Inmates

No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.

- Nelson Mandela

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Noteworthy San Quentin Inmates

of the San Francisco Barbary Coast Era

(1870-1910)

 

The Barbary Coast was a red-light district during the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries in San Francisco which featured dance halls, concert saloons, bars, jazz clubs, variety shows, and brothels. With San Francisco still being new and constantly changing with the gold rush, many con artists, pickpockets, swindler and unsavory folks were drawn to the possible wealth and bawdiness of the area. In fact, criminals from across the world referred to it as Jaytown – slang for a town with easy marks with pockets full of money.

 

While criminals may have been drawn town, there were also those who started with good intentions and had to resorts to criminal acts to make ends meet. And other were just plain mad and lived in their own worlds. All these different sort ended up at San Quentin as some point – many multiple times. San Quentin was a co-ed prison till the 1920’s. Each inmate brought with them a unique story and a complex journey.

 

Recently, an archive of mugshots from that area were released and catalogued on Ancestory.com. The photos are detailed and raw. I could see stories in their eyes just wanting to escape and be told. In fact, some were told. Searching through newspaper archives from that era, many of the stories of these criminals were told in detail over the months of their trials.

 

I have selected 16 convicts with noteworthy stories of how they landed in the slammer and created their portrait based on their mugshot (for some the only time they were ever photographed). They are real, diverse and full of twists and turns. I wanted to tell these stories through my art and free them of their past.

 

Each piece is created entirely of paper (no paint is used). The pieces also contain found objects that create the San Quentin inmate number and a skeleton key that is a metaphor of their escape or release from the prison that history holds them in.

HANNAH LANDRIDGE - Inmate: 16944

Mixed Media Collage (Paper, Found Object & Wood) - 18 x 18 - 2018

HANNAH LANDRIDGE
Inmate: 16944


Born San Francisco, CA 1871
Arrived at San Quentin  - September 21, 1896


Hannah was a well-known pickpocket of the Barbary Coast referred to as Fat Annie or by her alias Hanna Sandwich. When not working as a “beer jerker” at a local bar, she could be found working the hotel district for easy targets.

Hannah was convicted of Grand Larceny and sentenced to San Quentin for 30 months for her role in stealing $300 from a tourist. Hannah made the papers for many weeks because she was mixed up with dirty cops. It is alleged that Hannah had a business partnership with Special Officer Mclntyre and Patrolman Rourke in her criminal enterprise. This may be why Hannah was a well-known pickpocket but only arrested the one time. After her discharge, Hannah is no longer seen in the Barbary Coast or the San Francisco area.

 

FRANK ST. CLAIR - Inmate: 15827

Mixed Media Collage (Paper, Found Object & Wood) - 18 x 18 - 2018

FRANK ST. CLAIR
Inmate: 15827

Born New York City, NY 1872
Arrived at San Quentin - February 16, 1894


Frank St. Clair, also know as Janus Edwards, was no stranger to dealings of the Barbary Coast. When not working as a waiter, Frank made quite a name for himself as a purse-snatcher and pick-pocket. Before coming to San Francisco, drawn by the 1894 Mid-Winter World’s Fair, Frank was found guilty and served time for stealing a watch in Sacramento.

Frank was finally caught after a long spree of trolley-car purse-snatching while picking pockets at the pre-exhibit of the 1894 Worlds Fair in San Francisco. He was later identified by his victims in the city jail. Frank spent only 6 years of his 10 year sentence at San Quentin, being discharged in August of 1900.

For 15 years, Frank kept a low profile. During that timeFrank made his way to work as a Steward on the S.S. Harvard, a night boat from San Francisco to Los Angeles. But in 1915 he was arrested for stealing rings and jewelry from the passengers aboard the ship. The last record of Frank is in 1937 when he arrived back in New York.