San Quentin’s Chaplain Mardi Ralph Jackson and dozens of supporters per- Hall has been in charge of formed live on Dec. 21 at the prison’s 28th Christmas Caroling event. The Chaplain said it was a time of adoration and worship for our Lord’s birth.
Elder Derrick Holloway stated that in a normal year “Mother” Jackson allows more than 90 churches to assist in the spiritual growth of her ministry. Volunteers assist year round—not just at holidays—and are greatly appreciated.
“Through outside leader- ship in Protestant churches throughout the Bay Area we learn more about evangelical sermons, gospel singing and Bible studies. Churches located as far away as Texas help “Mother” Jackson prepare her men for the spiritual warfare we encounter when we go home,” said incarcerated Elder Derrick Holloway.
The evening started with rehearsal after a prayer from Chaplain Jackson. The group was led by Chester Hall from Cornerstone Church in Livermore.
Hall has been in charge of the caroling event the last five years.
“Death Row should believe in God, and we hope they will be able to hear the choir from the rotunda, as we are not allowed inside. No matter what, it’s a blessing, a true high- light of our Christmas. Easily our biggest event of the year,” said Mrs. Hipple.
Before the group began its tour of the prison, one of the Bay Area’s leading gospel singers, Paula Bates, shared the mission of the night. “Hopefully we can plant a seed in men who do not yet believe, and they may ask, what must I do to be saved?”
Her operatic voice enables others to hear the miracles from the group. “It’s truly a blessing to share the Christmas Spirit and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ….It is all about Jesus,” said Ms. Bates.
Another leader in vocals, Jessica from First Church in Livermore, added, “The blessing to be with others who believe and who are
God’s people—while showing unconditional love for those in need—is the real miracle.”
The choir left Garden Chapel and circled outside the pavilion that is in the center of the Captain’s Porch, the main entrance, four post and the AC Center to begin their performance.
Lt. Sam Robinson and some of his staff escorted the performers around the prison. “This is an annual event I take in before I enjoy my Christmas. This choir changes men’s hearts,” said the lieutenant.
The group headed to North Block where Pastor Linda Lopes from Valley Christian Church said, “This breaks my heart. As a mother and grand- mother, I believe men should not have to live like this…but Jesus loves.”
At North Block, men stopped watching the For- ty-Niners’ victory over the Rams to enjoy Christmas songs like “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
“It’s amazing, bitter catcalls turned into a spiritual silence I have never observed,” said incarcerated person Kevin Kelly. The choir left the first tier to cheers by the incarcerated.
Similar songs on the yard side of North Block, at the rotunda of Death Row, and at the stairwell of Alpine, Badger and the Hole in West Block allowed men to hear carols.
Group leaders like Mr. Allen Roberts, who has been serving the Neighborhood Baptist Church in San Francisco for 37 years, said, “I still come here to get blessed while I carol.”
Minister Randy Fishback from Hillside Church in Walnut Creek added, “I’ve been doing this for five years, and it is still my favorite event of the year. We all receive so much from the men.”
The Kurtz family came to celebrate Christmas with the congregation. “We feel blessed to participate with all of you and get so much in return. It’s truly God’s will and totally amazing,” said husband Brian Kurtz, wife Laura, daughter Naomi and son Dakota.
An alarm at North Block stopped a second attempt to sing to Death Row so the group improvised and sang in front of the hospital. Their hope was the sick would be able to hear as they saluted the support of Lt. Robinson and his staff.
Pastor Tom Phan of Open Arms Church said, “Mother Jackson has the greatest ministry, and we are proud to help this chapel in any way as we pray everyone lives through Jesus!”
Minister Leslie Arroyo of From the Well Ministries, a caroler for years, summed up the night. “To all of us this is an opportunity to reach other people’s hearts for Jesus. Whether we fight, lie, or no matter what sin we have done, we all must know he forgives.”
Singing continued Sunday night when more than 300 men and women participated in a candlelight vigil declaring Jesus’ love.
“Christmas lives at San Quentin’s Garden Chapel,” said incarcerated church member Sergio Alvarez. “By bringing the Spirit of God to the cell blocks we give hope. It was an honor to serve. Merry Christmas to all.”
“I have been participating since 1988, and through Garden Chapel we consider ourselves all blessed to give hope and comfort to men that cannot be with their families,” said the director of the evening’s choir.
Before the choir walked around the cell blocks, SQ News Advisor John Ea- gan gave insight as to what the night meant. Eagan has performed in the event as a member of the Tiburon Baptist Church. He has been doing so for 28 years.
He asks the incarcerated men one question. “I always ask, when did someone say they are proud of you? Invariably the answer is never,” said Eagan.
Kaylyn Hipple, wife of Minister George Hipple, has been caroling at the event for 20 years. She remembered the original organizer, Sam Huron of Man-to-Man Ministries.