Stephen Price

SAN QUENTIN GRAMMAR SCHOOL REUNION - ORAL INTERVIEWS

July 28, 2001 

STEPHEN PRICE

by Cathy Gowdy

 Q:  Your name and the name of your parents? When did you live here?

 My mother was Dorothy and my father was Harvey Price. My mother grew up here at the prison; her maiden name was Zubler. My father grew up at Fairfax. I was born in 1944 and I came here in 1946, off and on in 1945 - I claim 18 years residence.  My mother was born here. We lived right above the warden’s house and when my grandmother went into labor they brought her down and in through the gate and my mother was born in the hospital and then they took her to San Rafael. She claims (to be) the last civilian born in the prison hospital.*  My other claim to fame is that I am a nephew of Warden Duffy; he was my grandmother’s youngest brother. My grandmother lived here at the prison for 65 years before she moved out.

 Q: Tell me what a typical day was like here.

 Depending on age, one thing which sticks in my mind, the last day of school when we had graduation, my first grade, I was given a gift at the graduation; it was a toy watch because I was late for school every single day as a first grader. I would leave the house and if I would just walk, I would do it. But it is something that sticks in my mind - that silly little watch that they gave me because I was late every day.

 Just the school things and living here as (first, second, third grade) really young, this was “world”; there was no outside world.  There were trips to San Rafael and occasionally a trip to San Francisco, but this was the universe for us because you couldn’t go anywhere; you couldn’t get away because it was so far to go to get anyplace.

 In the end it became almost jail because you COULDN’T get away; you COULDN’T get out of here. To go to a show you had to get on your bike and ride all the way to San Rafael and then you got out of the show at 4 o’clock and you had to ride BACK .... if your bike was still there.  Or you could stand at the gate and get a ride into San Rafael with an employee or a guard, but then coming back you had to hitch-hike. The good thing about it was it wasn’t scarey, because even if you hitch-hiked back people couldn’t go away with you because you had to stop for the ferry. We used to hitch-hike back and forth as kids all the time.

 One of the things my brother and I do is was challenge each other who lived in what house because he and I did all of the paper routes. We did the Independent Journal and the Chronicle-Examiner paper routes. There was one other paper route that our friend Lane Becker did and that was what is now the Tribune; it used to be the Call Bulletin.  So we knew every single person that lived in this town - what house they lived in, what paper they took, and whether or not we could throw it at the house or put it in the screen door.

 Q: Is it pretty much the same as you look at the houses today?

 Oh, yes. It’s timeless,  the place itself is timeless; it never changes. Little small things have changed, but not much. The fun now  is coming back and seeing the place and walking around and talking to people that I grew up with.

 Q: When you were kids, did you have pets?

 My grandfather did. He was a sportsman; he was into hunting and fishing and he always had hunting dogs. Other than that, we used to have when we were somewhat small ...  Martha Katburg’s dad worked on the forest road crew up in the Honor Camps and he used to bring us chipmunks. We had 3 or 4 cages with the little running wheels in them. And we had fish too; we had an aquarium in the house. But we always had chipmunks because he used to get them for us. And we had cats. My grandmother said “You take care of these animals!”

 Q:  Did you have chores?

 Chores! No, not many. We did dishes and that was about it.

 Q: Did you rent your home?

 No, my great grandfather built the house we lived in. Not inside! The ones inside  were owned by the prison; the one right outside the gate, the first big gray one that’s up on the hill, is the one my great-grandfather built. He was the first Duffy to come to work and he started working at the prison in 1895 - and my grandfather and my uncle; my dad worked here for just a very short while, and went to the highway patrol, and that was it. No other relatives or family members worked here. I think one of my grandmother’s other brothers was a member of the California State Board or something like that.

 Q: In a nutshell, how was life different?

 It was just isolated. Jim made a comment the other day about getting his car when he was 16 years old - he said “Now the girls ask ME for  rides to the football game.” And that was it. That car was FREEDOM.   At 14 I got a motor scooter and that actually became my freedom although I wasn’t supposed to ride it off the prison area. I was always in San Rafael. I could get anywhere in Marin County and never touch a paved road. And then I got in big trouble. I had the thing for seven or eight months; I got into a really bad accident in San Rafael and broke my arms and knocked my teeth out and all kinds of stuff, so my Mom pulled the reins in on me a little bit and I went back to being isolated. But once you were 16 and had your car you were free to get away.

 But being at the prison was always kind of fun. My Dad lived in Fresno and my brother and I used to go down to Fresno every summer and people would say “Where do you kids live?” and we’d say “San Quentin”. “Out on the island?”  “No, no, San Quentin, not Alcatraz”, so my Dad’s friends referred to us as the “Prison kids”.  We would go down there in June when school was out and stay for a month or so.  When my Mom got pregnant they lived in Fresno and she did not want to go through pregnancy there so she told my Dad she wanted to come back to San Rafael or to San Quentin because my grandparents lived here and Dad said “Go ahead”, so they separated and she came here before I was born. Which made for an interesting life in itself because I lived in a prison, very isolated, and I had this really weird family.

 I never realized until I came back to the prison for one of the anniversary celebrations a few years back and I went on a tour and it was the first time I had ever gone inside and I never realized ... I always felt kind of the prison depression of the crime and all of that but I didn’t realize until I walked inside that door. As soon as I walked inside that yard it was like “Oh my God! This is just horrible in here.”  I never realized how bad it was.

 Q: Your school?

 It was two rooms, two teachers, eight grades. It was different because first grade was in this row, second grade was in this row, third grade was this row, fourth grade was that row, and then you went into the other room and you had fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth. You got to go to San Rafael after that.  When you graduated this place, you really made a big step.

 Q: Was it pretty much just Caucasian?

 Yes, never had, that  I can remember, any Oriental or Black.  We used to have what we called “Play Day” when all of the small county schools would come here.  The kids would come in busses for a day of games and dancing, and it was really interesting because we would see Oriental people because there were Orientals who went to those schools, and I can remember the first time a Black girl ever came to Play Day and I was just blown away because I had never been around or interacted with a Black girl before, and I thought “Wow! She’s really neat!”    Though we did see a lot as inmates, but at school, not at all.

 Q: Growing up here, do you think it has affected you as an adult?

 Yeah, I think so. I think because of my younger years, the isolation made me extremely shy and it took a long long time for me to get over it. When I went to San Rafael High School I was just absolutely petrified. I mean, we were the largest graduating class and all that happy stuff, but I just couldn’t deal with all those PEOPLE!

 I think being around the crime and knowing what the criminal part of it was, knowing what the punishments were, just being here - being here when there were executions. The executions were always at 10 o’clock and we’d be in class and when it got to be quarter to ten and we’d all say “Hey, Hey! Look at the clock! They’re taking him down the hallway now!” and at ten “They’re strapping him in! Hey man, they’re dropping the pill!”  So we knew! And a couple of hours later this whole place would smell like cyanide. Unless there was a real good wind blowing, it would just lay over the prison for hours so you could smell cyanide for a long long time.   So yes, all those things affected you as a kid. I was here when Barbara Graham and Caryl Chessman and others not so famous.   Executions were routine. We didn’t have demonstators or any of that. They just executed them and they were out of here!

I look back on it now when people ask me that kind of question and I don’t think that any kid who lived here for more than 5 years, with the exception of one that I know of, EVER had a problem with the law or really got into heavy legal problems such as prison sentencing. I only know of one and that was a sexual rape case and he was doing time in Marysville. And one of the kids I went to school with was a guard there, Tony Lofton, and he bumped into the guy and goes “Oh, hi!”. So that was the only guy that I know of, so YES, the people that grew up here just were not in that crime frame of mind. ‘Cause you knew it - you knew what the consequences could be. Your grew up with it every day!

 Q: You never interacted with the prisoners, did you?

 Very little. We had a custodian at the school and we knew the trustees at the gates. The fire department used to come to the school once a week and show movies, and of course they would set up the projector and sound system so there were 2 inmates and a guard. We would talk to them and say “hi”, and of course there were the gardeners - we’d see them walking back and forth to school - they’d be out cutting grass and painting houses and all that and we would say “hi”.

 Q: How many houses were here?

 I couldn’t tell you the count. Trustees worked outside the gate and maintained the houses out there. In fact, the fire department would go out and assist San Rafael if they had a really big fire.

 Q: So  tell me what else I should be asking you....

 I don’t know. My brain is about tapped out.

 *The California Birth Index says that Dorothy G. Zubler was born in Marin County Sept. 11, 1916; her mother’s maiden name was Duffy.

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