Image: Laura Copenhaver


Off Highway 101, 20 minutes north of San Francisco, you’ll find San Quentin State Prison. And tucked under the prison’s East Gate, a gift shop.

The prisoner-crafted items are homespun takes on the usual fare. If your documents keep escaping, for example, the San Quentin Paperweight — with a watchtower, rocks and hammer, and ball and chain — goes for $10. And there’s more: jewelry, mugs, and music boxes.

Vernell Crittendon, San Quentin’s information officer, says the shop attracts mostly tourists, but that employees and their families are also customers. “People aren’t offended by the dark humor,” he says. “In fact, we’ve had many positive comments.”

Prisoners choose what to make and then reap most of the revenue — 10 percent is taken off for the General Inmate Welfare Fund, which pays for inmate entertainment (such as movies). The craftsmen spend the rest on art supplies or sundries (deodorant, shampoo), or send money to family on the outside.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend

Latest

Give a Year of the Truth

at our special holiday rate

just $12

Order Now

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.