When people hear the name San Quentin, they probably don’t think of crocheted Christmas stockings. Marin County’s prison by the bay is, of course, most infamous as the location of California’s only execution chamber. Over the years it has also housed a number of high-profile inmates, including Charles Manson, Scott Peterson and Caryl Chessman.
However, on the outskirts of the east gate exists a respite from the perpetual penitentiary atmosphere of foreboding — the San Quentin Handicraft Shop. No affiliation with the prison is required to enter the store, which is open noon to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Inside patrons will find handcrafted items made by death row inmates. A sign on the store’s door notes that of 750 prisoners currently on death row, 430 participate in the prison’s “Hobby Program.”
On a recent visit, a wooden clock decorated to commemorate the Golden State Warriors’ back-to-back championships was proudly displayed in the front window. There were also portraits of pop culture luminaries like Thriller-era Michael Jackson and reggae artist Bob Marley. Elsewhere a rather impressive Picasso-style portrait rendered in gray with hints of red and green hung beside a replica sculpture of one of the prison’s guard towers. Those interested in buying will want to bring cash, as the shop doesn’t accept credit cards and only takes exact change. In case you were wondering: 82 percent of the profits are returned to prisoners.