San Quentin’s Coalition For Justice (CFJ) celebrated the completion of its latest graduating class—Cycle 15.
CFJ’s primary focus in- volves providing its students with skills that encourage community building and so- cial responsibility. The July 25th ceremony also gave a distinct nod toward Cycle 15’s exceptional level of com- mitment.
“We started off with a much bigger group, but it was you guys that stuck it out and came to the end—came every day,” said inside facilitator Allan Bennett. “Your deter- mination wasn’t just within this room during class. You’d stop me at all different times to ask questions.
“That made me really think about this stuff, and I thank you all for continuing to push me further.”
Outside volunteer Nathan- iel Moore also commented on the group’s perseverance and resolve. “Committing to something and doing it, that’s a true testament to your char- acter—to your own values,” said Moore. “It’s a testament
to the way you’re going to approach things when you’re not in here.
“Many people on the out- side don’t demonstrate that accountability the way you guys do. I want to honor your level of commitment.”
“Common ground is what we’re
seeking—instead of focusing on our differences”
Moore also made sure to mention Dr. Karen Lovaas’ longstanding efforts to con- tinually make CFJ available to the SQ community. Unable to attend the graduation, Lovaas nevertheless was not forgotten.
“On behalf of Karen, I want to acknowledge the incredible amount of work that goes on in here,” said Moore. “I want to bring her into this space and honor her.”
Current lead facilitator Royce Rose graduated CFJ during Cycle 8 and has facili- tated every cycle since then.
“During the last 16 weeks, we’ve tried to help and as- sist you in becoming leaders in the community—not just on the streets, but in here also,” said Rose. “A lot of guys came out of their shells while working together in this class—guys that didn’t even think they could speak at first.
“It’s great for us to find common ground and be able to listen to another guy’s per- spective without condemning them.”
Each inside facilitator ad- dressed the new CFJ gradu- ating class. “The best day is always the last day—because of all the feedback,” said Philippe Kelly. “Not only did we all learn a lot together, but y’all gave us ideas about how we can improve our pro- gram.”
CFJ runs three days a week, from 3 PM to 5 PM. Arthur Jackson thanked ev- eryone for showing up, day in and day out. “Most groups deal with self. This is about community,” he said. “What are you gonna take back to your community?”
Longtime inside facilita- tor Martin Walters said, “One of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had has been in this class. It encourages people to realize their own potential.
“I know it can be really difficult to be on a prison yard and talk about justice, but this class changed the way I saw all kinds of differ- ent people—and the way they saw me.”
Maryann O’Sullivan cel- ebrated her second cycle as a volunteer facilitator. “Be- sides acknowledging your deep commitment, I want to acknowledge your creativity. It’s been really impressive,” she said. “When we talked about advocacy work, the ideas you guys came up with were really creative—beyond the box. I’m serious.
“I continue to see a new respect out there for people who’ve been on the inside. You’ve experienced trans- formations that people on the outside haven’t experienced.”
Volunteer facilitator Palo- ma Mathern thanked CFJ for “inspiring me and making me a better person. I’ve wit- nessed an incredible amount of growth right here in this space that I know you’ll all take back to your communi- ties.”
In addition to facilitators, CFJ relies on a core of men- tors—men who make them- selves available outside of the class to provide an extra layer of support for at least two students each.
“We always speak about coming full circle, about the point when we reach that to- getherness—that harmony,” said mentor Eric Crutcher. “I didn’t see it. I’m gonna keep it real. But it’s happen- ing for me right now.”
Volunteer Judith Tata first came into SQ five years ago to help with a rentry pro- gram, but became involved with CFJ right away. “You guys know me by now. I like to keep it pretty for- mal—not very emotional,” she said. “One thing we continued to touch on over the weeks, and especially at the end here, is common ground.
“Common ground is what we’re seeking—instead of focusing on our differences. Everyone’s thoughts and ideas are needed.”
Tata facilitates CFJ every Thursday, but she also keeps the doors open on Fridays to provide graduates one-on- one reentry counseling.
“The biggest problem for nonlifers getting paroled right now is finding transi- tional housing,” she said. “But it doesn’t matter how long you have or how long you’ve been in—we just want to help you succeed.”
CFJ’s Cycle 15 graduating class:
John Ables, Derry Brown, Adamu Chan, Ernie Cuadras, Pedro Garcia, Danny Geyer, David Hill, Michael Johnson, Elton Kelley, Darren Settlemeyer, Satinder Singh, Earl Snoody, Anthony Taylor, Andrew Watkins, and Troy Whitely.