It was in this environment that Charlie Manson, a self-proclaimed guru with a desire to dominate and control runaway teenagers from dysfunctional homes, gathered his family. He then used them to commit his atrocities and devious plan for a future apocalypse. The results were horrendous and left many lost souls and murdered victims in its wake. The Manson women, as they were referred to, were some of Manson's family members.
The incarceration of the Manson women at the California Institution for Women in Fontera, where I later became a Correctional officer, brought me face-to-face with the notorious women. Being the only officer between them and their execution gave me a sense of anxiety and responsibility. A previous escape attempt had failed. Would they try again?
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Nights with Charlie's Girls and other Prison Stories
By Ben Lockyn
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 Ben Lockyn
All rights reserved.
New Cop On The Block
It was a cold January morning in 1972 as I drove up to the grounds of the California Institution for Women in Frontera, California near Corona. I was physically and mentally prepared as I could be, in my new California Department of Corrections uniform. I was excited to start my new career as a Correctional Officer. It had been a long ordeal after applying for the test, completing the written and physical parts of the test and waiting for the results.
I entered a large building that extended the length of a football field and after signing in at the front desk, I was allowed to enter the locked front door that unlocked electronically by the attending officer. I then searched for the office down a long hall I was directed to. After a brief discussion with administrators, I was taken on a full tour of the facility. I was then given my first assignment, the front desk checking in staff and visitors. The prison was not open to dorm positions for male officers at the time. I was told I would also be responsible for operating the plug in type switchboard that I thought had gone out with high top boots! This made me responsible for all incoming and out going calls.
The position was challenging to say the least, as I controlled the last locked door to the free world for the inmates that were identified as residents! They wore street clothes and the only identifiable difference from staff was the small nametag worn by staff! To add to the confusion, there were many residents who worked in the administrative offices that could easily reach this door! I never lost a resident in the six months I worked this position and I'm sure it was the fear of being fired if this occurred, as I was on a nine month probation period that allowed for termination over the smallest concern!
The front desk assignment gave me the opportunity to meet all the staff as well as most visitors who came in on visiting days. I found the job interesting and enjoyable as I had the power to grant or disallow entry to anyone including staff, if I felt it was warranted.
Upon completion of six months assignment to this post, I was assigned to the cafeteria. Other officers told me that this was a lousy assignment. I felt I had to pay my dues being the new kid on the block! I found this assignment just as interesting and challenging as the front desk job. I was responsible for supervising several resident cooks, servers and the clean up crew.
The responsibilities were immense, as I was required to ensure that all the residents were completing their work assignments and meals were prepared and served on time. I had another officer assisting me and we had a Sergeant supervising us. The loss of food was one of the major problems with inmate kitchen workers taking food back to the dorms for their friends. Being a male, I was only allowed to do a cursory search of any bags they were carrying. I recall that on one occasion I checked a resident at the cafeteria door as she was leaving. As I watched her leave, a large pie and a couple of apples fell from under her dress. She quickly picked up the items and ran and I began to laugh, as the incident seemed so funny. Since I knew who she was, I wrote her a disciplinary report.
I recall approaching the dishwashing crew with a dirty plate that had signs of spaghetti on it. Their lack of checking the plates for cleanliness became a major concern. As I confronted the inmates about it, I pointed out the spaghetti that had gone through the dishwasher twice, since spaghetti had been served the day before! A resident said, "Mr. Lockyn, the spaghetti was served three days ago!" After that, I promised myself I would never take the tasters meal ever again. The tasters plate came in handy at times when I forgot to bring in my lunch. The tasters plate was a tray with the meal of the day prepared by the residents for the residents. The meal was free and given to one staff each meal with a questionnaire form to fill out describing the quality of the meal. It questioned whether the hot items were hot and the cold items were cold as well as the tastiness of the meal.
There were fights from time to time over various issues that had to be broken up and dealt with, however once confronted the residents usually ended up getting along and getting back to their assigned task.
Most residents, who were involved in fights, were usually taken to a makeshift jail ward, which was a wing attached to the psychiatric unit. They would remain there until classified by an administrative committee, usually within a week and released back to the mainline.
The word was out to all security staff how the Superintendent felt about her residents. We were not allowed to handcuff the women who were being escorted to the jail ward. The women were also allowed to wear street clothes, making it difficult at times to tell the inmates from the staff. We were told that any unnecessary physical contact when trying to subdue a resident would not be tolerated.
There were many policies that the superintendent felt she wanted to deal with differently than the male prisons. One of the major concerns many staff disagreed on was an unarmed perimeter, where the officers were not allowed to carry weapons like they did in the male prisons. The issue of an armed perimeter was eventually changed, but it took a perimeter officer being assaulted by someone from the outside attempting to help a resident escape.CHAPTER 2
Meeting The Death Row Inmates
I was ordered to report to the Sergeants office and was told that an attempted escape had taken place on death row where the Manson women were housed. The staffing pattern was going to be changed because of this and I was asked if I was interested in working death row, to apply in writing to the Superintendent. I later discovered that the attempted escape was thwarted when a thorough cell search was initiated for contraband. One of the residents had sawed the bars to her cell window and filled them with black shoe polish so they would remain undetected. This had gone on for a long time as several bars were sawed leaving just a few securing the cell.
I didn't have much interest in the assignment until I discovered that the Department of Corrections was paying for college classes that pertained to prison work at all prisons in California, which would include the California Institution for Women where I worked. I wanted to finish my AA degree and I knew that working the night shift would allow me to go to college during the day. I began to realize that the third watch position that was available would allow me to accomplish my goals. I applied for the position and was accepted. As part of the training for duty on what was called death row, I was told to refrain from sharing any of my personal information about the prison security system or myself with the inmates. This was due to the ability of the women to influence and manipulate staff. Therefore any exchange of personal information was forbidden. Although the women were sometimes friendly towards me, I never felt as though they were trying to influence me.
I admit I was a bit nervous on my first day. I reported for duty early one morning, as I was to work two weeks on the day shift training with two of the day staff. I entered a large building known as the Reception Center where women were first received and evaluated for placement on the mainline. The death row hallway and cells were attached to this building. I entered a hallway that lead to the entrance and knocked on the large wooden door. An officer opened a small peephole and asked, "Who goes there?" After presenting my identification I was allowed to enter a small Sally Port, which was a small-secured area locked by a barred door on one side. Once the door was closed behind me, this secured the officer and I in a small six by six-foot room, until another officer then allowed us entry into the celled area. I was surprised that the staff office was so small. It was necessary for one of us to sit down, to allow the other officer enough room to move around.
I was then introduced to the inmates who were referred to as the "Manson women". This was my first encounter with them as I had seen them on T. V. for several years from the time of their arrest to the completion of their trial. The first thing I noticed about them that stood out were the X's on their foreheads, to show solidarity with Manson. Their stature and demeanor was like nothing I expected. They appeared fragile and friendly looking much like the girl next door and were polite and respectful. I informed them that I was in training and would eventually be working the late night shift. I advised the women that I would adhere to all the rules and regulations. If they followed the rules, there would be no problems.
The day shift was quiet, peaceful and routine as I became acquainted with the duties the officers followed. There were procedures for visiting and mail to adhere to, as well as exercise periods on the grounds outside the facility. One of my co-workers was always reading the newspaper when she was on her free time. She informed me that her son was in the Jimmy Jones cult in Giuana, and she feared for his life. She had heard that a representative from the U.S. was flying to Giuana to investigate. Unfortunately she later got the news that everyone in the cult had committed suicide, including her son.
I worked days for the first two weeks to acquaint myself with all the procedures and daily routines. Due to their notoriety and previous attempted escape it was strange being alone with the women. Patricia Krenwinkle and Leslie VanHouton were housed in cells next to each other on the left side of the hallway across from Susan Atkins who was celled on the right. I quickly realized that the other two disliked Susan. She was considered to be the grandstander that spoke too openly about the Spahn Ranch. Their feelings ran so deep that they never spoke to Susan unless it was necessary.
Since Susan was alone and didn't speak with the other two, she became friendly with staff and always looked for a chance to get into a conversation. She was a late sleeper and stayed up as late as midnight and would ask me on occasion if I would pull up a chair into the hallway and talk with her. We had many conversations speaking quietly so as not to disturb the other two. I noticed quickly that Susan emphasized the sensationalism she experienced with the Manson family. She was always ready to entertain me with stories about family life at the Spahn Ranch. I listened and was astonished at what she had to say.
My first week working nights alone on death row was difficult, as it was quiet as well as disturbing. The Inmates Central files were kept in a locked cabinet in the office and I had access to them. These Central files had all the information about the women from the time of their crime to their incarceration. There were times I would finish my duties early in the shift and it would get boring. I decided to read the Central files. I read all the files of the gruesome murders. There was a storm at the time with rain, thunder and lightening which added a macabre setting as I read. Then one of the girls, in her sleep, screamed a gruesome scream that ran chills up and down my spine. I must admit I was scared for the rest of the night. I had thoughts of being stabbed with long spears as I did my security checks. I stopped reading the Central files as I realized it was making me fearful and paranoid.
As time progressed and I began to know the women better, I was more comfortable around them realizing they just wanted to make the best of a very bad situation. Although they were facing the death penalty for their crimes, they never spoke about it or let staff feel that they were burdened by it. Susan overheard a conversation the staff was having about the dangers of smoking. She then yelled out from her cell, "Can you believe my defense attorney told me to stop smoking as it was bad for my health, while I was facing the death penalty in court, like it really mattered." She then laughed.
The daily routine of the schedule became monotonous as the women were served meals and taken out for exercise. This prompted staff to do anything they could to make a joke or say something controversial. There was a visitor who brought in herbs for the Manson women, which was against all C.D.C. rules. The Superintendent however approved them. We were extra careful to make sure Marijuana was not being smuggled in. The visitors name was Fuchs and the gate officer who called her in to us so we could prepare for her visit had a ball with the name. He would say "here comes Fucks, I mean Fuchs pronounced with an emphasis on the letter u. I pronounce it Fucks, she corrects me with Fuchs. I say Fucks, she says Fuchs, she says Fuchs I say Fucks! What the hell difference does it make anyway?" The women could hear me laughing like I had heard the best joke ever and they knew what was being joked about as Ms. Fuchs with an emphasis on the letter u, was due for a visit.
The small celled area took on a funny and strange atmosphere. The inmates could hear staff converse and they would enter the conversation from their cells down the hall as though they were right there with us. The staff began to do the very same thing and it began to appear as though we were one big happy family! The Manson women were at times very moody and emotional. I recall one day when I entered the facility Susan was crying. Upon inquiring what the problem was, she proceeded to tell me about a letter she had received from Rory, a boyfriend of hers. She handed me the letter and I read, "I love you deeply and always will." I couldn't understand her concern until she said look at the name at the end of the letter. The letter ended with, Love you Wanda. It became apparent that the letter had been sent to the wrong person. Her beloved boyfriend Rory, who was also incarcerated, had another girlfriend he was writing to. This left Susan totally depressed and heartbroken.
The staff went behind the closed office door and discussed the incident. It was apparent that the sending prison mail staff wanted to get a good laugh, so they switched the letters on purpose. This occurred on occasion when staff who censored the mail saw many of the prisoners writing love letters to several women professing to love them.
The evening discussions with Susan became a nightly occurrence as she continued to request to communicate with me, since there was no one else to talk to. The discussions were always about her life with the Manson family. I recall a story she told me that had us both laughing so loud we disturbed the other women. There was an incident where one of the women at the Spahn Ranch was pregnant and about to give birth. Susan said that Charlie got real nervous and upset and yelled out for the girls to heat some water! When asked what the hot water was for, he yelled out "I don't know, they do it in the movies don't they!" The pregnant woman was laid down on the table and Charlie Manson was going to deliver the child. The pregnant women was having a bad time trying to deliver and Charlie advised her to stand up and jump up and down so she did. Finally the baby started to come and Charlie had the woman lye down as he proceeded to attempt to pull the baby out. Charlie had no knowledge about a breach baby birth, where the baby comes out butt first. Since this was the case, as Charlie continued to help with the birth, he thought it was abnormal and began yelling out "it's a freak, it's a freak!" He then ran out into the woods and wasn't seen for several days.
The conversations with Susan became a continuing story of life with the Manson family. I began to feel she was using me in a therapeutic way. Many of her stories were lightweight and laughable. There were the times she told of trips to Venice Beach where many of the family would load up in the bus and go shopping! This was more like creeping around the town looking for dune buggies to steal, or things they needed. They would look for lost souls, young men and women who appeared to be living out in the streets and in need of shelter. They would give them shelter if they would show allegiance to Charlie.
As Susan described the Spahn Ranch, "there were always stragglers coming through, as people would come and go. The purpose for the dune buggies was to get around the ranch and security, as well as for fun. We would take and run the buggies all day jumping hills and having a ball! The desert was left full of broken down dune buggies all over the place. If you were ever interested in buying one, I would choose the V.W. if I were you. It stood up better than the other vehicles and was the most fun to ride in!"
Excerpted from Nights with Charlie's Girls and other Prison Stories by Ben Lockyn. Copyright © 2015 Ben Lockyn. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter I New Cop On The Block, 1,
Chapter II Meeting The Death Row Inmates, 5,
Chapter III The End Of An Era, 16,
Chapter IV First Week On The Job, 20,
Chapter V C.O.D. Fish, 23,
Chapter VI Moving On Up, 28,
Chapter VII Not A Riot, Just A Friendly Demonstration, 31,
Chapter VIII Escorting Inmates, 34,
Chapter IX Camp Rainbow, 39,
Chapter X Entertaining The Residents, 43,
Chapter XI Call To A Riot, 47,
Chapter XII Homemade Hooch, 52,
Chapter XIII From Security To Counseling, 55,
Chapter XIV Seeking The Lord In Prison, 59,
Chapter XV A Transfer From A Counselor To Lieutenant, 62,
Chapter XVI A Farewell To C.I.W. After Ten Years Of Service, 67,
Chapter XVII California Institution For Men, 75,
Chapter XVIII Time To Move On To The Big House, 79,
Chapter XIX A Window Without A View - Level IV Opens, 82,
Chapter XX Control, Safety, Through Classification, 86,
Chapter XXI Gangs And Religion Don't Mix, 88,
Chapter XXII Level IV Escape, Impossible?, 93,
Chapter XXIII My Last Stop, WASCO State Prison, 96,
Chapter XXIV The Inmates Arrive, 100,
Chapter XXV A Farewell To C.D.C, 102,