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an Quentin penitentiary has a horrid history, as for decades, over 10,000 prisoners have been experimented on. It is only recently that most of the gruesome experiments have come to light. The evil behind these experiments was San Quentin chief Surgeon Leo Stanley. Surgeon Stanley started his role in 1913 until 1951 when he retired. During this period of time, he thought that it was ethically right to do as he pleased with these criminals and even with their bodies after they would pass away from failed experiments or even natural causes.

Racism, Sterilization, and Eugenics

At the time, surgeon Stanley and most of the other people that were working in San Quentin prison during the first half of the 20th century were best described as Christian fanatics, therefore they hated the homosexuality that was going around the prison. At the same time, they were very racist against other races, especially surgeon Stanley who in his mind thought that the Christian white race was vastly superior to any other.

This is why he wanted to start the sterilization of inmates that were of other races as well as those white inmates that didn’t believe in Christianity. This was his way of putting a stop to what he deemed “bad genes.” The study of eugenics was quite a hot topic at the time and it had definitely led to many of his sick ideas as well as experiments. However, it didn’t stop there.

Dr. Leo Stanley, middle, the chief surgeon at San Quentin state prison (Source: Marin County Free Library)

A dodgy business that was going on in the prison that started in the 1920s was selling organs from dead inmates to rich men who needed them. Most of the time the main organs that would be taken from dead inmates would have been the testicles or in some cases even the penis and transplanted onto people that were willing to pay large sums of money. Of course that these procedures were not authorized.

In some cases, depending on the deceased inmate, the family would be contacted and asked for their consent for having the organs of their deceased relative taken to be used to “save” someone else’s life. An example of this was Antone Lepara, an inmate from 1919 who was hanged for murder. A few days before his hanging, a letter to his wife was sent asking if she would be willing to accept $10,000 (if we take into consideration inflation that would be $150,000 in today’s economy) for her husband’s testicles after his hanging.

The letter was sent by a wealthy businessman that had good relations with the warden. It is unknown if Mrs. Lepara accepted the offer or if the transplant went ahead. Many such illegal transplants took place. It is imperative to mention that the sterilization of inmates was actually legal in California at the time. A law was passed in 1909 that allowed inmates and patients suffering from mental issues in asylums to be sterilized if they were considered “unfit” for society.

This is where Doctor Stanley would unethically use this law, as in his eyes, anyone who was not a white Christian was unfit for society.

Combining Humans and Animals

Sadly, these experiments were beyond atrocious. As he was fascinated by eugenics, he tried to “reinvent” human DNA by taking genitalia from animals and transplanting them to inmates that had had their genitalia removed. Most of these surgical procedures ended up in the death of God knows how many prisoners from complications along the way.

In some other instances, Surgeon Stanley would take the testicles from various animals such as goats, deers, boars, bulls, or even rams and have them surgically inserted into the inmate’s scrotum. In his mind, the body of the inmate was supposed to absorb the testosterone, therefore boosting the inmate’s own waning hormones. Doctor Stanley’s 1940 prison memoir, Men at Their Worst, goes into more detail about these strange experiments.

Weird experiments on humans had been occurring in many prisons within the 20th century and previously, however in our present, most western prisons are being checked for such miscellaneous behavior. Still, this does not mean that third-world prisons don’t see such behavior.

Dr. Stanley was especially after those inmates that pretended to be very ill in order to escape prison (to be taken to a hospital for better care). He thought of these inmates as “perfect specimens” for his experiments. In his memoir, he also mentioned that in some cases, he would perform euthanasia on these sorts of inmates in order to teach them and others a final lesson.

1951 saw Dr. Stanley’s retirement with no consequences for the thousands of experiments that had taken place in San Quentin penitentiary and only God knows how many outsides of the penitentiary. We can consider these types of people mentally ill or just simple psychopaths with a very specific ideology and goal in their mind. Although in his mind he might have thought that these experiments were ethical as those experimented on were mainly murderers, justice isn’t served with another crime.

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