MARIN COUNTY, Calif.—Yesterday, outside San Quentin State Prison, Andre Williams weighed in on California Proposition 34. The measure, rejected by voters, would have abolished the state’s death penalty and converted the sentences of 726 inmates on California’s death row —all housed at San Quentin—to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Williams spends most of his workdays inside the prison teaching wood crafting to death row inmates. Two hours a day, though, he manages a small hobby shop outside the prison’s east entry gate. He sits behind glass cases displaying wood-carved cable cars, crocheted hats and gloves, and a giant “Eric the Red” Viking ship—all for sale. Behind him, an assortment of paintings fills the walls. “Those are all done by death row inmates. Everything in the cases is made by ‘lifers,’” the Vallejo resident said.
Since 1978, only 13 inmates have been executed in California, one of 33 states that permit the death penalty. Williams, 35, believes the system needs amending: “It’s way too backlogged. But I have to support the death penalty because I know the heinous nature of the crimes.”
Williams also voted with the vast majority of Californians who approved a ballot measure to revise the state’s Three Strikes Law, requiring that the final crime must be serious enough for felons to qualify.
With nine other state initiatives on the ballot, and voter registration now available online, voters came out in record numbers Tuesday. Most notably, Californians passed Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax-hike plan, but they struggled with it.
After voting on a warm Tuesday night, construction worker Loren Hutnick flung his sunglasses off his head at the notion of handing state politicians more tax dollars. “There’s too much corruption. Too many hands in the coffer. I don’t trust that the schools will get the money,” the Santa Rosa resident lamented.
In Larkspur, Beverly Neihardt was conflicted about her vote against Brown’s tax-hike. She spent more than three hours researching the various propositions before voting with her Maltese puppy in tote at a local clubhouse. “It’s all so confusing. I just had to go with my gut,” she said.