Lt. Loren Andersen is retiring from San Quentin, the prison where he started his career, after 16 years of service with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Soon after Andersen left the Navy, he said, he was searching for a job that he felt he could do. Not wanting to be a salesperson or work a regular desk job, he saw San Quentin as a viable option. It is a huge operation, and he found the more he learned, the more interesting the work became.
Soon after he started, Andersen became a Permanent Intermittent Employee (PIE), which allowed him to work throughout the entire prison on all watches.
“It was good at that time because I got to learn where I wanted to work, to see all the different positions and pick where I enjoyed it the most,” said Andersen.
In 1997, in the beginning of his career, Andersen said, the prisons were in transition and the relationship between correctional officers and inmates was strained.
“Over the years that relationship has improved,” he said. “Even through that my approach didn’t change very much. I always tried to be honest and keep the inmate informed.”
Andersen said incarceration is now changing from a strict disciplinary system to one structured on rehabilitation. The part of San Quentin he would change, if he could, would be condemned row.
As for the state’s current standoff over prison overcrowding between Gov. Jerry Brown and federal judges Thelton Henderson, Lawrence K. Karlton, and Stephen Reinheart, Andersen said, the judges should come into the prisons.
“Those judges should visit us here and not make edicts based on arbitrary numbers,” said Andersen. “The prisons aren’t suffering from overcrowding now, two and half years ago we were.”
“I think North Block is 400 design capacity, basically one inmate per cell, but we’ve got two in one cell. If we had one, it would be more civilized, but I think we’re getting by well with double occupancy,” said Andersen.
He said he remembers when San Quentin had inmates double bunked inside North Block in the walkway space called broadways.
“The military was basically discharging people so I chose to complete my present tour and get out”
“That’s what overcrowding was when we had the gym filed with 350 inmates, and we had broadways in every unit: Alpine, Badger, Donner, and West Block,” Andersen said. “Then we had exceeded 6,000 inmates for a while; right now we’re around 4,200.”
“I’m Navy retired, I wanted to fly when I got out of college, so I joined, but I got out in the early ‘90s. This was just after the cold war. Actually when the USSR dissolved, there was a draw down in the military,” explained Andersen.
“The military was basically discharging people so I chose to complete my present tour and get out,” Andersen said. “I fulfilled my 20 years, but I still think about it and miss it.”
Andersen commented that the people he admired in his career were San Quentin Wardens Jeanne Woodford, Mike Martell and Kevin Chappell.
“They all have very upbeat and positive personalities. So does Correctional Counselor Mike McGarvey,” Andersen explained. “He had that honesty, a way of looking through things and going by the law.”
Right now Andersen said he is ready to do three things: relax golf and focus on his family.
“They’re the most important part my life, I’ve given time to my country, I’ve given time to San Quentin, and now it’s time for the people I love–and that’s my family,” said Andersen.