Gallery: Zoot Suit Riots
On January 12, 1943, twelve Los Angeles young men convicted of murder were sentenced
to jail terms of five years to life in San Quentin State Prison. California's oldest
correctional facility was -- and still is -- situated on a beautiful parcel of land on
San Francisco Bay, almost 400 miles away from L.A.
The Sleepy Lagoon boys arrived at
a relatively good moment in the prison's history. Beginning in 1940, reform-minded Warden
Clinton T. Duffy, the son of a former prison guard, instigated major educational,
recreational, and other rehabilitative programs. He believed inmates would redeem
themselves if given the chance.
Duffy abolished corporal punishment, knocked down the dungeon, fired brutal guards,
and eliminated the use of whips. Most importantly, Duffy recognized the humanity of San
Quentin's inmates and gave them hope for the future. Many of the Sleepy Lagoon boys
would put their time there to good use, working for the war effort, excelling in sports,
Warden Duffy's programs made prison life better than it might have been for the boys;
Alice McGrath and the Sleepy Lagoon
Defense Committee gave them hope for release from prison. Their letters
from San Quentin show the gratitude and warmth they felt.