As he stands watch over the restrooms near the children’s playground at Dolores Park, Michael Watkins waits. Sometimes, people need his help but most times he just makes sure no one dangerous is inside. He’s there to ensure kids can safely use the restrooms. At this hour – 3:30 p.m.- everything seems fine.
“I keep them clean and I wipe the graffiti off. That’s all I do,” Watkins said with a laugh.
It’s an easy gig, he says, and he earns $16.50 an hour for a max of four hours a day. Watkins is one of the city’s Park Stop monitors that the Department of Recreation and Parks deployed earlier this year. It was, in part, inspired by the Pit Stop program used at public bathrooms.
Park Stop has manned shifts to keep bathrooms and park areas safe. When things do go awry they call in one of two Park Rangers assigned to Dolores Park.
For Watkins, it’s an opportunity to turn his life around. The 67-year-old Watkins formally works for Hunters Point Family. He is a former convict who was released seven months ago after serving 23 years in state prison for shooting and killing his best friend over a missing property dispute. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 1997 and served 23 years of a life sentence
“I was high on meth when I shot him. I used to make it, I used and sold it,” Watkins said.
Life moved on during the 23 years he was inside multiple prisons like High Desert State Prison near Susanville and San Quentin. His mother and brother died while he was in prison, technology improved, and wars were started. But what made him want to turn life around was seeing his daughters growing up without him and having families of their own.
A mother and her daughter walking towards the women’s restroom wave at him. He waves back. “Hi Abby!” he says to the young girl.
Now, he’s a grandpa and he’s loving every second of it.
“I love life. I’m happy,” he said.