Leaving a legacy of commitment and connection – she will be missed by many
Bev Shelby walked out of San Quentin State Prison on Oct. 24 with a heart full of emotion and memories.
Before moving back home to Texas, she came to share one last Thursday meeting with her KidCAT family.
“I can’t hug you guys. That really pisses me off,” Shelby said to all the members around her—some of whom she’s known for over seven years while coming into SQ.
“Listening to all of your stories and hearing about how you’ve overcome some of the worst childhoods, I wonder sometimes, ‘How can you even smile?’” Shelby momentarily broke down. “It’s been such an honor to share your continued growth, to be a part of the great work you guys do.”
“I’m going to hug Will real tight for all of you,” she said, referring to new volunteer facilitator Will VanBrackle. He sat across the space where KidCAT traditionally sets up the tables in a square with everyone facing in.
When Shelby arrived that day, the KidCAT guys tried to get her to sit in the middle and be the focal point. “I’m not doing that,” she said, sliding a chair alongside Anthony Ammons. “I’m just one of the guys—one of you.”
Despite the collective sadness at seeing Shelby depart, KidCAT Chair Si Dang wanted the group to celebrate her legacy of commitment and cheer her on toward the next chapter of her life.
“The way you came into this prison, Bev—you singlehandedly transformed KidCAT and transformed me with your big heart,” said Dang. “They say everything’s bigger in Texas, but it can’t compare.”
Dang likes to keep the KidCAT meetings energetic and warm—part of his mission to emphasize strength in community and family.
As a special treat, Dang enlisted K. Tran to perform a re-envisioning of “You’ll Be Back,” one of the showstoppers from Shelby’s favorite musical, “ Hamilton.”
“I wish we could have filmed that and tweeted it to Lin-Manuel [Miranda],” she exclaimed afterwards as the applause erupted. “That was truly a gift.”
Vice Chair Kenny Vernon prompted Tommy Ross and Nou Phang Thou to start a beat on the tables, encouraging every KidCAT member to participate in a rap around session.
With some prodding, Shelby started the rap off and struggled to rhyme. “I don’t know what to say. You guys are the best—and I do not mean that…” [pause] “…in jest.”
Other support groups and classes in SQ’s main education building heard the raucous thumping, blundering lyrics and spurts of laughter. Although there were some complaints, the spirit of KidCAT resonated throughout.
After the silly onslaught of rap subsided, the mood grew serious as men spoke to Shelby in farewell.
Alvin Timbol has seen his share of members get found suitable for parole over the years and become returning citizens. “Every time someone from KidCAT leaves here, I have a hard time saying ‘Goodbye,’” said the emotional Timbol. “I’d rather just say, ‘I’ll see you later.’”
VanBrackle remembered his first group meeting just a few months prior. “We did our fire circle and you told me to go ahead and take the reins,” he said to Shelby. “I’m very grateful for that. It meant a lot.”
Thanh Tran said to her, “That whole institutional barrier between free staff and inmate—I never felt that from you,” he looked around. “We never felt that from you.”
Dwight Krizman agreed. “From day one, you never saw me as a guy behind bars,” he said. “Your boundless compassion continues to give me hope.”
Ross had this to say: “That very first time we worked together, you corrected me and asked me to reframe some of the things I said.
“You know, that did trigger me—I wasn’t used to a woman doing that. I learned a lot from you.”
Ammons turned his head to look at Shelby directly. “I’ll always appreciate the humor you brought with you into this space,” he said. “You helped us connect with our inner child—helped us grow and mature as adults while bringing all that positivity in here.”
Shelby teared up again as she said to Ammons, “You’ll always be my partner in laughter. I’m always reminded of the times I’d get in trouble in school for that. Thank you for being my partner in here.”
Vernon told Shelby, “You’re a big part of the man I am today. I appreciate that. My wife appreciates that.”
Chase Benoit: “Our friendship—every time we talk, you’re being real and I am, too. That’s not always true of friendships.”
Phang Thou laughed as he offered Shelby the same advice he’d given recently paroled Ryan Dietz: “Bev, if you’re ever in a bar and someone tries to hand you a 40-ouncer—WALK AWAY.”
With time running out for her scheduled departure, Shelby looked at all the KidCAT men. “I’m so proud of you guys. This is hard work,” she said. “I can’t imagine you living in your cells. I just can’t imagine that. All of you deserve better than this.
“You cannot judge someone by their worst moment—I learned that from you guys. And I’ve spread that message to my family and friends.
“You’re all going to get out and be great citizens. I truly believe that.”
Shelby originally had planned to be back in Texas by early October, but an institutional lockdown at SQ prevented her from saying goodbye to KidCAT in person—so she delayed her plans until she could come inside the prison again.
“”I make slow decisions, but I know it’s the right thing for me,” she explained about her personal debate on leaving California. “But don’t worry, guys. I’m not rooting for the Cowboys—ever.”