An exceptional idea in 2013 inspired San Quentin inmates to find a way to reach out to younger incarcerated men; the result, Graced Out Ministries.
“Mother Mardi Ralph Jackson had the vision for something geared to the youth,” said incarcerated mentor, Ferrari Moody, 35. He adds, “I see young men who are yearning for unity, love and positive role models.”
Graced Out Ministries Benefits The Youthful Offender Program
Last Presidents Day, 21-year old Xavier Wiggins was a beneficiary of Graced Out Ministries.
“Tennessee is 17.1 percent Black, but Blacks make up 69 percent of all drug-free school zone offenders…” REASON Magazine, January 2018
That day he didn’t have to work in the prison’s kitchen and the education department, where Wiggins is studying for his GED, was closed for the holiday. With the day off, he and some friends headed to the prison’s gym to play in a four-on-four basketball tournament, sponsored by Graced Out.
“Something as simple as holding a basketball tournament and passing out sodas gives me the motivation to keep reaching out to the youth,” Moody said. “I see myself in them. Graced Out is an opportunity to give back to the community.”
Wiggins put together a team called the X’s: Marcel Williams and Arron Gilmer, both 22 years old, and 44-year-old Marvin “B-Nutt” Cosby.
Wiggins, Williams and Gilmer were supposed to begin their sentences in a high-security prison. But, California prison officials had other plans — the Youthful Offender Program (YOP). Because of their young ages, Wiggins and his friends qualify for YOP. The idea is to keep younger inmates away from the violence and chaos associated with higher-level prisons. They begin their sentences in an environment with more rehabilitative opportunities, like San Quentin.
“I think it’s a good opportunity to be at San Quentin, to better myself,” Wiggins said. “If I went someplace else, it’s easy to get caught up in the melee. I’m glad I got the opportunity to stay here.”
Six teams competed in the two-game elimination tournament. The referees were two Graced Out mentors.
“We create sporting events to involve the youth and take them away from the anxiety that the prison holds,” Dwight Kennedy, 44 said. “After the events, we invite the youth to a service that takes place in the Garden Chapel.”
The championship series pitted the X’s against the Gym Rats.
The Gym Rats were veteran San Quentin Warriors basketball players, Cornell “Corn” Shields and Allan McIntosh. Shields and McIntosh teamed up with three guys who play pickup ball on the yard regularly — Isaiah “Cap” Caldwell, Jeff Brown and Carlos Meza.
In the first game between the X’s and the Gym Rats, the youth proved to be too much. The X’s sped and hopped around the court getting more shots and rebounds, which earned them a 14-13 win.
In the second game, the Gym Rats looked far better and won, 14-8.
The Championship Game
The Gym Rats, not wanting to give the X’s room to breathe, jumped out to a 7-0 lead and increased their lead to 13-2.
The X’s woke up and went on a tear. Williams hit back-to-back deuces, followed by Wiggins doing the same. Gilmer drove hard to the basket and closed the gap, 13-11.
Williams dribbled the ball hard in the paint, headed for an easy layup, but lost his handle right into the hands of Caldwell. Caldwell passed the ball to Shields, who got it to the sure-fire McIntosh for an in-the-paint jumper — game over.
“The first game, we thought we could just blow them out,” said Brown. “But the X’s were more talented than we thought.”
Brown added, “McIntosh and Shields play together on the SQ Warriors, so they already have good chemistry. The added bonus was Carlos getting all those rebounds. It was a privilege to play with McIntosh and Shields — probably the two best on the yard.”
First place team: 25 sodas; second place team: 20 sodas; third place team: 10 sodas