By Juan Haines
Kathleen Jackson has spent the last nine years inside a prison guiding men, most serving life sentences, to turn their lives around. Nearly 400 of these men, along with volunteers from the surrounding San Francisco Bay Area, packed San Quentin’s Protestant Chapel to tell Jackson they love her and will miss her.
“I have been blessed by Kathleen. She shares with integrity, love and commitment,” inmate Philip Senegal said.
Kathleen told the audience that it is time for her to move closer to her family in Sacramento. But, she’ll continue volunteering inside New Folsom State Prison.
“She’s leaving us to work with men who have life without parole,” Darnell “Mo” Washington said. “She’s small in stature, but big in heart.”
In a speech that began teary, San Quentin Chaplin Mardi Jackson, accompanied by her husband on stage, said, “God is sending you to a different venue, so that there will be Jacksons all out there,” as she handed Kathleen a bouquet of roses.
Kathleen will be teaching the self-help program Houses of Healing, at Folsom as well as a similar class aimed at younger inmates called Power Source.
After meeting with some men at Folsom interested in the classes, she said switching from volunteering in a medium-security prison and going to a maximum-security prison did not concern her.
“They were all just as eager for programs as the men at San Quentin,” she said.
The farewell ceremony was held on Palm Sunday, April 9.
In Kathleen’s honor, James Metters, Dwayne Kennedy, Orlando Harris and Michael Kirkpatrick performed a skit.
The men in blue, as well as a small cadre of her closest friends and family, echoed the skit by singing, “We thank you. We love you. We’re going to miss all the things you do.”
The church band kept the beat as the audience stood and clapped. Its members were Greg Dixon, guitar; Albert Flagg, keyboard; Leonard “Funky Len” Walker, bass; and Gregory Thompson, drums.
Several speakers told stories about Kathleen and her time in San Quentin.
“When I first heard my mother was going inside San Quentin, I asked her to please call me every time she leaves,” her son Michael Jackson said. “I wanted to make sure that she got out,” adding “I’m happy that she’s now with us, but sad for you guys’ loss.”
Kathleen’s granddaughter Jane Hildeburn said, “You guys know what she’s like and she’s always been that way. Meme (Kathleen’s family name) loves everyone, and when she said she was going to work in San Quentin, I knew she really loves everyone. She doesn’t care what anyone else says or thinks. She’s aspiring to show how to live a good life.”
Kathleen told the inmates that she’d learned how people transform themselves by looking deeply into their pasts and owning their mistakes.
“You guys don’t get depressed by doing the work, but you process it for healing,” she said, adding, “The love and respect in what you do is what makes you human beings.”
One of Kathleen’s fellow teachers from more than 30 years ago also spoke.
“She listens deeply, making a person feel heard,” Janet Daijogo said of Kathleen’s management style. “She has a little ego that never gets in her way. San Quentin allowed her to play out her passion for social justice.”
“To me, you’re a giant,” inmate Louis A. Scott said, adding, “I have been blessed by Kathleen’s continuous effort to work, helping me with my gifts, for the greater good,” referring to her help in developing STEP (Sex Trafficking Exploitation Prevention).
“You walk the walk, Kathleen,” said A. Kevin Valvardi, referring to her humility.
Tommy Ross thanked Kathleen for the work she did in facilitating Criminal and Gangs Members Anonymous. “Your accountability stands out,” Ross said. “San Quentin is a better place, because of you.”
Derrick Holloway told her, “We’ve counted on you, and you’ve always came through.”
Kathleen’s influence went far and wide inside San Quentin.
“I have been blessed by Kathleen’s integrity,” Raul Sameniego said.
“I have been blessed by Kathleen’s response to my paper in TRUST,” Chris Scull said. “Teaching Responsibility Utilizing Sociological Training” is one of nearly a dozen self-help groups she helped facilitate in the prison. “That was the first time I had a group with her. It was impactful, insightful and she was genuine.”
“I have been blessed by Kathleen showing me what it is to walk gracefully,” Orlando Harris said.