By Marcus Henderson
A United States congressman was one of three dignitaries to venture inside San Quentin to recognize 11 inmates for turning their lives around and being certified to teach their fellow inmates how to overcome substance abuse.
“This was inspirational,” said Mark DeSaulnier, who represents California’s 11th District, at the 2016 graduation of Addiction Recovery Counseling (ARC). “These stories are factual and these guys can be an example to help fight the stigma of addiction.”
The newly certified drug and alcohol counselors received two awards, a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition signed by DeSaulnier, and an Options Drug and Alcohol Counseling School Certificate of Completion.
DeSaulnier shared stories about his father, a judge who suffered from substance abuse and depression and ultimately committed suicide.
“Life is about going deep down within oneself,” DeSaulnier added. “We have to get out of the culture of shame and get to acceptance, liberation and redemption,”
California State Senator Loni Hancock and Superior Court Judge Clare Maier of Contra Costa County addressed the graduates and families.
“We want to break cycles and make everybody a productive citizen from President Obama on down to everyone in this room,” Hancock said. “We want people to come back as safe neighbors.
“These men had the fortitude to walk through the door of opportunity. They have gathered the tools to be servants. They are the first wave.”
Hancock added, “When San Quentin has successful programs, California notices and the whole country notices.”
Judge Maier shared how having family members with addiction led her into service as a public defender.
“What I realized was being a good lawyer didn’t mean anything because my clients were addicts, so they kept coming back,” Maier said. “Here, we have people who’ve taken their lives and turned it to service.
“Everybody has the potential for brilliance, and the only thing holding them back is themselves.”
The ARC is a 16-week program of group and individual counseling, understanding addiction, relapse prevention and teaching life skills.
Valedictorian Martin Walters gave a speech about his crime and the brotherhood of the group.
“I disgraced everybody in society, including myself,” Walters said in near tears. “I am amazed that you didn’t give up on me. I am so blessed that you carried me.
“We definitely know what it is like to be an addict; it’s dark; it’s lonely. I say ‘sorry’ to all of you. I’m proud because I’m healed, and I know I can heal other people,” Walters added.
Graduates Edward Scott and Greg “White Eagle” Coates also addressed the audience.
“I sold drugs that ruined lives, here was an opportunity to give back,” Scott said. “The skill set that I picked up from this, sometimes there are no words for the gratitude, and I never had a legal job in my life, now I have a job skill.”
Coates added, “We are 5 percent of the world’s population but we use 80 percent of the drugs and there is something wrong with that.
“I found sobriety, but I wanted more than sobriety. I wanted to know the how’s and why’s for myself and others.”
Some families travel long distances to witness the Nov. 4 event.
“It’s always a challenge coming here to see a loved one and then have to walk out,” Raymond Robbins said, coming to witness his brother Robbie Robbins graduate. “But it’s about support. We all are going through a process and everybody counts.”
Annie Lam, who came for her brother John Lam, said, “I am very proud of his accomplishments. I know he works really hard. I see the growth; every time I talk to him he teaches me stuff and makes me think, makes me see things from a different view.”
Lam said, “My uncle used drugs. It played a big role seeing the impact his drug use had on our family. I have a lot of friends that use, and this is a chance to help and bring them into recovery.
“We are all part of a community. We are only as strong as the weakest link,” he added.
Tom Gorham, executive director of Option Recovery Services; Kiki Kessler of Seeds of Sophia; Tom Aswad of Support 4 Recovery, Inc.; Dr. Davida Coady; Lee Cooper; Brandon McMillian; the TomKat Foundation and all the dignitaries received special awards for their work with in the program.
The crowd was entertained by Jeffrey Akins and Michael Kirkpatrick singing Lean on Me. Kirkpatrick performed a spoken word called Soup using all the sponsors’ names as ingredients. The SQ house band Our Founded Songs’ (OFS) services were enlisted.
Robin Guillen, the event emcee, concluded, “When people do wrong, they act as if they have no relatives. In this community we act as if we have relatives because we have bonds. As an addiction professional I have seen a lot.
“What we are doing now is sending this in the future in a big way…It’s about looking out for the future generations.”