I am the only reporter in a decade permitted inside San Quentin's three death rows, and I am the only reporter in history allowed inside the Cell Block of Charlie Manson.

I am a journalist who has been reporting on CA prisons for seven years.

In 2012, I wrote a book called Life After Murder, which tells the stories of five men who committed murder and who they become 20 years after their crimes. My work was featured on This American Life.

Presently, I am the co-founder and executive producer for Life of the Law, a podcast that takes a 360 degree view of our legal system. Check us out here online and on Facebook!

www.lifeofthelaw.org

www.facebook.com/lifeofthelaw

I am happy to answer questions about my time at San Quentin, what it's like building a podcast from the ground up, my life as a journalist/writer, and anything else you all are curious about!

I'll start at 1pm EST.

Tweeting verification from @TheLifeofTheLaw

Edit: 5:38pm EST, and I'm still answering questions!

Edit #2: I've been on for six hours -- turning in for the night. Thanks for the great questions everyone!

Comments: 273 • Responses: 65  • Date: 

Dolphin-doggy24 karma

Thanks for the ama! Did the attitudes of the prisoners differ or were they pretty much the same?

itsnancymullane40 karma

Most prisoners I interviewed on death row said they were not guilty of their crimes. Only one inmate said he was guilty, and he committed suicide shortly after I interviewed him. You can listen to my interview with Justin Helzer here: http://www.lifeofthelaw.org/interview-justin-helzner/

inbeforethend21 karma

Do you believe in the death penalty?

itsnancymullane-2 karma

This is a great question. As a reporter, I try to leave my personal feelings and perspectives behind when I am reporting on a story and the people and places I'm reporting on. This couldn't have been more important than reporting on California's death row, to leave my personal beliefs behind and approach each cell block, each cell door with an open mind about the people both inside the cells and outside.

LovingJuliet105 karma

[deleted]

itsnancymullane-26 karma

Yes.

kingbobofyourhouse12 karma

ok, but now that you're not approaching a cell or a block and don't need to leave your personal feelings behind, how do you personally feel about the death penalty?

itsnancymullane46 karma

That's the thing. As a reporter if I publicly state I am "for the death penalty" or "against the death penalty", then when I go inside to report on the death penalty, I am carrying a bias, a perspective. My value as a reporter to both the men and women on death row, to the prison officials who are asked by society to incarcerate men and women on death row and to the public who listen to the stories, is that I don't have personal feelings when I'm reporting. And even now, I think that objectivity is important. What do YOU think about putting 750 people in CA in cell blocks for the rest of their lives and then executing them years, decades later?

kingbobofyourhouse11 karma

I'm against the death penalty, and here's why - I think there should be about 2 people on death row. That is to say I'm not completely against the idea of putting someone to death, I'm against it as it's applied.

And honestly, I think human nature dictates that it could never be applied any other way than the way we currently apply it.

Problem is, we should be doing this only in the most egregious of cases, and we should be doing it swiftly, not 30 years later. We shouldn't put people to death because society is baying for blood, we should be doing it based on objective merits of the case.

Because we as a society could never dispassionately and logically apply a death penalty, we should abolish it. We should, as a society, accept that we can't apply it properly, and we should walk away.

But thanks for answering, since the phrasing of your question implies your answer.

(edit : ever to never)

itsnancymullane11 karma

Now that I have witnessed the conditions of California's death row, I think the phrasing of my question is as straightforward as I can ask it. Thank you for answering so thoughtfully.

dannyboylee-4 karma

This couldn't have been more important than reporting on California's death row, to leave my personal beliefs behind and approach each cell block

So what are your personal beliefs regarding the death penalty?

StudentOfMrKleks4 karma

Do you still not get it, that if she says it, her career will be in danger, so it would be very unreasonable?

itsnancymullane2 karma

Thank you for understanding at least one aspect of my answer. As a reporter, it comes with doing lots of stories. There are always at least, two sides. On a story such as witnessing death row, there is so much stereotype, and so many preconceived perceptions about what it would be like. It helps when I put my microphone in my deck and push the record button, I am no longer me. I imagine it's the same for print reporters when they write in their notepad. It's fundamentally approaching every story as seeing it for the first time - seeing what is before you, hearing what is said by all possible sources with the goal of telling the whole story. It's a mental preparation and is part of the professionalism of being a reporter. If you know listening to a story the reporter has a bias, for me, it diminishes the power of the reporting. I love listening to a story when I can't tell how the reporter personally feels about the issue/story. The reporter has to trust by providing accurate information the reader/listener will come to their own informed conclusion/position. I hope I have provided information that allows anyone listening to my reporting the opportunity to be better informed about prisons and prisoners so they can make their own decision how they feel. So, it's two sided, by not stating my personal beliefs, I protect my ability to continue to report and I protect my personal beliefs.

analdominator117 karma

Did you find yourself feeling empathy for the inmates?

itsnancymullane21 karma

It's hard not to have a human response to the hundreds of men I saw locked up inside 4x9' cells. As I walked up to the cells, my goal was to find out as much as I could about the conditions of their incarceration, what it was like from their perspective to live day-in-day-out as a condemned person among hundreds of condemned inmates.

uberlad14 karma

Given your pretty unique experiences with the CA prison system, what would you say is your very best life advice?

itsnancymullane47 karma

Think. Think. Think before you do something you know is not a good choice. Most murders happen by people between the ages of 17-24, and 90% of them involve drugs and/or alcohol. A murder (or any crime for that matter) starts with one bad decision, that leads to another bad decision, that leads to a devastating act. Think about every thing you do, and ask yourself if you really want to take responsibility for what you are either doing, or about to do.

SuthySideUp11 karma

Did any of the inmates seem genuinely "evil" for lack of a better word? I recently watched The Green Mile with Tom Hanks and Sam Rockwell portrays the character Wild Bill who is seemingly pure evil with no remorse or care for any human being but himself. Seeing as you had such a large sample size, did you feel that one or any of the inmates were like this?

itsnancymullane5 karma

There are three "death rows" inside San Quentin State Prison. The Adjustment Center is the most restrictive - and is solitary confinement - solid cell walls/doors with a very narrow slit in the window. The prison officials said the 101 men locked in this cell block are the most violent and so have to incarcerated in this sort of extreme cell situation. I can't say I saw an "evil" person.

theg33k0 karma

Presumably some of these people were the worst of the worst, so I'm honestly curious what would it take to constitute and "evil" person to you?

itsnancymullane4 karma

Yes, I'm sure some of the men I met on death row had committed horrible, unimaginable crimes. In fact, even the men I met inside prison who were given life WITH the possibility of parole for murder, had "taken a life" and yet the law gave them the possibility of life back in society if they were able to change and prove that change to a parole board. What is evil? What is the worst of the worst to you?

chappy021511 karma

Why are they not going to allow journalist visits beyond yours?

itsnancymullane7 karma

I really don't know why the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation isn't allowing any journalists inside San Quentin's Death Row, but I've been told repeatedly that no reporter is going to have access again. At least for the forseeable future.

VicVictory10 karma

What single experience was the most emotionally jarring for you?

Did you speak with Charles Manson? What's he like?

itsnancymullane12 karma

I did not speak with Charles Manson. I was given press access to go inside the cell block and "Security Housing Unit Pod" where he is incarcerated in Corcoran State Prison. It is a very quiet, restricted cell block of 21 inmates. It's called the Protective Housing Unit because it's where they keep prisoners who have to be protected from other prisoners. No one is to know where they are or who is in the cell block. Their cells are all cement, floor to ceiling with cement pads for beds with cotton pads on top. They have a yard outside where they play basketball and grow fruit and vegetables.

itsnancymullane9 karma

Hi everyone. This is great. Let's get started!

fuckyofaceee8 karma

[deleted]

itsnancymullane15 karma

Good question. Over the 7 years I've been going inside prisons in California -- San Quentin more than a hundred times - Pelican Bay State Prison with men in the Security Housing Unit - Corcoran State Prison in the Protective Housing Unit with Charles Manson - etc. etc., prisoners have always been respectful. I know it's hard to believe, but it's true. I hear more "excuse me", "thank you", "please", in prison than outside the walls. I've heard yelling and screaming, but not directed at me.

14thCenturyHood7 karma

Hi there! Which case/prisoner was most disturbing to you and why?

itsnancymullane25 karma

Yes. One inmate, Justin Helzer. There was a "visually impaired" sign hanging outside his cell door next to a wheelchair. When I asked to speak with him, he was open and willing, and his story was horrifying. He had tried to kill himself inside his cell by trying to puncture his eyes with bic pens. Instead of killing himself, he was blinded and paralyzed. His story said so much about how deeply depressing it is for the men I met on death row to be locked in their cells 23-24 hours a day for the rest of their lives.

RawrYoFace6 karma

What percentage of the murderers had remorse for their crimes would you say? Was it "real" remorse or just "because I'm told I should be remorseful"?

What did most murderers say they would do if given a second chance?

itsnancymullane7 karma

I've spoken to hundreds of men in prison who were convicted of a murder and many who have been released from prison after being found suitable by a parole board. Each has a different history, crime, and has used their time in prison to change fundamentally how they became a person who could commit a murder to a person who can be trusted never to commit a crime again. They are all individuals and if there is one common statement about what they would do with their lives is given a second chance, it would be to return to society and do good. Simple. If you look at the statistics, of the 57,000 men and women released from state and federal prisons on a murder conviction in one decade, 10% return to prison. In California of the 1,000 released in one decade, not one committed another murder.

DevenneyWorldTour6 karma

Do you think this is something that should be done on a regular basis - allowing condemned prisoners one final chance to reflect, tell their stories and come to peace before death?

itsnancymullane11 karma

Fascinating question. I do know a friend of one of the victims of Justin Helzer contacted me after he committed suicide and thanked me for the interview -- that without this random interview, they would not have known how remorseful he was for his horrific acts. If we don't ask, we will never know.

hyon4206 karma

What unusual psychological changes happen when these inmates realize that their fate is sealed and death is imminent?

itsnancymullane11 karma

There hasn't been an execution in California since 2006. In 2006, a federal judge halted executions in the state because he found there were flaws in the state's execution process. Of the 750 inmates on death row, 13 have exhausted their "super appeals" meaning if the federal court's moritorium on executions were lifted, these 13 would qualify for immediate execution. If you listen to the interview with Justin Helzer, he expresses his thoughts on what it's like to be sentenced to death: http://www.lifeofthelaw.org/interview-justin-helzner/

Frangie5 karma

I really want to know the mindset of the inmates.
Did they come to acceptance ? Are they in Denial ? Are they scared ? Any remorse ? Do they have a common Trait ?

itsnancymullane11 karma

Common trait of the hundreds of men I met on California's death row would be acceptance of their fate. They live in cells smaller than my bathroom 23-24 hours a day for 10-20-30 years. They read books, add colored paper to the fluorescent light, create desks from their cement beds, macrame trees. It is the quietest cell block I have ever been in.

JeanvLucvDiscard5 karma

Hi Ms. Mullane. As a young newspaper journalist myself, it's nice to see that you do your best to not be biased, unlike many other journalists today. A lot of people may disagree, but I believe an unbiased attitude from both the reporter and newspaper itself is the way to good, solid news.

No questions, just wanted to say I found your work fascinating.

itsnancymullane2 karma

Thank you.

TinfoilTiara5 karma

What do you think these inmates needed most from you, Nancy?

itsnancymullane9 karma

What a thoughtful question. To tell their story to someone who wanted to listen.

choboy4565 karma

What do you think about the current Death Row system, can it and should it be changed?

itsnancymullane26 karma

Remember. I'm a reporter. I was given this incredible exclusive access to California's death row because of my credentials. That means, the prison officials had listened to my reporting and were fairly sure I wouldn't be biased. I'm sure if you asked yourself, you would have a pretty clear idea of what death row is like for the 750 men and women on CA death row. I know before I went inside death row, I did. But when I was walking the tiers, meeting the men in their cells, listening to their voices, looking in their eyes, all I wanted to do was tell their stories as honestly, and unemotionally as possible so people listening would have as unvarnished a picture of what we as a society have created. Death Row is so hidden. We convict a person and send them to a cell block to await their execution, but in 2014, we as a society don't have a clear sense of what that really means. My opportunity to see that reality, was extraordinary. Should it be changed? That's not for me to say. But unless we have more press access, no one will really know whether it should be changed or not. It's almost like it doesn't exist.

sleeptrouble5 karma

What percentage of inmates that you talked to do you believe had changed/been rehabilitated?

itsnancymullane11 karma

Hard to say. In 2007, I began reporting almost exclusively on men and women who had been convicted of murder and were in prison on first or second degree murder. Inside prison, these men and women seemed very social, respectful, articulate, motivated to be good people. I wondered if my perceptions were "off." So I stayed with the story, and in 2012 wrote a book about my findings. It's called "Life After Murder." What I found was that people who committed a murder and were given Life sentences WITH the possibility of parole, after they did their 15-25-30 years, were found suitable for parole, were successful back on the outside, with a 10% recidivism rate (meaning they don't return to prison.) I often wonder what would happen if we gave every prisoner - even those on death row - the opportunity to prove their rehabilitation after 25-30 years, if they would be rehabilitated? The decision of whether or not a person is capable of rehabilitation is made at the time of sentencing.

jseanbrooks3 karma

How did it feel knowing that you'll be the last reporter to visit them in a very, very long time?

itsnancymullane9 karma

Frustrating. In a democratic society, the press plays a key role in providing independent information to the voters about how society is functioning. The voters in California are paying up to $200,000 a year for each of the 750 men and women living 24/7 on the state's death row. As a reporter I don't really understand the CDCR's policy of no press access to the state's death row inmates.

keithloojun3 karma

What was the condition like in the cells before they were executed ?

itsnancymullane3 karma

The single-man cells are fairly dark, about 4 feet across by 9 feet from front to back. The ceiling is about 7' high. The floor and walls are cement. iThere is a metal frame bed with a spring mattress, a small steel sink and a steel toilet. I took a number of photographs -- You may want to go to http://www.lifeofthelaw.org/reporter-on-death-row/

lepetitfemmenoir3 karma

Hi Nancy, thanks for the AMA; I'm a huge fan of your work. In the past you have stated that the low rate of return for murderers merits the amendment of current laws. After your research, what type of changes would you like to see? Is there any current prison reform legislation we redditors should be aware of?

itsnancymullane1 karma

In 1988 voters in California passed Proposition 89. The law granted governors in the state the authority to reverse grants of parole for individuals found suitable for parole by the Board of Parole Hearings. Four governors - Deukmejian, Wilson, Davis and Schwarzenegger - reversed between 75-99% of all parole grants by the Board. Governor Brown is reversing 17%. Commissioners on the Board of Parole Hearings sit across the table from a prisoner at their parole hearing and review their crime, their time in prison, their programming, education, plans for their future, and at the end of hours-long hearing, make a decision whether or not the prisoner is suitable for parole and "no longer a threat to society." Commissioners have told me they make the decision based on whether they would want the person living next door to them. The parole grant then goes to the Governor who has 150 days to review the decision. On the 150th day, the Governor sends a fax to the warden's office in the prison announcing whether or not the prisoner is going home in two days or their parole is reversed and it is like they were never granted parole. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/398/long-shot?act=1#play

lollea1 karma

Four governors - Deukmejian, Wilson, Davis and Schwarzenegger - reversed between 75-99% of all parole grants by the Board.

Is this statistic about every parole granted ? Or just parole granted to people sentenced for murder ?

itsnancymullane1 karma

In California, most people sentenced, nearly 80% serve determinate sentences meaning they know when they go to prison when they are going to be released. They never go before a parole board and are not expected to show or prove any change to be released. People convicted of first or second degree murder, as well kidnap for ransom, are sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of "life with the possibility of parole" - meaning they must go before a parole board and if found suitable for parole, must wait 150 days for the governor to decide whether he/she is going to reverse the board's decision. I don't mean to promote my book, but that is what my book is about. The impact of governor review on the parole process over the past 20 years.

RedheadBanshee2 karma

What is the one thing you think the Public should know about what you have learned or seen?

itsnancymullane4 karma

I am very cautious to include in this AMA thread my own perceptions. One common statement by nearly every prisoner I have interviewed in the past 7 years has been when they tell me their story, at some point they all say, "And then when I was 11 (or 10, or 12, or 13 or 14) something happened" and that something changed their primary relationship in their family structure or in their community -- a father was injured and couldn't work, a mother died, they moved. In that pubescent moment - shifting from child to adult - they were vulnerable and no one reliable was there to help make the transition -- and so they found help with people who would accept them -- often with their troubled peers -- which led to more trouble and eventually to crime. If we could provide professional counselors and support in the schools for young people facing family/personal difficulties, I think we could prevent crime and create a safer society.

MrTacoMan2 karma

Did you ever feel like you were in danger?

How did the inmates react to having someone to talk to from outside the system for the first time in decades, potentially?

itsnancymullane6 karma

I did not feel in danger. Every inmate was completely surprised to see me standing outside their cell. They didn't know I was coming. Every prisoner responded with curiosity and were actually very forthcoming. They described their lives, their attempts to educate themselves, how they used incense to calm themselves. If you have a chance, I produced three stories about the 3 death rows inside San Quentin: http://www.lifeofthelaw.org/reporter-on-death-row/

My book, Life After Murder, tells the stories of five men who committed murder and were sentenced to life WITH the possibility of parole. These men were able to tell their whole stories -- representing the 25,000 in CA who committed a murder offense but with the possibility of being released back to society. http://www.lifeaftermurder.com/

SydBev2 karma

How did you go about launching Life of the Law--from the show concept to web presence to distribution, etc.? What advice do you have for others looking to start a podcast?

itsnancymullane2 karma

I am one of three founders of Life of the Law. We wanted to create a podcast that looked at how the law works in real life. For about a year and a half we had monthly conference calls about the concept, themes, structure, design, etc. Then we applied for a pilot grant from the Open Society Foundations and looked around for the very best editors, reporters, producers we could find. With a core team in place, we created our first four podcasts, built a blog page, and now we're in full production. Advice: start slow, bring together an amazing core team, build a structure you can work with -- website, file storage, process, etc. and keep change and innovation a big part of everything you do! http://www.lifeofthelaw.org/

Xtorting2 karma

What happened during your interview that caused San Quentin to not allow any more journalist? Were you asking guards sensitive questions or possibly noticed something odd? Has your perspective on death row changed after talking to the walking dead?

itsnancymullane3 karma

It took more than 3 years to gain press access to CA Death Row and other restricted cells in the state. I don't think the CDCR has any interest in granting what the public doesn't seem all that interested in knowing about.

ismokebud4202 karma

How many truly still believe they are innocent of the crimes that put them on death row?

itsnancymullane2 karma

Many. I would say, most.

PuffsPlusArmada2 karma

Who is the most frightening inmate you ever spoke with?

itsnancymullane6 karma

It's not like they are frightening when you speak with them. They are incarcerated in a small cell. They've been there a very long time. They are in shut-down, existence mode. Without reading up on all 750 men and women, memorizing their names and the details of their crimes, it's hard to know what they have done when you are standing on the other side of a cell door having a conversation with a person on the other side. They are mostly middle-aged or older men with gray hair and pale skin.

maximuszen2 karma

What percent of the inmates have windows in their cell? Do they open? How big are they?

itsnancymullane1 karma

It is rare that a prison cell has a window, and if there is a window, it doesn't open. There are many cell environments in California prisons and it would take me a very long time to describe the varying elements of each. Here are some photos of the three death rows at San Quentin. http://www.lifeofthelaw.org/reporter-on-death-row/

Biddy_Baybee2 karma

My good friends late grandma was one of the guards for charlie manson in the 80's. Apparently all he would ever say is "I want a goddamn TV in my cell" while she was on duty.

Do you recall seeing one in his cell if you visited him?

itsnancymullane3 karma

There is a television outside in the larger area of the cell pod that Manson is in. I do not know if there was a television in his individual cell.

runninger2 karma

Any advice for an aspiring journalist/writer?

How did you get into reporting on murders and criminals? Also, how was it decided that you would be the only one permitted inside San Quentin instead of some other reporter?

Thanks!

itsnancymullane3 karma

Q1: Pay attention to the stories you think about that no one else is reporting. Q2: See answer to Q1. Q3: I asked the Secretary of the CDCR for permission. He is one of only two people I know of in the state who could grant me permission to have press access inside San Quentin's Death Row. The other was the Governor.

itsnancymullane4 karma

By the way. If the Secretary of the CDCR had denied me access, I would have found a way to interview the Governor, and would have asked him for press access. Every time I went inside the walls of San Quentin I asked whether reporters would ever be given press access to the area known as Death Row. Every time I was told no. It would not happen. It seemed important 750 people were locked up in an area of San Quentin Prison without any press providing independent reporting on their lives or the conditions of their incarceration. Apparently, Secretary Matthew Cate agreed and granted me press access.

StreicherSix2 karma

Do you believe you were the correct person to do this, and why or why not?

It seems in your answers that you have a sympathy towards the inmates here based on the fact that you are the only one to be admitted to speak to them - as if that particular isolation from the public creates a bias in the way you discuss your experience meeting them. I understand trying to obtain their perspective, but it seems to pollute your responses with subjectivity instead of an objective viewpoint of their incarceration - in particular, the "deep depression" that arose elsewhere. As someone who can be, and has interacted with people who are, extremely manipulative, do you have any inclinations that those you interviewed who had not had all appeals yet denied would have attempted to manipulate your writings on them in order to possibly have a (however minor) impact on their future appeals?

itsnancymullane3 karma

The decision of whether or not I would be granted press access to interview prisoners serving time on California's Death Row and in other areas of the institution was the decision of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

KrisGuenther2 karma

I looked down and didn't see much questions about podcasting so I'll do one.

"This American Life" is a fantastic podcast. What's it like doing one segment for T.A.L? How's the schedule, how long does it take, where do you get the ideas, etc.?

itsnancymullane1 karma

I had a wonderful experience reporting for This American Life. Ira Glass is a storytelling, audio genius. I brought the story concept to TAL and worked on the story with Ira and the TAL producers for nearly five months before it was published. Now I work with an amazing team of producers and editors at Life of the Law. http://www.lifeofthelaw.org.

originalbanana2 karma

Do you think any of the prisoners are innocent?

itsnancymullane7 karma

The National Registry of Exonerations issued a report on February 4, 2014 from 1989 through Feb 3, 2014, 1,304 people were exonerated of their crimes. In 2013, 87 people had their convictions dismissed. Death Penalty Information Center reports that 144 people sentenced to death have been exonerated of their crimes since 1973 (thank you joebob801). I suppose with 750 people on California's Death Row (the largest death row population in the US), there's a chance one or more of the men I met inside San Quentin State Prison are innocent.

Themagictreehouse1 karma

Do you believe in recidivism for these type of criminals?

itsnancymullane3 karma

Recidivism is the rate they "recidivate" or return to crime. If you have a chance, read my book, Life After Murder. I spent more than five years reporting on people who commit murders and who they become 20-30 years after their crimes. The fact of the matter is, people who commit murder are the least likely of all "criminals" to recidivate. They are the most successful at returning to society. http://www.lifeaftermurder.com/

CelticBrit1 karma

Hi,I worked as a corrections officer in Toronto, Canada for 19 years. We don't have captial punishment in Canada. I did not think I could walk some one to their death even knowing they deserved it. My question is having seen such a notorius death row, and seeing its nefarious inmates, would you be able to "flip the switch" so to speak?

itsnancymullane1 karma

As a reporter, I would never have the responsibility of "flipping the switch" - determining when someone would live or die by law. I was asked by the CDCR to be the media reporter at the last scheduled execution. But a few hours before it was to occur, a judge halted the execution over the question of whether the three-drug injection procedure caused extreme pain.

Annepackrat1 karma

Were there any underlying characteristics you could see between them you think would explain the reason the prisoners were on Death Row? For instance were they primarily from underprivileged backgrounds, or did most have mental health problems?

Thank you for the AMA.

itsnancymullane1 karma

I am not able to make any sort of generalization about the men I met and interviewed on CA Death Row. Looking at the statistics, 36% are Black, 35% are white, 24% are Hispanic. 50% are 50 years of age or older.

BigMacNCSU1 karma

Did you ever find yourself getting angry at the people you were interviewing, for lack of remorse or otherwise?

itsnancymullane1 karma

no

FattyBumbaLatty1 karma

What was the oldest and youngest aged inmates you interviewed? What were the details of their crimes?

itsnancymullane1 karma

The youngest was in his 30's and the oldest was in his 80's. I interviewed more than two dozen inmates on death row. It would be difficult to articulate the details of their crimes.

ifyouforgetme121 karma

Which inmate was most memorable for you?

itsnancymullane2 karma

Over the years, I have met many people incarcerated in CA prisons that I think of and wonder. What happened to them? Especially the inmates who remain locked up in the very same cell I saw them in two-three-five years ago. How do they continue to absorb the confines of the cell?

ismokebud4203 karma

So... Are you gonna answer the question?

itsnancymullane0 karma

I really don't know how the men on death row do it. One minute, hour, day, week, month, year at a time, I suppose. I have been told no reporters will be granted press access, and I will not be permitted to do a follow-up story on the men I met, so I can't really answer the question about men on death row. Of the men I have interviewed over the years who ARE permitted to leave their cells every day, I know the ones who successfully do their time who are eventually released from prison, while they are in prison they focus their attentions on getting an education (through volunteer programs - neither the state nor the federal government provide college level education) - and on volunteer based programs that help them understand how they got to the point in their life that they committed their crime and what steps they need to take to change so they will be a person who will never allow that to happen again. They say they learn to think, breathe, make conscious decisions, and take responsibility.

sunriseauto1 karma

Were there strange yelling/noises coming from the cell blocks? Weird question I know but, you see on TV/movies where they always depict death row just being a creep and crazy place.

itsnancymullane2 karma

The strange yelling noises/cries/etc. were in other cell blocks. The death row cell block was quiet. If you listen to the story you can hear how quiet it was: http://www.lifeofthelaw.org/reporter-on-death-row/

OctavianAurum1 karma

How did prisoners react to your interview/visit? Thanks for the AMA btw :-)

itsnancymullane2 karma

Timemedium1 karma

Hello, I am grateful for your work. I read nearly every Q and A as well as listening to the Justin Helzer interview. That sound cloud downloads good on my 2G mobile device. I do believe I will listen to the rest of the interviews. But... I have not heard anything about MSNBC Lock Up. What is your opinion on the quality of their portrayal of our crime and punishment system?

itsnancymullane1 karma

I have not watched MSNBC lockup so I can't give you my opinion on the quality of the program.

ChronicOfNarnia1 karma

[deleted]

itsnancymullane2 karma

Many inmates ask questions about current case law. There are many "jailhouse lawyers" -- inmates representing other inmates. http://www.lifeofthelaw.org/podcast-jailhouse-lawyers/

tinygiggs1 karma

How much research did you do before each interview? Was it tailored to the inmate, or more of a broad interview? Any tangents in the interviews that went where you weren't expecting?

itsnancymullane8 karma

Press access in all California prisons is "random" access. You can't ask to speak with a specific prisoner by name or number, so there is no possible way to prepare for an interview. On death row, I was allowed to walk the tier - 50 cells long, 5 tiers high. I wasn't given a map to know which inmate was locked up where. I was allowed to approach any cell and ask if the inmate wanted to be interviewed. I had a tape deck and a camera. I was completely surprised by how forthcoming the prisoners were. They hadn't seen a "free" person who wasn't a officer or an administrator with the prison in more than a decade. It was hard to see their eyes through the sheet of porous metal over the front of the bars, but every man was open to talking. It was overwhelming to see so many human beings locked in such small cells.

r-eddi-t21 karma

You seem rather sympathetic to them. Why?

itsnancymullane3 karma

Unlike most prisons I've been in, death row is particularly impactful. San Quentin has four cardinal blocks - North Block and West Block (where about 800 life term inmates with the possibility of parole are housed in double man cells - actually the same size as the single-man death row cells), South Block (which is used for reception for hundreds of incoming prisoners -- and the "hole" or discipline), and East Block (one of the prisons 3 death rows.) Unlike North and West BLock, "mainline" cell blocks where the prisoners leave their cells for long periods of time - to go to their 7-3 jobs, eat, exercise, go to programs; in East Block, the prisoners on Death Row are locked in their cells 23-24 hours every day and night. The 500+ inmates literally LIVE in their 4x9' cells all day/ every day. It is a completely unique environment.

shibbyb1 karma

Have your views on the death penalty changed since conducting these interviews?

itsnancymullane3 karma

Let me put it to you in a question. Have your views changed over the years about the death penalty? A poll in 2012 in CA showed that 55% of all adults and 50% of likely voters prefer life in prison without the possibility of parole over the death penalty. My reporting on Life After Murder (my book) leads me to ask the following question. How do we know who is capable of fundamental change and who is not? Two of the men in my book were charged with first degree murder and were facing a possible death penalty. The judge in each case dismissed the possibility of death, and they were sentenced to Life WITH the possibility of parole. Today, more than 25 years later, they have completed their prison sentences, and have returned to society. If we gave everyone who commits a murder a life WITH the possibility of parole sentence, and we left it up to the state's parole board to determine when and if someone has become suitable for parole, what is the risk? Statistically, people who commit a murder and years later are found suitable for parole, these individuals are the least likely to ever commit another crime of any sort.

Mushland31 karma

What was the scariest (darkest) thing you heard from one of the prisoners?

itsnancymullane2 karma

I suppose it is what I didn't hear, but witnessed.

NateJC1 karma

Seriously, please answer.

itsnancymullane7 karma

In prison, if you are disciplined, you are sent to the "hole" - administrative segregation. No one wants to go there. I was allowed to see it once.

benfried981 karma

What type of security measures did the prisons use to protect you from possibly dangerous inmates? Did you enter their cells or we're you with a corrections officer?

itsnancymullane1 karma

When I was reporting on the three death rows, I had to wear a stab-proof vest over my clothing and was with Lt. Sam Robinson, San Quentin's Public Information Officer at all times. When I am doing general reporting inside San Quentin, I don't wear any extra security protection. I have never felt in danger.

paintballpmd1 karma

Did any of the inmates make any aggressive actions toward you or say anything rude? What kind of security did you have with you? We're the interviews face to face or over a phone through glass? Thanks for the AMA.

itsnancymullane1 karma

The inmates on death row were never aggressive towards me in any way. As I mentioned in an earlier question, I was required to wear a stab proof vest while on the three death rows, and Lt. Sam Robinson was with me at all times. I spoke with inmates face to face. Since 2007, I have been reporting on CA prisons and have interviewed hundreds of prisoners face to face, sitting at a table, walking on the prison yard, in their cells. It's the only way to report.

pankopanko-5 karma

Did you fall in love with any of the inmates? :-/

itsnancymullane1 karma

No.