Help Us Free A Wrongfully Convicted Man
Stankewitz had a troubled childhood. Growing up in an impoverished family with ten children, there often wasn't enough food or resources for him and his siblings. His childhood home on a rancheria had no electricity or running water.
He was exposed to the criminal justice system at a very young age, as his relatives constantly cycled in and out of the carceral state. His father was a known member of the Hell’s Angels and his mother was convicted of manslaughter. Stankewitz’s older brother, Johnnie, was also involved in a violent shoot-out which injured an officer when Stankewitz was just thirteen years old. Even today, all of Stankewitz’s remaining siblings are currently incarcerated.
Stankewitz had a poor relationship with his mother, who emotionally and physically abused him from a young age. She was known to struggle with alcoholism and drank while she was pregnant with him. Stankewitz was exposed to drugs by his brothers at the age of five.
When he was around six years old, Stankewitz was accidentally dropped his baby brother. In response, his mother beat him with an iron cord so terribly that he was hospitalized for a week. Understandably, Stankewitz was removed from her custody after that incident.
Time in Foster Care
After being removed from his parents’ care, Stankewitz was taken to Napa State Hospital, where he stayed for nine months. Not much is known about the time he spent hospitalized, but it is documented that he was given heavy-duty drugs like Thorazine (used to treat schizophrenia) which may have affected him in unknown ways.
After his time at Napa State Hospital, Stankewitz was placed into foster care in Sebastopol, California. He describes the time spent with his foster family as “some of the best years of his life.” He recalls the fond memories of riding his bike to school every day with his puppy Lulu and playing with the animals next door which belonged to his circus-performing neighbors. In Sebastopol, Stankewitz attended church and would go to all the potlucks.
Unfortunately after three years, he was removed from his foster home and sent back to his mother for unknown reasons. He lived with her for a while and then moved in with his aunt for some time. In the end, his family reported him to local authorities for being “out of control” and he was sent to juvenile detention. Stankewitz spent most of his teenagehood living in group homes before he was arrested at nineteen years old.
Chief, pictured in the middle, in his third-grade class photo, He is smiling and dons a tie.
Despite being incarcerated for over 43 years, all who know Chief describe him as kind-hearted and positive.
Chief is known to pierce the cold, stale, environment of San Quentin with his smile, laughter and sense of humor. He is very spiritual and meditates daily, focusing on the positives instead of dwelling on the many negative aspects of San Quentin.
Chief loves to cook and finds ways to enhance the flavor of the food in prison. He also spends his time writing letters to loved ones and his legal team using his typewriter.
Additionally, Chief is very friendly and enjoys speaking to others. He is even known to have friendly conversations with the repair men who come to fix the phones.
Chief is very inquisitive and loves learning. He listens to his radio for many hours every day to keep track of current events.
The conditions at San Quentin have taken a negative toll on Chief's health. Having caught COVID in June last year, he still struggles with the long-term effects of the illness.
Having used to exercise daily, both in his cell and in the yard, constant weakness and tiredness now take over his body and make him unable to work out.
Ineffective preventative measures have also affected those around Chief. As a caring and peaceful man, Chief has developed strong relationships with the other incarcerated men. Some of his close friends whom he has known for decades have gotten ill and lost their lives to COVID.
The situation at San Quentin is horrific and dangerous. Having caught COVID once, Chief is afraid of what will happen if he were to catch it a second time.
Chief with Alexandra Cock, a member of Chief's legal team