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Life Inside R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility

R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility is the only state prison in San Diego County and it sits on a mesa about a mile and a half from the U.S.-Mexico border. The large complex houses approximately 4,800 inmates and has experienced the same budget cuts and overcrowding found at other prisons throughout California.

The entrance to the prison at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility, which houses roughly 4,800 inmates. The entrance is heavily gated and monitored by a watchtower.

1 The entrance to the prison at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility, which houses roughly 4,800 inmates. The entrance is heavily gated and monitored by a watchtower. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

A gym converted in 1989 into a housing unit for 152 Level 3 inmates (medium to high security). There are three officers monitoring this housing. Many of the bunks are three levels high.

2 A gym converted in 1989 into a housing unit for 152 Level 3 inmates (medium to high security). There are three officers monitoring this housing. Many of the bunks are three levels high. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

Officer B. Graham has been working at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility since 1997.  He works the morning shift in a Level 4 maximum security housing unit.  Graham says one of the inmates in his unit is on suicide watch, so part of his job is checking on him hourly.  He says the most stressful part of his job is dealing with prisoners who are violent and breaking up fights in the safest way.

3 Officer B. Graham has been working at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility since 1997. He works the morning shift in a Level 4 maximum security housing unit. Graham says one of the inmates in his unit is on suicide watch, so part of his job is checking on him hourly. He says the most stressful part of his job is dealing with prisoners who are violent and breaking up fights in the safest way. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

A Level 4 inmate waits in a temporary holding tank. These tanks are used when an inmate is in the process of being moved to the Administrative Segregation Unit and is deemed a threat to the safety and security of the institution.

4 A Level 4 inmate waits in a temporary holding tank. These tanks are used when an inmate is in the process of being moved to the Administrative Segregation Unit and is deemed a threat to the safety and security of the institution. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

The bakery at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility employs approximately 85 inmates.  The bakery makes roughly 18,000 loaves a day, serving Donovan and five other prisons.

5 The bakery at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility employs approximately 85 inmates. The bakery makes roughly 18,000 loaves a day, serving Donovan and five other prisons. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

An inmate working in the bakery makes between $90 and $100 a month. It is a desirable job within Donovan, compared to the custodial and clerk jobs which pay between $24 and $48 a month.

6 An inmate working in the bakery makes between $90 and $100 a month. It is a desirable job within Donovan, compared to the custodial and clerk jobs which pay between $24 and $48 a month. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

Daniel Ayala is serving a three year sentence. He monitors a machine that slices up loaves of bread for use in the inmate lunches.

7 Daniel Ayala is serving a three year sentence. He monitors a machine that slices up loaves of bread for use in the inmate lunches. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

The shoe factory at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility employs approximately 75 inmates.  The factory makes roughly 2,000 shoes a day for all the inmates throughout the California state prison system.

8 The shoe factory at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility employs approximately 75 inmates. The factory makes roughly 2,000 shoes a day for all the inmates throughout the California state prison system. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

An inmates threads part of a shoe under construction.  Like the bakery jobs, shoe factory jobs are coveted because they pay between $90 and $100 a month.  Donovan used to have an eye glass factory that employed 115 inmates and made eyeglasses for MediCal patients.  It closed in October, 2009 but discussions are ongoing regarding its reopening.

9 An inmates threads part of a shoe under construction. Like the bakery jobs, shoe factory jobs are coveted because they pay between $90 and $100 a month. Donovan used to have an eye glass factory that employed 115 inmates and made eyeglasses for MediCal patients. It closed in October, 2009 but discussions are ongoing regarding its reopening. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

Inmate Kevin Robinson is serving a life sentence for torture.  He works in the shoe factory inserting soles into the shoes. The factory makes high top and low top versions of the shoes.

10 Inmate Kevin Robinson is serving a life sentence for torture. He works in the shoe factory inserting soles into the shoes. The factory makes high top and low top versions of the shoes. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

A yard for Level 4 prisoners (maximum security). They are allowed 15 hours of yard time a week.

11 A yard for Level 4 prisoners (maximum security). They are allowed 15 hours of yard time a week. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

An inmate with elaborate tattoos walks the perimeter of the Level 4 (maximum security) yard at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility. Tattoos are a way to display gang affiliation in prison.  Tattooing is illegal, but inmates manage to make tattoo guns and do it without detection.

12 An inmate with elaborate tattoos walks the perimeter of the Level 4 (maximum security) yard at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility. Tattoos are a way to display gang affiliation in prison. Tattooing is illegal, but inmates manage to make tattoo guns and do it without detection. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

Officer Schierbaum has been working at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility for five years.  She works in the Level 4, or maximum security units. Schierbaum says being a woman does not put her at a disadvantage.  She says "there's nothing that happens here that I can't overcome."

13 Officer Schierbaum has been working at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility for five years. She works in the Level 4, or maximum security units. Schierbaum says being a woman does not put her at a disadvantage. She says "there's nothing that happens here that I can't overcome." (Angela Carone/KPBS)

An officer displays a newly re-issued stab and ballistic vest. These vests are worn by all of the officers at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility.

14 An officer displays a newly re-issued stab and ballistic vest. These vests are worn by all of the officers at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

Inmates in the Administrative Segregation Unit requiring maximum security receive group therapy in holding cells. The Administrative Segregation Unit houses some of the most violent and mentally ill inmates at Donovan.

15 Inmates in the Administrative Segregation Unit requiring maximum security receive group therapy in holding cells. The Administrative Segregation Unit houses some of the most violent and mentally ill inmates at Donovan. (Lt. Michael Stout)

A chapel at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility that serves Level 3 and 4 inmates.  It is an inter-faith, all denominational chapel for the approximately 16 different religious faiths at the prison. There are a total of five chapels at Donovan.

16 A chapel at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility that serves Level 3 and 4 inmates. It is an inter-faith, all denominational chapel for the approximately 16 different religious faiths at the prison. There are a total of five chapels at Donovan. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

Lockers are given to the various faiths to store materials.  Odinism is a pagan religious tradition based in Old Norse gods and mythology.  Odin worship is often associated with the white supremacist movement.

17 Lockers are given to the various faiths to store materials. Odinism is a pagan religious tradition based in Old Norse gods and mythology. Odin worship is often associated with the white supremacist movement. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

A sweat lodge in the yard at R.J. Donovan Recreational Facility.  There are between 150-200 Native Americans incarcerated at Donovan.

18 A sweat lodge in the yard at R.J. Donovan Recreational Facility. There are between 150-200 Native Americans incarcerated at Donovan. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

Inmate Terry Campbell is serving a life sentence for first degree murder at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility.  Campbell has been in prison for 44 years and he's 65 years old.

19 Inmate Terry Campbell is serving a life sentence for first degree murder at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility. Campbell has been in prison for 44 years and he's 65 years old. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

Inside a Level 4 inmate's cell at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility.

20 Inside a Level 4 inmate's cell at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility. (Angela Carone/KPBS)

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