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31 March 2020

San Quentin Prison, California

(All photographs within the prison via the Digital Transgender Archive)

San Quentin is one of the world’s best-known prisons. It is the oldest and largest in California, and the only one in the state where executions have been done. It is known for recorded concerts by Johnny Cash and BB King.

The prison was opened in 1852. It was so named as it is located on San Quentin Point. That, also, is not named for the 3rd century saint in Gaul. It is named for a renowned sub-chief of the Coast Miwok first nation.

There has been more drag and trans at San Quentin than you might expect.

See also: Trans in prison which I wrote in November 2012.
Part II: to Stonewall


Artie Baker, 14 years for bank robbery, San Francisco, was in San Quentin for some time before being discovered to be female-bodied. (Peter Boag. Re-dressing America's Frontier Past, 2012: 211)

Prison Vaudeville Show featured cross-dressed prisoners.


Prison Vaudeville Show again featured cross-dressed prisoners.


The 17th annual field meet held at San Quentin in 1930 when James B. Holohan was the acting warden. Olympic Club member, Frank G. Kane, was Master of Ceremonies. The entertainers depicted are San Quentin inmates; the cross-dressers were a popular attraction.


20th Annual Olympic Club Track & Field Meet at San Quentin prison was sponsored by the Olympic Club of San Francisco. Prison inmates held a field and track day. Consisted of some 29 athletic events, stunts, chorus girls and vaudeville acts performed by prisoners. Some 5000 inmates attended.


  • Leo L.Stanley & Evelyn Wells. Men at Their Worst. By L. L. Stanley ... with the collaboration of Evelyn Wells. Illustrated. [The autobiography of the Chief Surgeon of the California State Prison, St. Quentin.], 1940: 203. Dr Stanley relates that while examining an apparently male prisoner, he discovered that the prisoner had been surgically transformed into a woman.


Josephine Montgomery was arrested and convicted of strong-arm robbery. After two months in the women’s wing of the Imperial county jail, and one night in the women’s prison at Tehachapi, a routine physical exam resulted in a transfer to a man’s cell at San Quentin. NewsArticle.


Katherine Marlowe, author of Mr Madame, 1964, met her future husband while lecturing at San Quentin prison, and finally transitioned to female in 1972. (Richard Nelson. Call Me Kate: The Story of Katherine Marlowe, a Transexual, 1999)


Guthrie Danowski, 24, who was serving a life sentence at the prison, apparently slipped into some of his wife's clothing in a restroom of the crowded prison visiting room. His wife arrived at the prison early in the day, checking out two hours after her arrival. About five hours after that, San Quentin officials realized that Danowski was missing. (The Gateway, 2,12, June 1980: 9. Online)


Janet Kolmetz on death row at San Quentin – at that time the only known trans woman in San Quentin. (TV-TS Tapestry, 55, 1990: 15-6. Online)


Jeanne Hoff, the last doctor at Harry Benjamin’s practice, had become returned to being a psychiatrist after transition in the 1980s, and was employed at San Quentin. She was in the news in April-May 1998 when she was the only one of three psychiatrists to testify that murderer Horace Kelly might be competent to be executed, and the defense attorney attempted to impeach Hoff. Although Horace Kelly's lawyer subpoenaed Hoff's prison personnel file in an attempt to impeach her, he presumably hadn't heard rumors that she was transsexual, didn't find it in the file and didn't read her. Otherwise he probably would have used it to defame her. She had been in a 1978 television special under the same name, but that was 20 years earlier. Jeanne was also named as trans in Jayne County's 1995 autobiography, but presumably the lawyer didn't read punk biographies. GVWW.


  • Stuart Cabb (dir). Louis Theroux: Behind Bars, with Deborah Worledge. UK BBC 60 mins 2008. Deborah was filmed shortly before her release on Sept. 2, 2008. Two days after release she was dead from a drug overdose.


Skylar Deleon, who had killed to be able to afford transgender surgery, arrived at San Quentin death row.


Mandi Camille Hauwert,  Correctional Officer at San Quentin. One of the first US Correctional Officers to transition on the job. Another is Meghan Frederick who works at the state prison in Sacramento.


Lady Jae Clark, who came out in 1973 and has been in San Quentin since 2013, was the first trans woman to play Lady Macbeth in San Quentin’s production of the play. Newsarticle.  She co-founded a program called Acting with Compassion and Truth (ACT) in San Quentin to increase understanding and decrease violence toward LGBTQ inmates. Newsarticle.

Trans woman at San Quentin approached the Insight Prison Project. They asked for support for the formation of Acting with Compassion and Truth (ACT) at San Quentin. They didn’t want a support group. “We live our lives here every day surrounded by thousands of people who have been for the last 20 or 30 years who haven’t had exposure to the evolution that we know is happening out there.” A year-long curriculum was set up. Newsarticle.

Shiloh Heavenly Quine, incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison was approved for transgender surgery, which set a precedent so that other trans inmates in California could hope.

  • Kristin Schreier Lyseggen,. The Women of San Quentin: Soul Murder of Transgender Women in Male Prisons. 2015: 109 – 136. About trans women in prisons, but most are not in San Quentin, despite the title of the book.


Lisa Strawn who transitioned at age 18, but has been in men’s prisons for 25 years following a three-strikes burglary charge, who had helped establish an LGBTQ group at Vacaville prison, was transferred to San Quentin and joined ACT. Newsarticle.


The LGBTQ education program was replicated on death row. Newsarticle.

First TDOR at San Quentin’s Catholic Chapel emceed by Lisa Strawn, the first such in a California prison. Newsarticle.

Child killer death row inmate Jessica Hann filed for change of name and legal gender.

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