Photograph of three women speaking on a Los Angeles street to garner support for Wesley Robert Wells, an African-American man on San Quentin's Death Row. By the time he was 42, Wells had served 22 years in prison, even though he was convicted of two minor crimes of auto theft. While serving a five-year term for auto theft in 1944, Wells got into a fight in prison, and was found guilty of possessng a knife. This charge increased his sentence by an additional five years to life. His situation worsened in 1947, when he threw a cuspidor at a guard. The guard was only slightly injured; the guard beat Wells unconscious. But under an obscure California ruling, a life-term prisoner who strikes a guard may be condemned to die. Prison authorities, who had charged Wells with 79 violations of prison rules, determined his life-term sentence enabled him to be executed, and sent him to Death Row. Wells' case drew the attention of civil libertarians, labor unions and concerned individuals. The Civil Rights Congress, Congress of Industrial Organizations and other supporters organized a campaign to prevent his execution. Organizers also initiated a drive to abolish the penal conditions which resulted in discriminationary treatment of African-American prisoners. Their efforts were successful, and Wells was saved from execution.
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