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These 11 powerful photos offer a glimpse of life on death row.

It's been 10 years since California's last execution. But death row continues to grow.

These 11 powerful photos offer a glimpse of life on death row.

What began in 1852 as 20 acres of seaside land purchased for $10,000 is now known as San Quentin State Prison.

Today, the prison covers 432 acres, and it houses over 4,000 men, including hundreds of men who are on death row.

Visitors arrive at San Quentin State Prison in 2015. All photos by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.


At San Quentin, nearly 700 men live on death row.

It's the only correctional facility in California for condemned men. But there's a problem: There hasn't been an execution at San Quentin since 2006. That means that those hundreds of men are waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for their death sentences to be carried out — and some have been waiting for more than 10 years.

Why the wait? Legal challenges surrounding the cocktail of drugs used during lethal injections have put executions on hold. In November 2016, California voters will decide whether to eliminate the death penalty entirely or, at the very least, expedite the process. But until then, these men's futures hang in flux.

Regardless of where you stand on capital punishment, the current prison system is inarguably flawed.

While prison should remain a punishment, especially for the most dangerous offenders, keeping a future in the balance for literally decades at a time is borderline inhumane. The condemned inmates live in single cells, with limited access to fresh air or mental enrichment.

These photos reveal just what it looks like to spend your days trapped in an outdated facility, within a broken system, where your only options are to wait and wonder.

1.  Little has changed in San Quentin's East Block — where condemned inmates are held — since it was built in 1930.

2. Nothing is automated. Each cell is opened and closed by hand.

3. Unlike inmates in the general population, where men are kept two to a cell and have access to enrichment programs, inmates on death row spend most of their days alone.

4. If you think it's lonely and isolating, you're right.

4.  In their single cells, some write or draw.

5. Others study or read to pass the time.

6. Outside time is limited to four days a week, when inmates get access to an exercise yard.

7. There, they can workout.

8. Or pace.

9. Or just think.

10. There's always plenty of time for that.

11. After all, waiting is what they're on death row to do. The question is — for how long?

A Mickey Mouse clock marks the time, along with a little graffiti from someone with a cruel and unusual sense of humor.

And this isn't just California's problem — it's a problem everywhere.

Between sentencing and execution, inmates on death row can wait an average of 190 months. That's up from 74 months in 1984.

It's clear our corrections system wasn't built for this — unduly cruel sentences of indeterminate length in prisons more than a century old. Surely there's a way to get justice for victims and punish perpetrators without sacrificing our own humanity.

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"I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with no heat for two years," Jackson said. "The Department of Veterans Affairs was doing everything they could to help but I was not in a good situation."

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History books are filled with photos of people we know primarily from their life stories or own writings. To picture them in real life, we must rely on sparse or grainy black-and-white photos and our own imaginations.

Now, thanks to some tech geeks with a dream, we can get a bit closer to seeing what iconic historical figures looked like in real life.

Most of us know Frederick Douglass as the famous abolitionist—a formerly enslaved Black American who wrote extensively about his experiences—but we may not know that he was also the most photographed American in the 19th century. In fact, we have more portraits of Frederick Douglass than we do of Abraham Lincoln.

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Courtesy of Creative Commons
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After years of service as a military nurse in the naval Marine Corps, Los Angeles, California-resident Rhonda Jackson became one of the 37,000 retired veterans in the U.S. who are currently experiencing homelessness — roughly eight percent of the entire homeless population.

"I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with no heat for two years," Jackson said. "The Department of Veterans Affairs was doing everything they could to help but I was not in a good situation."

One day in 2019, Jackson felt a sudden sense of hope for a better living arrangement when she caught wind of the ongoing construction of Veteran's Village in Carson, California — a 51-unit affordable housing development with one, two and three-bedroom apartments and supportive services to residents through a partnership with U.S.VETS.

Her feelings of hope quickly blossomed into a vision for her future when she learned that Veteran's Village was taking applications for residents to move in later that year after construction was complete.

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