San Quentin marks 150 years today as a state prison. San Quentin began as a prison barge in the bay in 1852. After it got too crowded, convicts started building a facility ashore. At first, the prison was privately run, with conditions ranging from harsh to flat-out corrupt. In 1864, inmates revolted and marched the warden out of the gate with knives to his neck, only to be defeated by a group of local farmers.
Horrors of the early years included the “dungeon,´´ a dank, airless hole and the “ladder,´´ to which men were lashed and flogged or tortured with water hoses. At first, the prison held men and women. But after a number of pregnancies, the state established a women´s prison, which opened in 1933. Today, San Quentin is home to the nation´s largest death row.