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View of San Quentin State Prison from the San Francisco Bay
Photo by Arena73 on Depositphotos

Over the summer, a water pipe beneath San Quentin State Prison burst.

In the early morning hours on Saturday, June 17, residents of San Quentin’s North Block, myself included, shuffled along the dry asphalt path to the dining hall. This path runs directly alongside the recreation yard of East Bock, which houses prisoners condemned to death by the state of California.

Those of us in the dining hall knew something was amiss when the meal was over but we were not allowed to leave.

After 30 minutes, we were able to exit and return to our cells. A large stream of water gushed from under the chain-link and mesh-covered fence around death row’s recreation area. The water was less than an inch high but spread about 50 feet wide, covering most of the blacktop before being caught in a drainage canal on the other side of the walkway.

The mesh covering on the fence prevents visibility into or out of the area. The recreation area is directly in front of East Block and is boxed in by South Block, North Block and the dining hall. When yard is in progress for death row, the synchronized grunts of those participating in group exercise reverberate off the century-old courtyard walls.

Death row was the most affected by the burst and lost all running water as a result. “Residents were escorted to the South Block to use the restroom and shower,” said Men’s Advisory Council President C. Chambers. The institution could really use additional funding to help repair infrastructure issues, he added. 

San Quentin, which opened in 1854, is the state’s oldest prison with antiquated buildings. When the pipes failed, the North, South and West blocks also experienced minor complications, including low water pressure and loss of hot water, which affected shower access.

“After the water pipe break we had to fill up Igloo coolers with tap water and drop them off at death row for drinking water,” said Nick Suffecoat, who works in the dining hall. “After a couple days, containers were brought in specifically to transport the drinking water.”

The situation was resolved within one week and there have been no issues since.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Jessie Milo is a writer, artist and poet incarcerated in California. He is a volunteer for and an advocate for mental health.