Historian on the Yard

By Casey Burke

Mainline prisoners have been baffled with the unknown identity of young women strolling around in their mist the past few months.

Is she a cop, a counselor, a nurse, or what? Has been asked silently by all.

The News was able to track down this elusive mystery person to reveal her identity and purpose here at San Quentin.

Her name is Nickola Frye, a published author, and her purpose is to write a historical account of the Bastille by the Bay and help put together a San Quentin Museum and archives.

Originally called upon to act as a historical advisor for the museum. Frye saw a need for true, in-depth account of the infamous prison.

She has been working on both projects for approximately a year now and, chronological place order a lot of information and historical facts dating from the opening of the Corte Madera Prison, original name of San Quentin, up until the present. Frye expects the projects will take her another two years to complete.

Frye is a former elementary school teacher. She holds a B.A. degree in public history, a self-written degree title, and is currently attending Sonoma State University part-time, working toward her master’s degree in the same field.

   This authors is a freelance historical consultant and a curator of the Santa Rosa Museum. She spends 30 hours a week working on her book and helping to put together the museum. This time is spent at her personal expense as she is not on anyone’s payroll.

  In order to feel the heartbeat of San Quentin Frye has subjected herself to the rigors of various custodial duties throughout the prison, as well as spending time with inmates.

Frye prides herself on remaining impartial toward both staff and prisoners alike. However she does point out that should she see a Shank or any other instrument of destruction, that her moral convictions to report its location to staff.

Frye’s sources of historical data include the following: Dr. Stanley journals, Diary kept by a SQ medical doctor from 1913 through the mid 1940’s. These journals are on public record at the Stanford University Library.

Old photos and files kept here in the identification department are another valuable source, as well as the State Archives in Sacramento, the Marin County Historical Society, the Bancroft Collection located at the University of California at Berkeley, and the Huntington Library.

Possibly the largest donation of artifacts and historical information, however, can be obtained from private sources, said Frye.

It’s like fitting together a giant jigsaw puzzle.” she said sitting through all the information and placing it in a factual order is a tough job, but I enjoy it immensely, as I love history, and I feel that San Quentin’s true story needs to be told.

In her attempts to gain any and all facts concerning the Bastille’s history and operation both past and present, Frye openly solicits information concerning anything that has to do with San Quentin from all prisoners, including ex-cons all staff members both officers and free men—past and present, and anyone else that might have knowledge of the prison history.

Frye may be contacted in person on the yard or by writing Nickola Frye, San Quentin Historical Department, Administration Building, Tamal CA 94964.


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