San Quentin’s Protestant Chapel served as an assembly hall for more than 100 invited guests, including community members from the surrounding Bay Area to witness 64 inmates graduate from two prosocial programs.
The inmates graduated from the Social Justice and Anger Management programs taught by Alliance for CHANGE (AFC).
“It’s an eye-opening visit, for those who’ve never set foot in prison,” said Jose Cisneros, San Francisco city treasurer. “We have no idea what it’s like to be in here.”
Cisneros said attending the graduation gave him his first opportunity to come inside San Quentin.
“We have no idea what it’s like when good programs are given a chance to reach out and make a difference for folks in prison who are ready to make a change. Hearing directly from prison inmates is powerful.”
AFC curriculum begins before inmates are released from prison. The process continues when the person returns to his community with material and interpersonal support during reentry.
“Whether you are in blue or come from outside these walls, you have come here because you are committed to change,” said inmate Abdur Raheem Thompson, vice-president of AFC. “If we commit to action and that action is committed to healthy community, then it is powerful,”
Mentors of AFC say most of the prison prosocial programs are focused on “self-discovery, accepting responsibility and realizing the necessity for change.” However, AFC expands the process by “asking men to think critically about their role in the community and larger societal structure,” Thompson said. “Action from cognition is the mental process of knowing,” he added.
Kim Richman, Ph.D., president of the board of directors of AFC, said, “The power of change is why I’ve been coming to this prison for 11 years.”
Inmate Byron Hibbert, 58, was found suitable for parole the day before the graduation. He has been incarcerated for 21 years for attempted murder.
After arriving at San Quentin in late 2011, he said he enrolled in a program called The Work. “I learned how to take responsibility for my actions,” Hibbert said. “The program asked provoking questions, and I had to answer by showing how it fits into my life. By doing that, I gained insight into my actions.”
“I will be deported to Jamaica, where my family resides,” Hibbert said. “I have a job as a shipping clerk waiting for me. Alliance for Change taught me how to participate in public affairs, to have a voice in the community and about the different types of social justice.”
“Every lifer who goes before the board just needs to be transparent,” Hibbert added. “Don’t let the commissioners frustrate you. Keep programming.”
Executive Producer of “Life of the Law” Nancy Mullane said, “This was a wonderful event to get together share and hear stories and see the power of change behind the walls. If only it could be more evident to the outside world.”
“Thank you for letting us come here to break bread with you,” said AFC facilitator Nathaniel Moore. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of programs, but AFC brings individual perspective to the conversation and time commitment. The amount of influence inmates have on free people is extremely powerful. Most of the folks I encounter, the lessons we learn are far more powerful than the lessons you learn from us.”
“There are many who think things are fine the way they are. We still need to bring them in through empathy,” Thompson said, “Empathy to those who do not believe as we do, allow them to understand that we are listening to them. Empathy is a tool that could be used to bring a safer community. AFC allowed me to get to the door and understand the causes that led me to CDCR.”
Guests and inmates broke bread at a brunch consisting of chicken strips, roast beef, macaroni and cheese, salad and vegetarian lasagna prepared by inmate cook John Parratt and his crew.
The Color Guard consisted of the Vietnam Veterans Group of San Quentin: Team Leader Craig R. Johnson; California Flag Bearer Norfleet Stewart; Flag Escort D. Ernest Soltero; and Flag Escort David Tarvan.