San Quentin State Prison was a place for fundraising and community building during the July 11-12 weekend—all in pursuit of finding a cure for a dreaded disease.
“This isn’t about us getting money,” said inmate Rodney Capell, emcee for the seventh Avon 39 Walk Against Breast Cancer, sponsored by San Quentin CARES. “It’s about taking an interest in what’s happening in our community.”
“Being a part of The Walk, The Amala Foundation, Shakespeare, Artistic Ensemble and The Drama Team helps make me a better person, which makes the community I’m involved with a better community,” Capell said. “When I walk away from this event, I feel empowered.”
The two-day event attracted a crowd of about 75 donors, including inmates, community members and prison staff.
The donors gathered around a makeshift stage on the prison’s Lower Yard to receive prayers on the first day from Protestant Chaplain Mardi Jackson, followed by inmate Kevin Valvardi for the Catholic Church and SQ staff member Hector Frank Heredia, the Native American spiritual leader at San Quentin.
Inmates Ronnie Cooper for Buddhists and Mike Loftin for Native Americans led prayers on the second day.
“What inspired me to do this is that I have a mother and six sisters who could be affected by breast cancer. And, I had an aunt who had cancer,” said San Quentin CARES co-founder and inmate Stephen Pascascio, who said, “It seems like the right thing to do. So far the inmates donated about $1,500 in two and a half weeks.”
Some of the inmate donors make as little as 18 cents an hour.
“They still help out by giving what they can,” Pascascio said. “Their hearts are so compassionate.”
“This event shows that San Quentin does care,” said Community Partnership Manager Steve Emrick. “It sheds a good light on the men to show that they support the community.”
Planning Committee volunteers Shannon Gordhamer and Berklee Donavan said they have been planning for this day since February.
“The biggest challenge was navigating the many, many layers and channels of the prison system to get things done,” Gordhamer said. She added that San Quentin State Prison walkers are registered as a single walker with Avon 39 The Walk to End Breast Cancer fundraisers.
In the six years San Quentin CARES has sponsored the walk inside this prison, more than $42,000 has been raised, Gordhamer said.
“Many people find out that their loved one has cancer and it makes them feel powerless,” Gordhamer said. “So, involving themselves in the walk is something tangible they can do to show their support. It’s very inspiring—coming out to walk 39 miles in two days is a huge personal accomplishment.” She added, “Even though we’re in separate places we’re a part of something together.”
Gordhamer said the goal for outside donations is $10,000.
Outside donations may be made to San Quentin CARES by going to: http://info.avonfoundation.org/goto/SQCARES7.
Donavan said the biggest challenge for her was getting outside volunteers to participate.
“I was asked to help and did not hesitate,” Donavan said.
“The walk brings out the humanity inside this place. People ask me whether I walk with the inmates and when I tell them that we walk together, they seem somewhat surprised. I tell them that the men inside here have families who are affected by cancer just like people on the outside,” she said.
As the walk went on, SQ staffer Kim Bailey took the stage, talking about her sisters and mom who did not survive cancer.
Before her mom passed away, Bailey experienced a walk at San Quentin while sitting in a chair with her mom, taking in the event. “Some of the guys came up to my mother and gave her support,” Bailey said, “Anybody who did that, I thank you, because it made her very happy.”
After hearing a couple of community members take to the stage and give support for the walk, Pascascio resumed the walking by playing music by local Marin County musician Audrey Auld, who, Pascascio said, is battling cancer. The first song, Hey Warden, was developed in a songwriting workshop Auld held at San Quentin last year.
INMATES SAY WHY THEY DONATE AND WALK:
San Quentin CARES co-founder, Sam Johnson: It gives me the opportunity to be a part of the community. My dad, Chris; sister-in-law, Pam; and brother-in law, Anthony, died of cancer. It’s good to see people supportive and contributing to defeating this disease. It affects millions of people. It’s an honor and privilege to be a part of this, so that the outside people can see what we do.
Darnell “Moe” Washington: I’m walking for my auntie, Me-Me, and my uncle Michael who died of cancer. In spite of being behind bars, I really like to be able to give back. It goes to show no matter where you’re at, you can be a part of helping others.
Jerome Boone: I believe in the cause. I know it affects people, almost all of us, in some kind of way. I just want to be a part of a greater thing.
Antwan “Banks” Williams: My grandmother is a survivor of breast cancer. It’s not about us. It’s about showing support. People need us. They need us in the right frame of mind.
Rodney Capell: Even though this negative thing brings us together, it is not a negative event. We are sharing a burden. We are finding comfort in each other.
Lamar “Maverick” Harrison: This is an opportunity for me to make amends and feel like I’m doing something.
Kevin Pryor: This is my third walk. I’m walking on behalf of my mother, Eunice Collins. I used to send her the pink wristband. My mom lost her battle to breast cancer last year on April 10. I shared this with a friend in Atlanta, Vanessa V. Love-Hundson. She shared that she is a breast cancer survivor. This year, I’ll send her the wristband.
Dennis Crookes: There’s been people in my family who had cancer. I’m walking for my mom. There was this kid who died of cancer when I was young. That affected me.
Habib Watkins: I’m walking for my sister, Thelma Thomas who passed away in 1987.
Lionel Bradley: I’m walking for my mother, Maggie and my daughters, Juannsha and Juanneka. They are women and I’m concerned about them having to face breast cancer as all women do.
Mark Tedeschi: I’m walking for my mom and all breast cancer survivors. My mom had breast cancer and died from complications following surgery at age 52.
Anthony Thomas: I’m walking to help find a cure for cancer, and to help people understand that there’s all kinds of cancer and it involves everyone. I’m just trying to give back.
Ronnie Cooper: My mother died from cancer, so this walk is personal. It makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile.
Doug Ingham: I’m doing this to support the men I’m walking with. I lost my mom to lung cancer 10 years ago. When I called my daughter this weekend and told her what I’m doing she got excited and told me that she’s making a donation, too. There’s three of us who are walking as a team (myself, Ronnie Cooper, and Ted Potter) for San Quentin’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Elena Tootell, and we are the Moving Meditation Team, which is a program designed to help the diabetics.
James Metters: Coming from the perspective of a rehabilitated inmate, the walk gives me an opportunity to give back and makes me feel a part of the community.
Mesro: I’m walking for all the survivors everywhere. I want them to know that I’m fighting with them. When they survive, I survive, too.
Alliance For CHANGE, Pre-President, Isaiah (Abdur Raheem) Thompson-Bonilla: It’s time we stop talking about the problem and start doing something about it…walking for a cure. It’s time to change the narrative.
Alberto Mendez: I walk for my little nephew who was born with cancer. Where I come from in Mexico, there’s a lot of toxic waste. I also walk for all the women who will have to face breast cancer at some time in their life.
Tommy “Shakur” Ross: I’m walking because I think it’s a beautiful thing to do for breast cancer awareness. It’s a sense of community, and awareness. It’s a beautiful day with the music. It’s about honoring the women.
Brian Asey: I’m walking because it is the first time I’m able to donate. My mother expressed to me that she’s been going to the doctor, but she hasn’t told me that it might be breast cancer. It’s different when it affects you personally.
Morgan Tyson: My mother and brother had cancer. Not only that, I have a great deal of respect for women today, which is different from the person who I used to be. Our mothers are the rock of the house. They are the ones that teach us. I have to respect women as someone who walks beside us, not behind us.
Brian Shipp: My sister is fighting breast cancer as we speak. This is a disease that’s widespread, that needs funding and for people to understand that it hits all families. I have a long-time friend, Jamie, who has had a double mastectomy—she’s still living. It changed her life to the point where she doesn’t want to have boyfriends.
Richard Zorns: I’m walking because I care.
Joga Sandher: I lost four members to cancer. I walk to support the cause any way—to be a part of the breast cancer walk.