Ken and Tom Miller

Interview with Ken and Tom Miller

by Jana McPherson Black

Ken and Tom Miller are the sons of JKW Miller who was a guard and distribution officer at San Quentin from 1941 to 1948. During his tenure at the Prison, JKW Miller also worked as Fire Chief, then managed the West Gate of the Prison.

Ken was 11 and Tom was 14. Tom attended San Rafael High School then went off to Mare Island as a Merchant Marine and got his high school diploma there - "no ceremony,"  he said.

Shared memories of life on the grounds at San Quentin include: their only chores were to wash the family car, everything else was done by prisoners. The grounds were extremely dark at night in general - so dark that when the boys rode their bikes to Boy Scout Meetings, they had to be extremely careful not to run their bikes off the road in to any of the spiky cactus plants alongside the path. There was a horse post on the West Side of the grounds and the guards there used horses to patrol.

Tom came back to work at the Prison in 1946 after becoming a Journeyman Electrical Chief in the Navy. He worked Swing Shift as a guard for a few months at the Wall and in the Mess Hall. During high school, Ken drove the children to six different schools in the morning, then delivered papers along the wooden walkways. He vividly recalls being interrupted once to help get a cow out of a ditch.

The Miller brothers did not consider life at San Quentin to be much different than anywhere else. Since the community was relatively small, they did have to allow younger kids to play on their teams to have enough players. As a result, turn-about was fair play and they had to join in and play the little kids games as well. There was never a shortage of friends. They remember having a chameleon as a pet. All 8 grades learned together in one room, divided into groups. The boys recall 1 child in 5th grade, 2 in 6th grade, 1 in 7th grade and 2 in 8th grade while they lived there. At graduation Warden Duffy handed out the diplomas and everyone came to celebrate.

If the siren went off, the boys simply stopped whatever they were doing and waited. Usually the siren would stop and they would go on with whatever they had interrupted.... it was not a big deal.

Upon leaving San Quentin, Ken went to work for Chevron then joined the San Pablo Police Force. Stimulated by the execution of a man he had known, Ken spent 11 months doing the hardest job he ever knew, working in the Juvenile Division ending up as Sergeant of Detectives. 

Both men remember fondly and are still in contact today with the man - an inmate - who worked as houseboy for their family. The attitude held by many families and the prisoners was that the prisoners knew why they were at San Quentin and were there to pay a debt to society. Most of the prisoners wanted to live a worthy life and once they finished their time, the families just saw the men people like all other people. They were treated very humanely and no grudges were held because the men were doing time. It was just daily life within their community.

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