Manson Life-Style Changes After Move From Death Row
Monday, March 5th, 1973
FOLSOM, Mar. 5 — The lifestyle of convicted killer Charles Manson has been sharply altered since he was moved off San Quentin’s Death Row and out of the shadow of the state’s gas chamber.
For one thing, he has dropped several notches in the prison social order.
Gone are the extra meals, pajamas, shared television sets and house slippers provided condemned inmates on the row.
In the tougher confines of the fortress-like state prison here, the 38-year-old hippie clan leader is just one of 136 problem prisoners assigned to the maximum security adjustment center.
The California Department of Corrections refers to the special lockup unit as a “prison within a prison, to provide separate housing for inmates who cannot be safely controlled in the general institution population.”
Gone too are Manson’s scraggly beard, his shoulder-length hair and his prison privilege card, lifted because of the belligerent attitude he reportedly displayed when he was transferred to Folsom last Oct. 9 from San Quentin.
Manson, convicted of mass murder in the 1969 Sharon Tate – Leno LaBianca slayings in Los Angeles, was one of 20 previously condemned inmates moved to Folsom after the California Supreme Court abolished capital punishment Feb. 18, 1971.
Authorities at San Quentin closed Death Row and moved more than 100 prisoners to different levels of custody throughout the state’s penal system.
Closing condemned row was a matter of concern for many of the inmates, San Quentin Warden Louis S. Nelson said at the time.
“While they were on Death Row they were attracting some attention from the press and the public. But when they get lost in the mainline population, they’ll no longer be big frogs in a small pond,” Nelson said.
“Some of them would rather remain on Death Row, as long as they don’t have to face the gas chamber.”
The move created special problems for inmates like Manson and Sirhan B. Sirhan, convicted assassin of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Nelson said.
Sirhan is still confined under maximum security in San Quentin.
“It would be dangerous to put a guy like Manson into the main population, because in the eyes of the other inmates he didn’t commit first-class crimes,” the warden explained.
“He was convicted of killing a pregnant woman and that sort of thing doesn’t allow him to rank very high in the prison social structure.
“It’s like being a child molester. Guys like that are going to do hard time wherever they are.”
Manson’s current status bears out Warden Nelson’s prediction, according to a Folsom lifer who has served several terms in the aging prison’s adjustment center.
Although Manson’s adjustment center cell is slightly larger than the one he occupied on Death Row, it is grim and barren by comparison, isolated by wire fences and thick granite walls and under constant scrutiny by correctional officers.
An armed guard patrols the perimeter of each tier of cellblocks behind the protection of a wire-mesh gun cage. Even outside the cellblock for their daily exercise periods, inmates are always “under the gun” from a number of guard towers and separated from other prisoners by high fences.
Before and after each trip outside the maximum security cellblock the inmates are forced to strip naked for a skin search before being allowed to return to their cells.
Because of repeated attempts to smuggle contraband to adjustment center prisoners, the guards take elaborate security precautions, including the use of a sophisticated fluoroscope that recently revealed two handcuff keys being carried inside a toothpaste tube.
“Any items in foil, glass or metal containers are emptied into paper sacks or cardboard boxes before being allowed into the cellblock,” one of the correctional officers. explained.
Cell doors are remotely controlled from a master switch panel at one end of each tier and guards are not allowed to enter the main cellblock alone.
“We never go inside, or move one of them out, unless we outnumber them,” a guard said. “That just makes good sense.”
Inmates are allowed to keep only a few personal belongings in their individual cells — letters, toothbrushes, pictures, writing material.
For example, when Manson was temporarily transferred to Los Angeles recently to testify at the trial of four former followers, his total worldly wealth scarcely covered the bottom of a small cardboard box that once held canned tomatoes.
“Not much to show for 38 years,” one guard remarked, opening the box that held a couple of newspapers, an outdated weekly news magazine, a twisted half-used tube of toothpaste, a couple of letters, some stationery and a few other odds and ends.
Each inmate’s belongings are boxed and stored whenever he leaves the prison, then returned to him when he reenters.
Folsom, built by convict labor in the early 1880s on a rolling 400 acres 22 miles east of Sacramento, is California’s second oldest prison — San Quentin was constructed 122 years ago — and the state’s primary maximum security facility.
The current population, according to Warden Walter E. Craven, is about 1,800, up slightly in the last year and expected to expand even more with additional transfers.
“The facility was designated for the treatment and control of inmates requiring greater custodial restraint than is available at other state correctional institutions,” according to the Department of Corrections.
By BILL HAZLETT