“I’ll shit it out! I’ll shit it out,” cried a terrified Little Stan as the hulking San Quentin guard P.G. Johnson towered over him, opening and closing a huge pair of tongs and bellowing, “I’ll get it out! Let me get it out!”
The inter-prison bus from the “correctional facility” at Tracy had arrived at San Quentin only a few minutes before, carrying the 29 prisoners who had been in the Adjustment Center there. Immediately taken to the prison hospital, the inmates were being x-rayed one at a time to determine if any of them had concealed weapons or contraband in their body cavities.
Adjustment Centers, as they were then euphemistically called in the California prison system, were the cell blocks for the hardest of the hardcore. When no other “corrective” measures had effect, the incorrigibles found a “home” in the Adjustment Center where they were locked in their cells almost every hour of the day and were allowed out only when manacled hand and foot. Because of their vicious nature, members of the three California prison gangs made up a disproportionate number of the Adjustment Center population.
The gangs of stone cold killers included the two Latino groups, the Mexican Mafia and Nuestra Familia, as well as their sworn enemies, members of the Aryan Brotherhood. The three gangs fought and killed for narcotics, power, and “sissies”, except when, unified by a common enemy, they acted in concert against The Man (guards and law enforcement). “Sissies” were the passive or recipient members of prison homosexual relationships.
The 29 prisoners who were now being x-rayed included members of all three gangs. At Tracy, they had proven particularly adept at concealing and using small pieces of hacksaw blades to cut chunks out of their bunks and fashion them into shivs. Despite repeated searches by the guards, the manufacture of shivs, and the stabbings, continued. Finally, the warden decided that the only way to stop the shiv manufacture was to replace the metal-frame bunks with ones made of concrete. In order to do that, it was most efficient to do the entire Adjustment Center at the same time and thus the transfer of all the Tracy Adjustment Center prisoners to the one at San Quentin.
Of 29 x-rays, 27 revealed no contraband. Two, those of Big Stan and Little Stan, quite clearly showed what even to the layman’s eye were pieces of metal in their rectums. Confronted with their x-rays, both Stans repeatedly and loudly proclaimed that they had nothing inside them and that the guards must have mixed up their x-rays with the ones of the prisoners who were actually concealing the contraband.
Sergeant P.G. Johnson was a huge mountain of a man and when two other guards pulled Little Stan’s pants down and bent him over the x-ray table, Johnson’s threats to ram the tongs up Little Stan’s ass to retrieve the contraband had to have been absolutely terrifying to the convict — thus, his offer to “shit it out”. Seeing the tongs in Johnson’s hands next to Little Stan’s bare butt, Big Stan suddenly felt similarly inclined.
Into the toilet bowl from Little Stan dropped a one inch wide, 12 inch long piece of metal which had been sharpened, folded into thirds and then wrapped in packaging from a loaf of bread. From Big Stan dropped not only a similar shiv, but also two ten-dollar bills, a wedding ring and a piece of mirror, all encased in another bread wrapper.
Notwithstanding the fact that both Stans were seasoned criminals and veterans of many cycles through the criminal justice system, they ignored the first rule of criminal law defense – don’t say a word, except to ask for a lawyer — and wrote out lengthy statements of confession. Apparently, they thought it would help their cause to claim in their confessions that they possessed the weapons because they had heard that there was a lot of violence in the San Quentin Adjustment Center and they wanted to be prepared to defend themselves.
A few days later, the Marin County District Attorney charged the Stans with being prisoners in possession of knives, a crime punishable by at least one year in prison. Big Stan was already serving a life sentence for murder and Little Stan was serving an indeterminate sentence which had the possibility of continuing for the remainder of his life. Thus, the prosecutor’s decision to charge this relatively minor offense when both men were already facing the possibility of life imprisonment was the subject of no little amount of criticism by knowledgeable criminal law insiders.
The Marin County Public Defender was appointed to represent Big Stan and, as was typical in cases where there was a possibility of conflicting defenses between jointly charged defendants, a private lawyer – me — was appointed to represent Little Stan.
Both Stans told their lawyers that they had never at any time had knives or other contraband inside them and that any evidence to the contrary must have been fabricated. They stuck to their stories that Johnson and the other guards were lying about the contraband dropping into the toilet from them. In support of this, they claimed that they could produce at least three prisoners who would testify that they had overheard Johnson telling other guards that he was going to “get” Big Stan and Little Stan, even if he had to plant evidence on them.
Problematic for the prosecution, was the fact that the x-ray showing the shiv, ring, bills and mirror had been labelled “Little Stan”, while the x-ray showing only a shiv, had been labelled “Big Stan.” The guards’ testimony, of course, was that it was just the opposite. The Stans seized on this mistaken labelling as confirmation that the guards had been manufacturing evidence.
They both pled not guilty. They were entitled to a jury trial.
The first two days of trial were consumed with jury selection, opening arguments and the prosecutor calling Sergeant Johnson and a couple other guards to testify to the fact that the Stans had, indeed, been prisoners on the date of the alleged offence, and that the guards had personally observed them in possession of knives. Open and shut, right?
On cross-examination of the guards, we defense lawyers had made much of the mislabeling of the x-rays, contending that it confirmed our clients’ contentions. In response, the prosecutor asked to have the defendants x-rayed once again, so that a radiologist could testify that every person’s bone structure is unique, that the radiologist could compare new x-rays, the taking of which he personally witnessed, and say with certainty that although the labels on the prison x-rays had been switched, he could positively say that both x-rays showed both men with weapons in their rectums.
The judge agreed with the prosecutor’s request and ordered that the next morning the defendants were not to be brought to the Marin County courthouse. Instead, they were to be taken to Marin General hospital, where the radiologist was waiting to x-ray them.
Knowing that new x-rays would sink their ship of deception, when the goon squad (a special squad of guards headed by Sergeant Johnson and charged with ferreting out contraband and taking on especially dangerous and often dirty assignments) went to retrieve the Stans from their cells, the Stans refused to come out. Other prisoners later said that the goon squad exhibited some glee when they then waded in to the men’s cells with clubs flailing, knocking both Stans unconscious and taking them out for their x-rays.
Trial was to resume that afternoon. However, after the guards had chained the Stans to their chairs in the courtroom and court personnel, including the judge, clerks and lawyers came in, the devastating effect of the guards’ clubs was immediately apparent. Both men had an eye swollen shut, cuts and contusions all over their faces and drying blood on their prison-issue khaki shirts. The judge, as well as every other person in the courtroom was visibly shaken. The judge ordered that the jury be kept in their jury room while the defendants were cleaned up and their bloody khaki shirts removed in favor of the not entirely bloodless white tee shirts both were wearing underneath. The jury filed back in with every eye glued on the convicts.
Acting as if absolutely nothing was out of the ordinary, the prosecutor then announced, “I next call as a witness Doctor B_____.” The doctor then began answering the prosecutor’s questions about the taking of the subsequent x-rays that morning when suddenly Little Stan, with a sickening guttural sound audible to everyone in the courtroom, vomited on the floor next to his chair and slumped over unconscious. Had it not been for the chain around his waist, he would have fallen to the floor.
After a few stupefied moments, the judge ordered the jury back to the jury room and that a doctor be summoned. The word “concussion” was heard on several lips. As Little Stan was loaded onto the gurney which was finally brought to take him to an ambulance for transport to Marin General hospital, he opened one eye and winked at me. Examination by a doctor at the hospital revealed no concussion or anything else seriously wrong with Little Stan.
Trial resumed the next day with witnesses for the defense. The previous day we had told the judge who our three witnesses were and the judge ordered that they be brought over from San Quentin along with the defendants. In accord with standard procedure, when they arrived the courtroom was cleared of all but the San Quentin guards, who brought the prisoners in through the special back passageway used for that purpose.
When the deputy public defender and I entered the courtroom we expected to see the first of our witnesses chained in the witness chair next to the judge, ready to answer our questions. The witness was there alright, but in an even more dramatic repeat of what we had seen the day before, this prisoner also looked like he had been in a fight with Godzilla – eyes almost swollen shut, cuts and bruises everywhere on his face and drying blood covering his khaki shirt. Unbeknownst to anyone except the prisoners, the witnesses were members of different gangs and had used their time locked in the holding cell next to the courtroom to try to kill each other. The other two looked no better than this one.
I never learned whether the Stans, both Aryan Brotherhood members, intentionally had us call one of their enemies as a witness so that while waiting to testify he could be assaulted by the other witnesses, who were also Aryan Brotherhood members. However, that is certainly my suspicion.
The guards repeated the previous day’s clean-up operation on the prisoners and finally all three of them testified to what they said they had heard Sergeant Johnson say. Their testimony did not help the Stans and later that day the jury needed less than an hour to bring back guilty verdicts. However, along with their verdicts the jury also sent a note to the judge saying they wanted to talk to him.
The judge thanked them for their service, apologized for what they had had to witness and asked the foreman what the jury wanted to tell him. What the foreman and other members of the jury wanted to tell him was that they had been appalled at what they had seen, that they believed that the guards were brutalizing the prisoners and they wanted to know what could be done to stop it. Apparently this circus of a trial had created 12 very serious advocates for prison reform. Of course, the judge could do nothing. The administration of San Quentin was far out of his jurisdiction. All he could do was to preside over criminal trials as the prosecutor brought them.
I never again heard anything from or about Big Stan. Probably, he is either dead, killed by a prison rival, or in solitary confinement at one of those new “supermax” prisons such as Pelican Bay or Corcoran, built especially for exceptionally dangerous prisoners like him.
As to Little Stan, during the many hours I spent with him preparing for and during the trial, I saw how weak and malleable he was. Thus, early on I started proselytizing against his criminal life of violence in favor of one of conformance to the law. I believe my influence, coupled with that of the Mill Valley woman he met through correspondence and married while still an inmate, turned him around.
He renounced the Aryan Brotherhood and became a model prisoner. However, you can’t just quit the Aryan Brotherhood. His renunciation obligated every other Aryan Brotherhood member to kill him if they could. Thus, he was locked up in protective custody, where he remained for the entirety of the one year the law specified he had to serve on account of the knife possession conviction. He was then paroled to Mill Valley to live with his new wife.
Shortly after parole he called me to say that he had a good job lined up as a heating and air conditioning repairman, but that he couldn’t take the job without tools. He wanted to borrow money to buy the tools.
I didn’t loan him the money but, instead, took him to the tool department at Sears, where he picked out several hundred dollars’ worth of what he needed. He promised to pay me back in installments as paychecks started coming in and he did. For having turned an incorrigible criminal into a solid, taxpaying citizen, I almost broke my arm patting myself on the back.
Then I learned that Little Stan had given up his repairman’s job in favor of one collecting garbage in Mill Valley. Because picking up garbage paid more than being a repairman, it seemed a good decision. However, I had apparently forgotten that his original conviction had been for residential burglary. Even had I remembered this, I’m not sure I would have thought it through and realized that a garbage collector in the middle of the night is in a perfect position to identify homes for later burglary. In order to get money for the drugs that had always been a problem for him, that’s exactly what Little Stan was doing. He was soon arrested and returned to prison.
A few years later I received a telephone call from the wife from whom Little Stan was now divorced, saying that she had received a call from a guard in some Nevada prison advising that Little Stan had killed himself there.