Martha Kahlberg

Interview with Martha Kahlberg

By Joyce Rhodes

Martha Kahlberg was born in San Francisco and moved with her family to Residence #38 "in the valley" where she lived until she graduated from San Rafael High in 1962. Other families lived "up front" or outside the gate.

At the elementary school on the San Quentin grounds, Mrs. Molat, teacher of grades 1-4 taught the children the maypole dance. Mrs. Hall, 5-8 grade teacher helped Martha learn tennis. She also taught French in the 5th and 6th grades as well as math and history. They had little science instruction. It was necessary to pass the U.S. Constitution test in grade 7 or 8. Mrs. Holdt's glance could silence a class of rambunctious children. At most, there were 80 students uin all. Mrs. Katberg assisted the teachers and was President of the PTA. She drove the children on school field trips in her station wagon. Charlie Basset called square dances. Inmates provided janitorial and gardening services.

The family acquired a dog named Pal which had been thrown over the fence onto the San Quentin grounds. They renamed him Dosie because he was so docile. However, Captain Dosie didn't like that one bit. None of the dogs were licensed and they were always within th e grounds. Dosie died at age 14 of cancer, long after she bit the garbage man.

The prison exerted a strong influence on the community. No one got a speeding ticket or had an accident.Kids toed the line and didn't lie to their parents. Nevertheless, the children "had a ball, riding their bikes on the dirt roads after dinner."

Around 1956, the roads were paved and the bike riding became even more pleasurable. Tennis, baseball and watching American Bandstand on TV, kids played outside most of the time. Martha did dishes, ironed and washed the family car. Sometimes she helped Steve Price deliver newspapers.

Everyday seemed normal to the San Quentin children. In high school they observed that they were seen as different, from the wrong side of the tracks. Parents form San Rafael didn't want their children to visit friends at San Quentin.

Martha's prom date cancelled because he didn't want to come on the grounds. Officers would open trunks and search under the cars. There were no street signs, verbal directions weren't followed and dates got lost. Eventually, a guard suggested that the girls meet their date at the Main Gate.

Inmates worked on the grounds and were a regular sight to the children but there was no direct conversation. The bug sprayer told Martha's dog, Docie, "You keep Martha safe." When her house was painted inside, the family left the building. The beautiful San Quentin gardens were under the care of trustees. The hillsides bloomed.

Halloween treats were vividly remembered. The lady on the back end made trays and trays of candied apples. Another lady made popcorn balls 6 inches in diameter. Trick or treaters loved Martha's house becasue her mom gave them a big bag of candy. October 31 was the one time mischief could be attempted. Martha and two other girls soaped the windows of the "mean lady"... Big trouble!

The family used the San Quentin Ferry to travel to Kaiser in Oakland for health care.


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