By Rahsaan Thomas
Incarcerated men at San Quentin are getting a lot of press for their accomplishments. The media work produced by and featuring incarcerated men attracted a visit from a CNN anchor and the mayor of Mill Valley.
Van Jones, host of CNN’s “The Messy Truth,” and Jessica Sloan, mayor of Mill Valley, came to San Quentin Prison’s Media Center on Jan. 27.
Among the men they met with were Curtis “Wall Street” Carroll, Adnan Khan and Anouthinh Pangthong, three men who committed murder when they were teenagers, now featured in a video on Alicia Keys’ We Are Here Movement website. The video received more than 63,000 hits within it’sfirst few days.
Earlonne Woods and Antwan “Banks” Williams, the incarcerated men who crafted the podcast Ear Hustle, produced the We Are Here video.
Pangthong, Khan and Carroll were also featured in a segment called My Magnificent Moment on KQED’s “News Hour” the night before Jones and Sloan visited. They spoke about taking accountability and the factors that led them to commit crimes.
Sloan, Alexandra Mallick Williams and Jones started their meeting around a circular table with Carroll, Khan, David Jassy and two Mac computers in the background. Alexandra Williams, sponsor of the Financial Literacy Program at San Quentin, brought in the guests.
“I can’t imagine trying to create world-class ideas under the conditions that you are doing it,” Jones said.
Jassy, a Grammy-nominated rapper and producer from Sweden, was featured on KQED’s “Newsroom” in a piece called Standup San Quentin.
Jones, a human rights activist and Yale Law School graduate, last visited San Quentin in 2009, and three days later went to the White House as a special adviser for President Obama on green jobs, enterprise and innovation, until stepping down. Jones also co-founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
“He’s an inspiring man,” Alexandra Williams said about Jones.
As they talked about the media work being done, Khan said, “The moral dilemma that I struggle with from being part of all this good media stuff is how can I deserve anything when I’m convicted of murder?”
Khan was convicted of robbery-murder after his co-defendant stabbed a victim in a robbery when he was 18 years old.
Carroll weighed in, saying he felt the opposite. He feels obligated to do something meaningful with his time. Carroll created a financial literacy program in which he teaches people how their emotions affect their spending habits and how to trade stocks successfully. He believes teaching financial literacy can stop crime.
Sloan, a former Death Row attorney, said that doing good work gives back to the community and that society shouldn’t throw away genius.
She added, “In Swedish culture you are taught from a young age to never get the credit for what you do. You’d be embarrassed by it.”
Jones said, “Keep the ego small but strong. Too big an ego is no good. Be beautiful, be authentic, be honest.”
Alexandra Williams said, “(Khan) has a duty to do great things. He has to give back to society. Wall Street’s TED talk, Adnan (Khan) and David performing on PBS, that’s all giving back to society.”
“I can’t imagine trying to create world-class ideas under the conditions that you are doing it”
Antwan Williams said, “We don’t deserve anything. We have an obligation to take advantage of every opportunity to do better and be better. We put a tear in the universe with our crimes that can never be fixed. Now we need to cause a positive shift.”
Khan concluded, “I feel I have to be honest with myself. The struggle I’m having is growing to a point where the sincere remorse for my crime isn’t an anchor in the pursuit of happiness.”
Jones mentioned a new show called “The Redemption Project” that he pitched to CNN. The show chronicles the actual experience of a daughter who went to visit the person who murdered her mother.
The group further discussed how allowing people who have been harmed to meet those who imposed the harm can help both heal and move forward.
Carroll talked about his struggles that stem from forming unique ideas about trading stocks from prison. “People don’t get it. I’m talking about finance, and no one else is,” said Carroll.
Jones advised, “When you have a new idea or a new set of insights, it’s a big responsibility. The creator doesn’t give big ideas to weak people. It does become lonely; it doesn’t matter if it’s NASA or San Quentin. When you have a big idea, the whole world conspires to get you to talk about something else.
“So then you have three choices: give up the idea, run into the buzz saw of the machine gun fire, or get just as smart about moving the idea as you are about the idea.”
Later, Antwan Williams and Woods showed the guests the new videos they are working on.
Jones complimented Antwan Williams on a video made with three lights, a camera, and music he produced. “Brilliant,” he said, “genius thing you do at the end.”