Implementing Arnulfo Garcia’s vision for an outstanding inmate-run magazine
DEDICATION by Bo Kovitz
I just can’t bring myself to write about Arnulfo in the past tense.
Months into being a free man, Arnulfo was killed in a car accident while on his mission to build a supportive community for the men and women who would follow him across the walls of prison. In recent weeks, I, like everyone who knew him, have had serious trouble coming to terms with what happened. It seems unreal, because he was and is so real to everyone who knew him. His goals are real, his impact is real.
Lately, he’s entered my dreams (in one, he grabbed me by the shoulders and told me “calm down.”) He appears in my mind when I’m thinking and working as a reporter, telling me to rephrase things, ask different questions. He pulls me out of bed in the morning, guides me through my days.
He’s still here. He’s alive, in all of us.
This is no truer anywhere else than in the San Quentin newsroom, where his closest friends and colleagues are continuing to realize and execute his dreams — which were really the dreams of every man and woman fighting to move forward. Now, with the launching of this magazine, one of Arnulfo’s latest passion projects, we are all moving forward together.
Arnulfo stood at the helm of the highly successful and journalistically innovative San Quentin News and saw Wall City as an opportunity to take it one step further. This magazine represents yet another iteration of Arnulfo’s enduring legacy.
This is the magic of Wall City: here, Arnulfo has brought together, all at once, the catharsis and liberation of creative expression, the professional development of working in a newsroom, and the rehabilitative power of journalism — as writers seek truth and their subjects’ stories are announced to the world.
We are publishing his editorial as he wrote it so that he can speak — as loudly and forcefully as always — to you, the audience, so that he can bring you into these walls. We hope, as he does, that you can begin to understand the incredible richness of the stories inside and the men whose lives offer wisdom to everyone, no matter which side of the wall you are.
And, finally, we want to thank Arnulfo. For guiding us, leading us forward, always and forever.
EDITORIAL by Arnulfo T. Garcia
When the Society of Professional Journalists presented San Quentin News with the prestigious James Madison Award for Excellence in Journalism in 2014, the inmate staff knew they were on the right track as boots-on-the-ground reporters.
They also knew that more could be done.
We created Wall City magazine to expand our journalism and stretch our storytelling capacity. The newspaper has offered an unprecedented opportunity for those of us interested in journalism to learn the basics, understand the work to be done and practice the craft. But now we are eager to step beyond the world of newspaper, both in its word-length restrictions and constricted styles.
Over the last several years, as we have reported various short-term stories and developed our professional relationships with each other, with the community, with prison administration and so forth, we’ve begun to appreciate the unique and truly change-making role journalism can play in the prison context. Incarcerated writers are able to access and communicate stories within prison walls with an honesty and proximity that hardly is possible otherwise.
The magazine allows our writers to begin to tell important stories with more space and more creative freedom. We can utilize more tools in our journalistic toolbox — writing with candor, vigor, color and so forth … to bring audiences into our world more intimately. This magazine is a place for you to learn about people hardly ever seen and rarely heard of.
We cannot ignore the rehabilitative mission of the criminal justice system. Journalism — evidence-based reporting and storytelling — sheds light on important questions of where we are in that rehabilitative mission. This magazine is a space for our reporters to celebrate the successes and evaluate, critically, the failures. It’s an opportunity for you to hear about men who have successfully reintegrated into society, to learn about programs that transformed the lives of men inside prison walls in inspiring ways, and to think critically about what roadblocks exist.
Truth-seeking and vulnerability are crucial elements not only in our creative process and our journalistic process but especially in our healing process. Prisons, as they are designed today, are destructive to families. Rehabilitation is about rebuilding those relationships, first with self, then with loved ones, then with community. The only way to begin fruitful and honest conversations is to take honest, fact-driven storytelling across prison walls.
There will be stories about the energy, vitality and commitment of the broad mix of men and women who come out of prisons every single day — including the changes in their lives and their commitments to the betterment of the community. Preventing people from coming to prison in the first place is the mission that ties them together. People who get out of prison, they get out after changing their lives and go back into their communities. Being open and honest about their past mistakes show they are committed to breaking the cycle — healed people, heal people.
The importance of the news forums is to give public safety officials and concerned citizens the opportunity to talk to and interact with inmates who have decades of experience behind bars and have taken full responsibility for their past crimes. The topic is always centered on incarceration, rehabilitation and re-entry. When we report on forums we bring readers into a world that has honest conversations between the inmates and prosecutors, teachers, judges and other concerned citizens.
When San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon came to San Quentin News, he was so impacted by hearing from men who have served decades behind bars that he brought several senior attorneys from his office back inside San Quentin three times. Gascon did not stop there. He invited dozens of prosecutors from around the country to hear the men talk about their prison experiences. They all went away enlightened about how the criminal justice system actually works and hopeful that rehabilitating offenders is the right thing to do for the betterment for all communities.
In another forum, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier of San Mateo County heard about incarceration, rehabilitation and re-entry. After hearing from the inmates, she said, “I was taken profoundly by the adjustment that so many of the men made in their lives. Most people have no idea and think that you don’t change.”
Daniel “Nane” Alejandrez of Barrios Unidos came to San Quentin News to discuss his commitment to the community and to reforming the state’s prisons and jails. He uses his life story and struggles to connect with the prisoners. When they hear how the words of peace and human rights leader Cesar Chavez helped Alejandrez turn his life around, they are encouraged to become peacemakers.
Something powerful comes from sitting in a circle of men who all have made mistakes in their lives and understand the ripple effect their actions have made in the community. Hearing the changing nature from criminal thinking to social awareness brings a healing to everyone in the community. People talk about pasts that are full of trauma, pain and suffering. The healing component comes from
hearing stories very similar to your own from someone whose culture is so different from yours. This allows everyone to open up and find his own truth.
Society, too, should hear these stories, which is why we created Wall City.