More than 250 prisoners filled the San Quentin Garden Chapel to show appreciation for the tireless work of it volunteers at its 2016 Annual Christmas Banquet.
The theme of the event was “I was in prison and you visited me,” quoting Jesus Christ from the Bible, Matthew 25:36.
The chapel was decorated with Christmas lights, red and green tables and a small colorful tree. The soulful voice of Tami Crane, volunteer from The Well Christ Community Church, sang “How Great Is Our God” alongside the inmate Praise and Worship Choir. The song had prisoners and guests on their feet, swaying back and forth and singing along in a bond of community praise. They also kept the Christmas spirit alive with a funky rendition of “Silent Night.”
“This was an awesome event from the beginning to end,” said inmate Chris Harris, who emceed the banquet. “It’s about the worship of Jesus. It shows we can be at peace and unity with men of all races, as the Bible states, ‘How sweet it is for men to dwell in unity.’”
Mardi Jackson, the Protestant chaplain, gave a passionate welcome speech and passed out Certificate of Appreciation awards to different churches in recognition of their service and ministries. The Wings of Love Ministries received an award; some of their members have been traveling from Southern California to be a part of programs and events in San Quentin.
“I believe in the goodness of people,” said Pastor Bridget Kyser, of the Wings of Love. “God has a plan for us to bring the word to change these men’s lives. Just trust and obey God. He is the one who shows mercy, and if you hold on to that there’s nothing you can’t do.”
“Coming here is about re-entry and reconciliation”
Al Hayes, of the Wings of Love, added, “Blessing is a two-way street. Everything we do is to build our fellowship here with our brothers in Christ.”
David and Sonja Hagy, a husband and wife ministry team, were honored for their sacrifices and for driving four hours to be part of the SQ community.
“We need to hold our love up to God,” D. Hagy said. “Something real good is going to happen. I watch these guys grow and it’s humbling.”
Other churches and volunteers who received awards were Cornerstone Church, the New Faith Cathedral Church, Valley Christ Center, and Pastor Tom Pham of Red Hill Vietnamese Church. David Mack and Aldo Yannon were honored for conducting services when Chaplain Jackson wasn’t available. The Well Community Church; the Malachi Brothers, who taught a fatherhood class; Mervin Watkins; Chet Hall and longtime volunteers Kathleen Jackson and John Eagan were recognized.
There was a lot of love and applause, but it was Chaplain Mardi Jackson who received a two-minute standing ovation.
“The Lord is moving Mother Jackson,” Marion Barnes, the Wings of Love executive director, said. “She could have moved to Chino to be closer to her family but chose to stay here. That says a lot about her and the men here.”
The congregation was treated to a holiday lunch of barbecued chicken, cheese pizza, macaroni and cheese, candied yams and cake.
“Coming here is about re-entry and reconciliation,” Leeigh Purry, of Well Community Church, said. “We want the men to get back to their proper place as head of their households. Their children need them, their women need them and we are praying for all of them.”