In 1840, Point Quentin became part of a Mexican land grant called Rancho Punta de Quentin. In 1851, California's first prison opened; it was a 268-ton wooden ship named The Waban, anchored in San Francisco Bay and outfitted to hold 30 inmates.
The state's only death row for male inmates, the largest in the United States, is located at the prison.
It has a gas chamber, but since 1996, executions at the prison have been carried out by lethal injection.
The death row at San Quentin is divided into three sections: the quiet "North-Segregation" or "North-Seg," built in 1934, for prisoners who "don't cause trouble"; the "East Block," a "crumbling, leaky maze of a place built in 1927"; and the "Adjustment Center" for the "worst of the worst." Most of the prison's death row inmates reside in the East Block. The adjustment center received solid doors, preventing "gunning-down" or attacking persons with bodily waste.
The fourth floor of the North Block was the prison's first death row facility, but additional death row space opened after executions resumed in the U. As of 2016 A dedicated psychiatric facility serves the prisoners.
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In 1941 the first prison meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous took place at San Quentin; in commemoration of this, the 25-millionth copy of the AA Big Book was presented to Jill Brown, of San Quentin, at the International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The dining hall of the prison is adorned by six 20 ft (6.1 m) sepia toned murals depicting California history.
They were painted by Alfredo Santos, one-time convicted heroin dealer and successful artist, during his 1953–1955 incarceration.
Lawrence Singleton, who raped a teenaged girl and cut off her forearms, spent a year on parole in a trailer on the grounds of San Quentin between 19 because towns in California would not accept him as a parolee.
The chamber was converted to an execution chamber where lethal injection was used.