Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) is a penitentiary for men, located in Ione, Amador County California. The facility opened in 1987 and was designed to house about 1,700 inmates, but currently houses over 3,500, placing it at over 180% capacity. MCSP has been one of the most chronically overpopulated penitentiaries in the state since at least the early 2000’s. All cell blocks house overflow inmates who sleep in bunk beds in areas that were designed for common use, such as day rooms and gymnasiums. In 2005, MCSP became the only state prison in California that exclusively houses sensitive needs (protective custody) inmates. Protective custody inmates (also referred to as PC) are segregated from mainline (general population) for their own safety, because they are at risk of being targeted for violence. These inmates are usually sex offenders or ex gang members (drop outs) who “snitched” (or “debriefed” in DOC terms) former police officers or corrections officers, inmates with youthful or feminine appearances, or inmates who have drug or gambling debts that they can’t or won’t pay. They may also include inmates who are considered “high profile” because of their crime. A study that was published in 2007 found that male sex offenders make up 15% of California’s prison population, but accounted for nearly 30% of offenders who were murdered while in custody. This combined with an overwhelming amount of assaults led to a designated protective custody prison.
Some of California’s most high-profile murderers are currently held at MCSP, including:
Patrick Kearney -Known as one of several “Freeway Killers”, Kearney is considered one of the most prolific serial killers in American history, with a suspected 43 victims throughout the 1970’s. Kearney targeted young men that he cruised at gay bars or picked up while hitchhiking. His victims tended to be larger than him in stature, (Kearney was 5’5 and described as “slight”) so his method was to travel to a secluded area with his victim under the guise of privacy for a sexual encounter, and would then shoot them in the head, and sexually assault the body.
Andrew Luster - The great grandson and heir of Max Factor, founder of the Max Factor cosmetics line, Luster drugged three separate women with GHB and sexually assaulted them on video camera. One of his victims went to the police, who found the tapes and charged him. Luster posted $1million bail, but failed to appear in court and was sentenced to 124 years in prison in absentia. Six months later, Luster was captured by none other than Duane “The Dog” Chapman in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Herbert Mullin - Mullin killed 13 people in the 1970’s, and claimed that he heard voices that told him he had to commit human sacrifice to save California from earthquakes. His first murder occurred in 1972, when Mullin killed a hitchhiker that he claimed was Jonah from the Bible, who told him to “kill me so that others will be saved.” When he was finally caught, he told police that the reason there had not been any recent earthquakes was due to his acts. Despite the obvious evidence pointing towards mental illness, Mullin was charged with first and second-degree murder. He pled guilty and was sentenced to life, and will be eligible for parole in 2021, at the age of 74.
“Tex” Watson - Of the Manson family, Watson was convicted of seven counts of first degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder, for his part in the Tate and LaBianca murders. Watson has been denied parole 15 times since 1976.
John Frazier - Known as “The Killer Prophet”, Frazier was sentenced to death in 1970 for murdering five people while in a delusional state. Frazier believed that he heard the voice of God instructing him to commit the murders. When he arrived in court on the first day of his trial, Frazier had completely shaved one half of his head. Frazier hung himself to death in his cell at MCSP in 2009.
San Quentin State Prison - In 2008, overcrowding in California prisons was so severe that inmates were housed in three-level bunks in every available space, excluding the chapel. This image is of a gymnasium, where inmates spent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with no privacy. Toilets and showers were installed in plain view, (upper right corner) and temperatures soared in summer months due to a lack of ventilation. After several major lawsuits, California was found to be in violation of constitutional law regarding cruel and unusual punishment because of overcrowding, and was forced to make changes in its sentencing and parole practices. In 2016, San Quentin was at 137% capacity. As of June 2017, it is at 129% capacity, placing it in the middle range for California prisons that are overpopulated.
In 2003, Metallica played a ten-song set in San Quentin Prison, California. The band recorded the music video for St. Anger in the prison and in return for using the prison in their video, played for the inmates and also made a $10,000 donation towards the San Quentin Giants baseball field.
In 1921 Bebe Daniels was cruising in her Marmon Roadster with current beau boxer Jack Dempsey (and her mother, chaperone for proprieties sake). When they crossed the into Orange County she was pulled over for speeding - she was going 56 ½ MPH. The judge in the case was notorious for giving steep fines to anyone going above the speed limit, as well as jail time for anyone going over 50 - and Bebe was no exception. She told the motorcycle officers at the scene that she’d been speeding because her radiator had sprung a leak, she wanted to get it fixed before more trouble ensued, but they didn’t buy it.. neither did the jury.
She was sentenced to 10 days in jail, although some critics were unimpressed when she was gifted a full bedroom set (including a rug and a phonograph) from a local furniture store for her Santa Ana cell, claiming that it looked like a boudoir scene from a movie. They also ridiculed the fact that her mother stayed with her for the majority of the term, and weren’t impressed when she bragged about her guest book which she claimed had racked up 721 signatures from visitors while in the clink. On her first day in jail the judge who sentenced her welcomed her with a bouquet of roses. She was pretty upbeat about the whole thing though, telling the sheriff that “This is a comfy little place, anyhow. It will be sort of a quiet vacation.”
Judge Cox later fined former Secretary of the Treasury and future California Senator Williams Gibbs McAdoo and his son, William Jr, separately for speeding in his jurisdiction within a week of each other.
Salinas Valley State Prison (SVSP) is a minimum and maximum security penitentiary for men, located in Soledad, Monterey County California. SVSP is adjacent to the California Correctional Training Facility, otherwise referred to as Soledad State Prison. Opened in May of 1996 with a design capacity for about 2,400, SVSP currently houses closer to 3,500, or almost 145% of capacity, placing it in the middle range for California prisons that are overpopulated.
Notable inmates at SVSP include:
Efren Saldivar -While employed as a respiratory therapist at the Glendale Adventist Medical Center, Saldivar injected patients who were unconscious or close to death with Morphine, Suxamethonium chloride and Pavulon, causing them to go into paralysis and death. Saldivar regularly worked the night shift when there were fewer staff members around, and because his patients were often terminal, their deaths did not alter the hospital’s statistics or raise any red flags, which allowed him to carry on undetected. In 1998, Saldivar confessed to murdering 50 patients, (a claim he later retracted) but his possible headcount could be as high as 200. The cadavers of six patients of Saldivar’s that were exhumed confirmed his guilt, and he was sentenced to six terms of life without parole.
Hans Reiser - Creator of the ReiserFS computer file system, a core part of the Linux processor, Reiser was convicted of the first degree murder of his wife Nina, a trained OB/GYN from Russia. Reiser met Nina Sharanova in Saint Petersburg while on a date with a woman he had selected from a mail order bride catalogue. Nina came along on the date as a translator. After a courtship, Hans and Nina were married and had two children, but their relationship was turbulent at best, and fell apart when Nina allegedly had an affair with their housekeeper. Heated divorce proceedings led to strained custody agreements and restraining orders, and in 2006, Nina disappeared. Convicted of first degree murder at trial, Reiser led police to the shallow grave where Nina’s body was found as part of a plea deal, and was sentenced to 15 years to life. Reiser’s story has been portrayed on 48 Hours Mystery, Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice, Behind Mansion Walls, and Final Witness.
California Correctional Institution (CCI) is a state prison for men, located in Tehachapi, Kern County, California. CCI is often referred to simply as “Tehachapi”. The facility has a capacity for 2,783, and a current population of 3,515 inmates, or 126% capacity, which falls in the middle range for California prisons that are overpopulated. CCI struggled with chronic overpopulation throughout the early 2000’s, which soared to almost 200% at times. During this period, several stabbings, beatings and riots were reported, due to rising tensions between gangs and extreme unrest due to the squalid living conditions and corruption of prison guards. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that overpopulation in the California Corrections system was so severe as to be unconstitutional, leading to changes in sentencing and parole laws. However, to this day, all but two prisons in California are still overpopulated.
The first women’s prison in California opened on what is now CCI in 1932, and was referred to often in popular movies and radio programs, particularly in the noir genre. Tehachapi women’s prison was mentioned in such classic films as The Maltese Falcon,Double Indemnity, and The Postman Always Rings Twice. In 1952, the women’s facility was damaged in an earthquake, and the inmates were moved to the new Institution for Women in Corona. In 1954, the facility was rebuilt and reopened as a prison for men. In 1985, CCI built new medium and maximum security units. The Supermax facility was described as “the most advanced in the country”, but was also called a “white elephant” because it took so long to build and cost the state a tremendous amount of money.
California Women’s Facility (CCWF) is the largest women’s prison in the United
States. In 2012, the inmate population was 2,836, or more than 141% of capacity.
Later statistics placed the total at closer to 3,700. The facility houses almost all security
levels, from reception to death row, with a large portion of custody levels
(I-IV) being housed together in a 32 room unit. In 2011, the US Supreme Court
ruled that overcrowding in California’s prison system (which houses over
140,000 inmates, but was built to accommodate just 80,000) constituted cruel
and unusual punishment which violated the Eighth Amendment. The fallout and
media attention to this ruling largely ignored California’s three female
facilities, where 12,000 women live in horribly overcrowded and unsanitary
conditions, facing a host of dangers, including insufficient and unsanitary
medical care, unchecked violence between inmates and sexual assaults from
prison employees. (As of 2007, about 31% of corrections officers at CCWF were
female, which is about average.) Eight women are typically
packed into a cell meant for four, sharing one bathroom and shower and each
receiving a storage locker that is one cubit-foot large for their possessions.
Cells have not been retrofitted to accommodate the increased number of bodies, leading to soaring temperatures in Summer months.
If you’ve been reading what I’ve been writing about working with Ed Kemper, you know that I was reluctant, at first, even to meet him, because of the horror of his crimes and their vicious impact on a community that I was part of.
What I came to appreciate about working with Kemp and dealing with our time together afterwards, was the fact that he did not seem to gloat over his actions or take perverse pride in what he had done; rather he had, of necessity I’d guess, developed a respect for his inner turmoil — the rage that drove him to commit those anti-human acts. What Garcia Lorca wrote about as “el duende” — the inner demon & well-spring of creative expression — is also the combination to a lock on darker capacities.
If you remember a conversation I wrote about earlier, the first question I asked Edmund Kemper was: “How does it make you feel when people come from all over the world to interview you?” To which Kemp answered: “How would you feel if people came from around the world to talk to you and all the EVER wanted to talk about was the 13 worst things you EVER did?” I realized that even though my hit-singles were not in the same league with cutting my mother’s head off and shoving her voice box down a garbage disposal, on a human level, what he asked me to think about made me feel bad. This man who had, unquestionably, done terrible things; was now facing the rest of — what could be and has turned out to be — a long life in prison to contemplate the evil forces that drove him to commit unpardonable acts.
It is sad that Ed Kemper will never be released from prison, but it is not unjust. Kemper’s demonstrable capacity to commit otherwise unimaginable horrors is undeniable. The risk of Kemp’s liberty would be too great, yet, in the same breath, it must be acknowledged that Ed Kemper has used his life sentence in the service of his prison community while he did work that benefited the community at large.
Imperfect criminal justice systems execute the innocent along with the guilty — Kemper’s case does not fit that rubric. However, Kemper’s execution would have done nothing to change the unpardonable acts of his past, while it would have precluded every decent, useful and beautiful that he has done in prison. Considering the lives of his victims, Kemper’s execution could not fairly have been called an injustice, but considering the life he has lead in prison, it would have been a mistake. However, it is Kemper's remarkable art work that, ultimately, confirmed my faith in the futility of the death penalty.
Because of powerful forces beyond his control Edmund Kemper is too high-risk to be on the street, but in 41 years of incarceration, he has been a model prison-citizen, an effective functionary and a very interesting artist, whose ceramic designs have amazed me and astonished my friends for almost 35 years. The cup Kemp mailed to me, almost 35 years ago, continues to delight me every day.
NOTE: Above is my photograph of an amazingly intricately-glazed, slip-cast cup. It was made on the dock near my home in the South of France. Below it is my photograph of Ed Kemper making that cup, in his house in California State Correctional Facility — Vacaville.
Charles Manson, the cult leader who sent followers known as the “Manson Family” out to commit gruesome murders, has been taken to hospital, the Los Angeles Times has reported.
Manson, 83, was in a hospital in Bakersfield, California, and his condition was unclear, the paper reported, citing Kern County sheriff’s lieutenant Bill Smallwood.
A spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation declined to comment to the Los Angeles Times. She cited privacy laws that preclude the agency “from commenting on protected health information for any inmate in our custody”, the newspaper reported.
State and local officials were not available for comment.
Manson, who was serving a life term for orchestrating one of the most notorious crimes in US history, had been imprisoned for more than 45 years at Corcoran California state prison.