Chowchilla, California - High in the mountains overlooking Bakersfield and the south end of the San Joaquin Valley is a piece of California's past, the California Correctional Institution, or as inmates know it, Tehachapi.
It was one of the state's first big prisons, built at the height of the Great Depression in 1933 to contain the unraveling social fabric of Hoovervilles, high unemployment, a vast influx of Dust Bowl refugees, and left-wing political movements spreading like wildfire.
The penitentiary spreads across 1,650 acres of a remote desert valley. Designed for 2,785 inmates, it now holds 5,806 - 200% of an already inhumane standard. And while it was built as the original California Institute for Women, today its only inhabitants are men.
Jazzman Art Pepper, son of a Los Angeles longshoreman, lived in its cells for four and a half years in the 1950s. Like Pepper, today's prison inmates are mostly there because of drugs. Pepper would have recognized them for another reason. Tehachapi's inmates are almost all Black and Latino, like the rest of California's prisoners, and have been since the prison system began. And poor.
While Tehachapi was mentioned in "The Maltese Falcon," people like Hammett's middle-class grifters don't normally wind up there. Having no money is practically a requirement for residence.
When teachers and home-care workers rallied down below in Bakersfield on March 5, and kicked off the March for California's Future, few had more than a vague idea of the kind of presence Tehachapi and its fellow institutions would cast over them as they walked up the San Joaquin Valley to Sacramento. They then spent 48 days in a traveling protest over the extreme budget cuts that have cost the jobs of thousands of California teachers, and threaten those of thousands of other public workers.