San Quentin, the notorious penitentiary with the largest men's death row in the United States and the oldest prison in California, is not a place that anyone in their right mind would want to visit. That is, unless they're in the market to purchase their very own prisoner-designed music box, or a quirky San Quentin-themed paperweight depicting the watchtower, rocks and hammer, and a ball and chain. On second thought, who doesn't need some chachkis from one of the scariest prisons in the country?
Not always recognized for its dark humor, this legendary prison has been home to several nefarious killers-turned-celebrities, including Sirhan Sirhan, Stanley Tookie Williams (executed in 2005), and perhaps the most infamous criminal of our time, Mr. Charles Manson. It is currently the humble abode of quite a collection of villainous characters such as serial killer Richard Ramirez, mass murderer Richard Farley, and high profile wife slayer Scott Peterson.
While most would give this lockup a wide berth, those who are fascinated with the concept of confinement can visit the prison gift shop and handicraft store. The gift shop carries the usual fare; T-shirts, mugs, and shot glasses embossed with prison-themed images and clever hoosgow-related quips. The handicraft store is full of items made by inmates; desktop clocks, music boxes, money clips, and more, which the incarcerated gentlemen make by hand and then collect the revenue that can in turn be used for sundries, more art supplies, or to send home to their families. 10% of their sales go into the General Inmate Fund that pays for things like movies and other forms of entertainment for the general population.
To visit, no affiliation with a resident of the penitentiary is needed – both the gift shop and the handicraft store are open to the public. The gift shop is just outside the east gate of the prison.