the truth
And I'm not afraid to die.
And the mercy seat is waiting
And I think my head is burning
And in a way I'm yearning
To be done with all this measuring of proof.
A life for a life
And a truth for a truth
And anyway there was no proof
But I'm not afraid to tell a lie.
And the mercy seat is waiting
And I think my head is burning
And in a way I'm yearning
To be done with all this measuring of truth.
An eye for an eye
And a truth for a truth
And anyway I told the truth
But I'm afraid I told a lie.

posted by geos at 2:41 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


Can we really trust a state to handle executions properly if they can't even spell "lethal injection" correctly?
posted by greatgefilte at 3:19 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


tl;dr
posted by Samuel Farrow at 3:26 PM on November 12, 2007


They're pictures, for god's sake. What, are you reading the pixels line by line? Are you an OCR scanner?
posted by tehloki at 3:33 PM on November 12, 2007


Heh. They took forever to load on my machine, too.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:44 PM on November 12, 2007


"San Quentin, you've been living hell to me."
posted by kirkaracha at 3:52 PM on November 12, 2007


Postroad wrote: "Crime Does Not Pay"

lol
posted by Avenger at 3:53 PM on November 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


Now there's a room that could use a Hang In There Baby! kitten poster.
posted by davelog at 4:40 PM on November 12, 2007


Maybe I've been duped by years and years of late-night movies on Cinemax, but the pictures of the Women's Correctional Facility hosted on that site were really, really disappointing.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 4:41 PM on November 12, 2007


Ellis Unit One.
posted by Rangeboy at 4:51 PM on November 12, 2007


The show that spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints mentioned is The Prison Show with Ray Hill. Archives of the show are available on the site.
posted by found dog one eye at 5:26 PM on November 12, 2007


letters from death row
posted by whahappen?! at 6:52 PM on November 12, 2007


of course not, once upon a time blacks would get lynched quickly and swiftly -- now those nasty liberal activists rammed under America's throat stuff like courts, appeals, etc., and it takes, like, a decade to kill a black man

Troll on, my one-trick pony, troll on.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:42 PM on November 12, 2007


America, sux

The number of people (americans and non-Americans) killed in the name of American people is astonishing. America is dangerous and should be discontinued.
posted by zouhair at 2:05 AM on November 13, 2007


Canon City, CO is a full-on prison town. Colorado territorial prison is there (the oldest in CO, obviously) and so is their state "supermax" for death row and administrative segregation inmates. Scary place. I was able to visit 5 of their facilities while I was working in CO.

What struck me was the stark differences in levels of supervision. In the state supermax, inmates were out of their cells for 1 hour a day to exercise and shower, and exercise was indoors. Hardly any human contact. On the other end of the spectrum, they contract through CCP (Colorado Correctional Industries) to run inmate work programs. An inmate in one of these programs may be working on the prison's goat farm, 200 yards from the Arkansas river without a fence in sight.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:40 AM on November 13, 2007


America, sux

The number of people (americans and non-Americans) killed in the name of American people is astonishing. America is dangerous and should be discontinued.

Lookee here, Maybelle! We go our very own Muslim Extremist Troll. Well, I never. Don't touch it, now!!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:30 AM on November 13, 2007


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