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Kirschke Prison Interview (Oct. 5, 1969)

Kirschke Prison Interview (Oct. 5, 1969)

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JACK
KIRSCHKE
IN
PRISON
by Ted
Kn>c
SIX
SOUTHLAND SUNDAY,
OCTOBER 5,
1969
 
J
ack
Kirschke
still
has the
look
of a
prosecu-
tor,
and the gaze
from
the pale eyes never
lets
you
go.
He's
been
imprisoned
in
Chino
for a
year
now,
waiting out an
appeal
on his
convictionfor
the
murders
of his
wife, Elaine,
andOrville Drankhan
a
crime
that
rocked
thesophisticated
Naples area
of
Long Beach
in
April,
1967.
A jury
found
Kirschke
guilty
after
a
marathon
trial
and he wassentencedtodeath,a
sentence
which
later
was commuted by the judge to
life
in
prison.
I
have
known the former deputy district attorney
and his
family
for
more
than
20
years,
but it was
with
genuine trepidation that
I
went
to
Chino
for an
inter-
view
andvisit.I
didn't know
whata
year
in
prison
on
top of a
year
in
county
jail during arrest-trial
proceed-ings had done to this
once
highly
polished attorney.
The
easiest
way to
get
to
Chino
is to
drop downon the prison community from Carbon Canyon, andthe trip gets you in the
right
mood for the prison.
The
smog
and
heat
creep
down through
the
canyon,
stifling
whatever sounds there may be in the forests.Not even a locust sings. You have the feeling that youdrive through
a
wall
of
flame momentarily,
but
then
dramatically
the
hills
play
out,
you run
through
a big
field
of corn — and you are at the
gate
of
California
Institution
for
Men, Chino.
It
could be the entrance to a golf club for, aside
from
a sign, you would never know you are enteringpenal property.
There's
along, tree-shaded lane guaranteedtoevoke
nostalgia
in
anyone who's
lived
in the
Midwest.
But
then you are at the
gate
house, and Guard Eze-
kiel
(Zeke) Hernandez
gets
you in the
mood
for
visiting
a
prisoner.He's very
kind,
but most laconic. He'll tell you he
once
worked for Carnation but couldn't stand thecorporate world. He'll
tell
you, also, that he wears noside armsbecause
"Chino
is a minimum security pris-on."
But he
won't
say
where
the
arms
are
stored
or
how
fast
he can get a
gun!
Zeke's
companion
in the
guard
house
is a
convictnamed Leonard who quickly reminds you to
visit
theprison hobby-craft
shop
beforeyou
leave.
When
pressed about
his personal life, Len
will
tell
you
he"probably
will
havetoleave next
year."
Hetells you he is doing four
years
to
life
for "robberytwo"
second-degree
robbery.
L
ensayshe was allalone,had nofriends,no money
and no
place
to go. So he
walkedinto a
store
andsaid:
"This
is aholdup
give
me
your
money!"
He had no
weapons
so he
just
sat
down
to
wait
for the
police!He's sorry
to be
leaving
Chino,but
insistshe's
going
into
the produce business on theoutside.
The
visiting
hours
roll around
and you
walk into
the
compound.
There
are nobarsat Chino, but
there's
plenty
of
wire*
barbed
and
otherwise.
"
.
To,your
right,
behind
heavy swirls
of-barbed
wire,
is
the
building
of theSouthernReception-GuidanceCenter.where Kirschke
is
"doing
his
number.'' This
is
maximum .security,
defeating
the
aims
of
Chino's
foun-
;,ders.f.
,;•:.,_
.,'•-,
•••..
Because
of
California's indeterminate'sentencelaws,,all
prisoners
from
south'of the Tehachapis
come
to
CHinowhile awaiting classification
and
permanentquarters/
.North
of
theTehachapis,
they
go
to
Vacaville.
/
It
is in this
modern, cold
building that the
former
Los
Angeles
County
prosecutor
is
marking time
for
the
vital
appeal
which
will
send
him
either
to San
Quentin
orback into society.
Meanwhile,
he
heads
the
fingerprint
and
identifi-
cation
setup
at
Chino.Jack
and 1
talked
for
more
than
an
hour,
and it
was almost as if two
business
associates were
meeting
over
lunch
except
that
there
was no
handshake.We talked by telephone through a
thick
pane of glass.
All
the
tales
1 had
heard
about
prison
life
seemedto
evaporate
as 1talked with him,for
here
was noshambles of a man,
talking
out of the side of his
mouth
in a
hoarse
whisperso"the screws"
wouldn't
hear him.
Kirschke
looks
fine —
lies tanned,
fit and
immac-ulatein his
prison blue denims.
His
expression
is
still
saturnine,
but he
smiles
easily
and his
conversation
is
astute
and
sparked
with
wit.
He saw me
sitting
in the
interview booth
and hisface
broke into
a
crooked grin
as he
raised
his
right
hand
in a "V"
peace
gesture,
sliding
ontothestoolon
his
side of the glass.
We
exchanged
a few
comments about
family
wel-
fare
and
whereabouts,
then
1
told
him I'd
like
to
know
about
the
caste system
in
Chino.
"There
isn't any," he
said.
"Everyone
is
treatedthe
same.
See that guy
sifting
in the
next
booth?
He's
a millionaire —
yet
he's treated
the
same
as I am —
we have the same number of towels, the same
number
of
uniforms!"
What
is the
millionaire
in
for.-'
"We
never know," Kirschke said. "All
I know isthat
he's
a
blue-water sailor
and we
talk
quite
a bit
about yachts."
How
about
the
fact
that
while
he was in Los An-
geles
County
jail
he
used
the
library
and
received
visi-
torsin thelawyers' room?
T
his
was a
happenstance occasioned
by his
vocation, Kirschke says. He WAS a
lawyer
and he WAS
assisting
in his own
defense.
Therefore,
he had every right to use the
attor-
neys'
room
and the
library.
"But do you mean to tell me," 1 persisted,"thatyou areregardedas a
run-of-the-mill
inmate
here? How come you ended up as head of the
fingerprint and
identification
section?""Convict is the word, nor inmate," Kirschke
said.
"We have about 700 men in this
institution,
650 ofthem
waiting
actionand 50 ofthem
more
orless per-
manent
and
working. That's right,
50 out of 700
havejobs.
I
just
happened
to be
sent here
for
a
couple
of
years waiting
my
appeal,
so
they
put me to
work."ButI'm nottreatedany
differently
from anyone
else.
I get up at
6:15
andhave
until
7 to getreadyforbreakfast. At 8 I start work and,
except
for lunch, goright on
through
until
4
p.m.
Actually,
the work day
hereends
at
4:30
and
then there's supper
at 5.
"The food? It's
great! Then
after supper,
at
6
p.m.,
I'm
free
to go to the gym and
playhandball
or
vork
out —
except
for
Fridays
we
always
have
a
movie. My time is my own
until
11."
According to Kirschke, aside from the
fact
there
areroll
checks
at
6:30
and11:30
a.m., 4:30,
9 and
11
p.m.,
his
life
in
Chino
is "a
microcosm
of
outside!"
"i'm
even
takingacourseincelestial navigation,"
Jack
said, "just as if I
were outside
and going to
city
college."
(Continuedto
pagf
28)
SEVEN
 
It
looksexpensive,
but
only
you and
ROYCE
FLOORS
wilj
know
how
little
it
really costs
BOLD
CASTILIAN
Rich,
hold
color
m
thi?
cl.iwic
be.iuly
ol
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a
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vinyl
lloor
by.
Armstrong
ONLY
Sq.Yd.
Low
MonthlyPayment*
Arranged
OYCE
FLOORS
VINYL-CARPET
3200
E.
WILLOW
LONG
BEACH
426-9355
ORNAMENTAL
IROM
CUSTOMDESIGNERS
AND MANUFACTURERS OF
ROOM
DIVIDERSSIGN & SHELF BRACKETS
SWIMMING
POOL RAILINGS
GATES
COLUMNS
RAILINGS
STATE
LICENSEDANDINSURED
CONTRACTOR
\/
5
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LONG
BEACH
Phon*:OJlriUU
4-1564
Locolly
Owntd
and
Optmt.d
Sinct 1950Omomntal Iron Manufacturedin Our
Own
Shop
*
JACK KIRSCHKE
(Continued
From
Page
7)
Kirschkc
pointed
outthat
the
convicts
going
through Chino
are
"mostly kids"
and
are
given
every
opportunity
to get
their
high
school
diplomas.
"Homosexuality?
Sure
we
have
it -
the
same
as you do
outside," said Kirschke.
"Bui most of the
guys
try to
steer
clear
ofthe 'sissies.'
"
He
says
thereare three
troublesomecharacters
in the
prison world
— the snitch
(informer),
sissy (homosexual)
and
dingey(psycho).Kirschke
looks
content
— his
face
isunlined
and he
says
he is
physically
fit and
"sleeps
like a baby."
"The
fact thut
Jack
has
adjusted
so
well
nitty
mean
he
is
beyond
retrieving
asa
member
of free
society.'
But is it as simple as this?
"NO!"
says
Tom
Sehulster,
progressive
young San Francisco architect who is serv-ing
as a
consultant
on the Ford
Founda-tion's prison study
team.
"Actually
it's
very
complex,
and the
fact
that
Jack
has
adjusted
so
well into
the
scheme
of
things
may
mean
he is
beyondretrieving
as a member of
free society.
He
mav
be
ruined
already."
savs
the
architect.The bulk
of
Sehulster's work has
cen-
tered
around the
maximum
securityprison
of
Folsom, where
all the
"real baddies"
are
sent.
Here,
he
points
out,
there
definitely
is
a caste system in the cell blocks. Forexample, the murderer or armed
robber
any
practitioner
of the
"manly
arts"
is
highin
the
importance
order,
while anembezzler, rapist or
child
molester is verylow
in the
social
order
- so
low,
in
fact,
he may be
subject
to
homosexual
rape or
death at the hands of his fellow prisoners.
"Also,"
Sehulster points
out, "the
physi-
cal
aspects
enter
into
the
pecking
order
of
a
prison society.The
big,
rough, tough
convict
is
going
to
command
a
spotnear
the
head
of the group,
while
the shy, soft-
spoken
con
will
he so low in the
order
that
he may be
doomed."
The architect pointed out that at
Fol-
som, because
of the
physical structure
of
the
plant, status
is
derived
by a
convict
having
a cell in the original cell block or
having
a
job.
The original cell block wascarved
out
of a
cliff
and hassteel
doors
instead
of
bars
-
insuring privacy.
Also,
the
old cells are a mite larger. That's status.
Then, there
are
2,300
inmates
at
Folsom
and 600
jobs
so
having
a job is
status.
There
are
rewards
for
good
behavior.Meanwhile, the 1,700 non-working
convicts
loll around the exercise yard, thearchitect says,but"snapto
with
the
damndest
military
precision
you
have
everseen"
whenawhistle sounds.
"Some people
become
dependent upon
this
way of life," Sehulster says.
"They
getso that theycan'tmake it on the outside
thus
accounting for the 55 per cent nation-
al
prison recidivism
rate
(recidivism
is the
returningof convicts to the
life
of crime
after
release
from prison, and
their
subse-quent return
to
penal institutions.) When
the
first
prison
was
built
in
this countryback
in
colonial
days,therecidivism
rate
was
55 per
cent.
Today,
a couple
hundredyears later,
the
rate
is
still
55
per
cent
-
so we haven't
gained
a
damned inch!"
TWENTY-EIGHT
The
1
Bay
City architect
was
critical
of
the Reagan administration and its slashingof funds for
state
institutions."The
governor
asked
for a
report
on
empty
beds," he
said. "When
he saw
therewere
some
empty
beds in state
hospitals,mental
institutions
and prisons, he cut off
the
funding
for
these places.
God
knowsthatanyinstitution
will
nothave100 per
cent
occupancy100 percentof thetime
so
what
this
amounts
to is
that
a 1
7-year-old
first
offender can be given a bed inFolsom (because
it's
empty) where
he's
atthemercy
ol
veteran, hardened convicts.
This
automatically
puts the boy beyond
redemption!"
Lt.
Charles Conaway of the Orange-
County
Sheriffs
Department
is a
jailer
at
Orange
County
Jail.
He's
surprised
the re-
cidivism
rate is only 55 per
cent
nation-wide.
"I really
don't
think they're
considering
the guys who get out of
jail
in California,then
go
back
to Iowa and get in
prison,"
Chuck Conaway
said.
"But
the point is,
here
is where they all start out — at the
county
jail
level. We don't have too much
of
this
caste
system
because
most
of our
people
are transitory in a county
jail
opera-
tion.
The longestsentence
they
get
is a
year,andmostofthemare in and outdur-ing arrest-trial procedures. But
it's
heinous.
For
example,
we
have
650
prisoners
in our
men's
jail.
Maybe
130
ofthemareserving
sentences
up to a
year
and are
trusties,working
in the
kitchen,
laundry
or
commis-sary. The rest of them
just
sit in their tanks
and go out in the
exercise
yard
once
or
maybe twiceaday.
There
is no
productivi-
ty
and no lasting, worthwhile
endeavorexcept
for the trusties.
Guess
you could
call
themthe
elite!"
A
more
reflective
view of prison
socie-
ty
is
offered
by
Harold
Bradley, state
pa-
role
administrator
who
spends most
of his
time around the
Norco
institution
outside
Corona.
Bradley,
a
veteran
of
19
years
in the
world of prisons, is an associate of architectSehulster on ihe Ford Foundation project,but hetakesaless
inflammatory
view.
"1
think
Kirschke
is
right," says Brad-
ley.
"I
think
the business of the
caste
sys-
tem in
prisons
is
overdone.
Certainly,
be-
cause
of
their
roles, some
convicts
are re-garded
as having
'boss'
status or high posi-tion,' but most of what you hear aboutcastes
in
prison,
I
feel,
is strictly
'Warner
Brothers
backlot
starring
James
Cagney.'
"Quite
frankly,
I've
been
in the busi-ness almost 20 years,
I've
seen and heardalmost everything and
I'd
be hard put toremember a
James
Cagney
jailboss
charac-ter.
1
think
the
military
has a far
more
ex-
tensive caste system than prisons."
Bradley's position
that the role
people-playin
prisons determine status
more
than
an
actualphysicalstratification
echoes
Kirschke'sstatement
that
all you have todo is "do your own number."
"Some
have
founda
home they
never
had.
Oth-
ers escape from society.'
And
regarding
the
convict
who
doesn't
want to leave
prison
— who may
even
commit
a
deliberate,
stupid
crime
upon
his
discharge
so he can get
back
in -
Bradley
says:
"Yes,
I've
known
quite a
few.
Some
ofthem
have found
a
home
they
never
had.
SOUTHLAND
SUNDAY. OCTOBER
5,
1969

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