Thanks from San Quentin News.
November is my third year as Editor-in-Chief of San Quentin News. I am blessed to be involved with so many people of good will. This Thanksgiving season, I give thanks for and to all our friends, supporters, advisers and staff. Through the efforts of our supporters’ time, energy, services and money, many people are educated about the prison system.
The steady progress toward the goal of getting this newspaper into the hands of all California inmates cannot be done without donations. We need money to print and distribute our paper, as the state does not pay for printing or distributing the San Quentin News.
I realize that making a commitment in time or money is difficult when there is no specific personal gain in sight. Most of our donors are not inmates. I also recognize that doing something to benefit prisoners may be condemned or ridiculed by some people. However, I point to my own experience as an example of why you are right to help San Quentin News.
Life in prison is always a struggle – and especially when you haven’t begun to unwind from your past life and move in the right direction. It took me many years to get beyond the heroin I was pushing into my body.
It wasn’t easy to overcome my addiction. Even when I was using, I wanted to quit. However, with no support or guidance, I couldn’t see the other side. I used to blame everyone for my mistakes. I blamed my father, the police, the probation officer, the DA, the judges. I blamed everyone but myself.
“Even when I was using, I wanted to quit. However, with no support or guidance, I couldn’t see the other side. I used to blame everyone for my mistakes. I blamed everyone but myself”
When I finally wound up in the prison system, I blamed CDCR. They had too many rules and they used them against us. Now, I look to the criminal justice professionals to help me fix things. Not just for me, but for all inmates.
Back then, the reality was that I could not see beyond my self-centered world. Because it was driving me crazy, I began to write about my life. I wrote down everything I could think of, whether it was good or bad. Somehow, the act of putting my life down on paper made me realize that I had to take a serious look at myself. Over time, I came full circle to the realization that the person responsible for my situation was me.
While I am not happy about my circumstance (serving 65 years to life), I have arrived at a place where I can actually thank the various people who put me here. It sounds funny I suppose, but my association with San Quentin News has allowed me to demonstrate to others that change is possible. Change for individual inmates and change for a criminal justice system that has proved to have many flaws.
At San Quentin News we focus attention on the experiences of inmates who participate in the nearly 70 different self-help, educational and vocational programs offered here. It has been shown that in terms of rehabilitation, vocational training and correctional education work better than long-term incarceration, San Quentin News is able to examine these programs and report on them for the benefit of inmates throughout the state.
With the help of San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Marisa Rodriguez we embarked on a new direction in our examination of criminality, recidivism, reentry and better understanding of prisoners. Beginning with Rodriguez, we had the opportunity to share our experiences, and gain input, from district attorneys George Gasćon of San Francisco, Stephen M. Wagstaffe of San Mateo County, Edward S. Berberian of Marin County and Jeff Rosen of Santa Clara County; along with Santa Clara Judge Philip Pennypacker, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi and attorneys Thomas Nolan, Daniel Barton and Emma Bradford.
We owe thanks to Nancy Mullane and the Society of Professional Journalists for their commitment to inmate journalism. Due to the efforts of Pam Benjamin of Mutiny Radio, San Quentin News is developing an additional outlet to get prison news out to the public. Thanks to Stephanie Foo from “This American Life” on public radio and Variety Magazine, San Quentin News is getting additional mainstream media coverage. Independent reporter Jessica Pishko also comes to San Quentin to cover what is happening behind bars. Thank you, Paul Cobb of the Post News Group for taking us under your wing. Thank you, Jon Spurlock and the Berkeley-Haas Project team, for giving us a direction and a plan for the future. In addition, thanks to The Columbia Foundation for helping us to reach more inmates. There are so many people who have helped our cause, and we thank you all.
I’m now at a stage in my development that I am very much aware of my dependence on others for help. The same is true for all inmates. We are all dependent on others. But ultimately, the public also benefits greatly. More educational opportunities and vocational training geared toward inmates will make streets safer and communities more comfortable by reducing recidivism rates. For me, it is very significant that the people I used to blame for my troubles are now among our biggest supporters. As one of Berberian’s staff said, “You men give us the tools we need so we can do our job better.”