Imagine sitting in a waiting room, and you pick up this over-sized beautiful looking coffee-table book. You open it up and read about a horrific murder. This scraggly faced guard stares at you and you then realize—this is the beginning of a journey, you never expected.
Reading and seeing what’s contained in this historical account makes an inmate think about doing time in that fearful place verses this programming place—it’s San Quentin.
Detailed anecdotes, beginning with George Jackson, tell known stories from another perspective—analysis I never knew or read about. Once Upon a Time at San Quentin is fresh, at least in my limited learned mind.
Nevertheless, it seems a bit eerie seeing these large print black and whites, knowing the violent history of San Quentin, its grave yard, the walls, and Golden sitting with his side arm—a .357 magnum.
Golden has his take on convicts, as he calls us, and prison life, including the food he admits to like and eat. Big difference for me, as this food has turned me into a quasi-vegetarian. All the same, Golden’s perception about the ins and outs of prison life is interesting and fascinating, even remarkable in its attention-grabbing style.
He calls the Adjustment Center the Dungeon of Death, a place back then where correctional officers, “who through the unfortunate fate found themselves sentenced by a vindictive administration to work.”
Once Upon a Time at San Quentin gets to some criticisms about the criminal justice system:
Self centered and arrogant ‘Johnny Law’ believes what happens on the streets should totally consume on-duty prison guards, while street police have little or no concept of life in prison. Worse still, judges, prosecutors and juries have condemned these hapless California State victims to the living hell called San Quentin.
The account, If you Build It, They Will Come is more criticism, this time aimed at the Pennsylvanian Quakers who “had a bad idea” when they decided to “put these long metal bars on all the windows.”
Golden makes his point clear in Once Upon a Time at San Quentin:
“The focus of true prison reform must be on seven groups of people, both in prison and on the streets, listed by social importance.
- Street victims of violent crime.
- Tax Payers.
- Prison Correctional Staff.
- Innocent Inmates, in prison and wrongly convicted of crime.
- Prison Inmates who are victims of violent crime while imprisoned.
- Guilty incarcerated Inmates.
Failure to recognize all seven of these categories will eventually lead to a breakdown in all social cohesion.”
That being said, Golden has his own radical ideas about fixing penal problems in America, including the use of a firing squad to execute the guilty within 30 days of sentencing. I guess many of the guilty subject to a firing squad would be putting off their sentencing indefinitely.
Editor’s Note: San Quentin News endorses Once Upon a Time at San Quentin because its sales are directly tied to donations that help print and distribute newspapers to inmates who otherwise would not be able to read all about it.
Juan’s Book Review