CHINO, CA—Casting a sentimental eye over his long career at the California Institution for Men, prison warden Kenneth Luger, 65, told reporters Thursday he will always remember the three generations of the Mowatt family he has seen pass through the corrections facility.
Luger, who started as a guard at the penitentiary in 1970 and eventually rose to its top post, said he could reflect back on the decades by simply recalling the perennially incarcerated Mowatt boys, who over the years have served sentences for crimes as varied as manslaughter, methamphetamine production and distribution, pimping, armed robbery, and rape.
“I’ll never forget when the first Mowatt walked through these gates 42 years ago,” said Luger, referring to family patriarch and hardened felon Charles Mowatt, whose nephews, sons, and grandsons have since followed him through the institution. “It was the same year I proposed to my wife! If I’m not mistaken, that was the time Charlie was in for aggravated assault after smashing up his girlfriend with a tire iron.”
“By the time he made parole, my first son had been born, and Charlie had a teenage son of his own here doing time for arson,” Luger continued. “That was Billy Mowatt, who was the very first juvenile in his family to be tried as an adult.”
Noting that the younger Mowatt mostly stayed out of trouble over the next couple decades, Luger said he didn’t see him again until the ’90s, when Billy returned to the prison with a kid of his own following a father-son burglary spree.
By the warden’s own recollection, he has overseen the incarceration of seven different Mowatts at the prison. Records from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation indicate that members of the family have served a cumulative 127 years at the facility during those years.
On a walk through Cellblock 4A, which he described as “a trip down memory lane,” Luger reminisced about an afternoon in 2003 when, as a newly minted deputy warden, he caught convicted drug dealer Cody Mowatt using a plastic shard from a meal tray to murder a fellow inmate. Attempting to intervene, Luger was himself stabbed by the makeshift blade.
“I got this strange feeling of déjà vu, and then suddenly it hit me—this was the exact same cellblock where Cody’s grandfather had shivved me back in ’82!” said Luger, chuckling. “Those guys may change from generation to generation, but that’s one thing they all have in common: their grandpa’s temper.”
“That, and they hate black people,” he added. “Hated them in the ’70s, hate them now.”
Luger told reporters that during his early years as a junior corrections officer, members of the family founded a white-supremacist gang that now dominates the facility. He admitted that between the Mowatts’ matching Aryan-power tattoos and distinctive familial resemblance, he had gotten one relative confused with another on a few occasions.
“One time I caught Taylor [Mowatt] out in the yard smashing a Latino guy’s head against the pavement, and I start screaming at him, ‘Trent! Trent!’” Luger said. “That confused him enough to stop what he was doing and look up. Then it hit us both at the same time and we burst out laughing—I’d confused him with his uncle Trent, who’d been through the prison a few years before on his way to death row.”
Remarking on his plans to retire later this year, Luger said that the Mowatts had given him a lifetime’s worth of memories to take with him: a young teenager brought in for a minor offense gradually growing into a cold-blooded murderer, a bitter sibling rivalry ending with a brother in the ICU, and the disastrous “family reunion” of 1997, when all seven members of the clan were locked up in the facility at the same time.
“I won’t be around for that kind of stuff anymore, but I suppose the world will keep turning,” Luger said. “I’ve heard 9-year-old Tommy Mowatt has already shoplifted his first car stereo.”