In the Baemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, about all the good things the person has done in his life-time. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. The tribal ceremony often lasts several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.
Alice Walker The Sun magazine July 2007
I figured you might want to include this in your next issue. When I read this it gives me a surge of hope that one day we may “get” it again … a way to respond with health to a wrong doing. I deeply appreciate our SQN!
Nyla Blair (Donor)
Lung cancer ended my father’s precious life in 2016. In our last earthly chat, his strained voice whispered, “A man can preach a much better sermon with his life than with his lips.”
He explained that our tolerant humanity regularly takes fate for granted – that we must live for today, plan for tomorrow, and remember yesterday. By design, we should find a way to leave our mark upon this world, however slight.
In my daily reading, I stumbled upon some legal statistics that swirled around my brain for days. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (Feds) are responsible for housing a tiny 10% of the national prison population. The other 90% of prisoners in America are in state custody.
The Feds have a protocol in place which permits federal prisoners to donate living vital organs, tissue, and bone marrow to biological match worthy immediate family members in need of life-saving transplants. Who knew that a living organ donation policy for prisoners to save a family member’s life might be a good idea?
Let me tell you who doesn’t know. Every state prison system – including California. Are you sitting down? The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has assembled an Advanced Health Care Directive. It is made available to California state prisoners by the medical department at each facility upon request.
Part III of said medical directive pertains to inmate organ donation. At no time are any California state prisoners permitted to donate living vital organs or tissues. A prisoner may only donate an organ in the event of his/ her death.
How this purports to serve the nation’s citizenry is beyond me.
If California had been remotely willing to create a donation protocol modeled after the existing Feds’ policy, my father would still be alive today. I would have given him one of my lungs – no questions asked.
That said, upwards of 25 Americans die each day while awaiting a life-saving transplant when more than ample resources exist. Is this how our government answers the call when protecting its citizens?
My hope is to evoke visceral, vocal, and visible participation from families, activists, academic, and legal circles – people ready to replace destruction with life.
I want to dispel the myth whereby prisoners are without redemptive value – devoid of civic responsibility through social action and political awareness.
But for this project’s promise and potential, we may never have learned of the judicial fallibilities and hurdles which stand in the way while the sick (our family members) languish in numbers that far outstrip national supply for match worthy living donors.
The closer we all are to death, the harder we cling to life.
Michael Flinner SQSP Death Row
“In the Name of God, Most Gracious,
“May Peace and Blessing be Upon You.”
Dear San Quentin News,
My name is Dontae Wynne and I’m 42 years old. I’m an African American that grew up on South Central LA, where I became a gang member. I have been incarcerated for 17 years; this October will be 18 years of incarceration. My base term is five years and I have 20 years of enhancements—that gave me a total term of 25 without life.
For the past five years I have been residing at Salinas Valley State Prison, level 4 B-Yard GP. On March 25th, 2019, I was given the opportunity by facility B Captain and Ms. T Frost C.R.M to establish: Higher Steps, which is a gang p[prevention program; that has allowed me to launch the Bury Your Hood Beef Movement.
With the recent death of Nipsey Hustle, rival gangs of South Central Los Angeles at Salinas Valley State Prison have entered the Gang Prevention Program and steps are being taken to establish a ceasefire and present to the mayor of Los Angeles, Mr. Eric Garcetti, a strategy to prevent Gang Violence within the City of Los Angeles. We at Salinas Valley State Prison (B-Yard) would like for San Quentin News to know that the spirit of change is catching and we also are playing our part to make our life better, and the lives of others. Thank you for your time, and do spread the word.
Dontae Wynne Salinas Valley State Prison
NEWSLETTER HERE AND NOW Editor’s Letter:
I’ve been on this yard since it began. I’ve watched people who had thought they would die in prison go home to their families. It has been a blessing to watch people grow and take active roles in their recovery. Free from the bondage of prison gangs and addiction, people on this yard have reinvented themselves.
You cannot imagine the disappointment at the local media when I saw the words “Prison Riot at R.J. Donovan” flashing on the television screen. At the top and bottom of every hour there was an update about how many ambulances were called and the number of inmates involved. It made me sad.
I understand the motto “If it bleeds, it leads,” but this was much different. Having been on Facility-C, and Facility-B, I can tell you that there were far more newsworthy events that took place.
There are a few key points I would like to make here. First, the news doesn’t take into consideration how the people involved in the riot think and feel at the time and after the riot. The news wants you to believe that the individuals involved are mindless monsters who constantly attack each other without conscience. Isn’t it just as likely that some of those guys were scared or didn’t want to do it? Not one of those news sources will ever do a story on P.T.S.D. in prison. There are inmates who suffer from P.T.S.D. just as much as veterans. Combat is combat.
Where is the story on the aftermath of this event so the next group of people who might engage in violence can see what it is really about?!
The second point is the difference between yards. We are lucky here. We had a few key people in key positions that allowed this yard to succeed. It has been the inmates on this yard buying into the idea that change is possible. It has been the inmates here spearheading the change being made throughout CDCR.
Sometimes it feels like no one cares about the good we do. How is it that two men stabbed and the words “Prison Riot” received more attention than the picture of hundreds of inmates coming together with candles to spell out the words “NO VIOLENCE,” and that is just one example.
I was hurt when I saw this institution on the news for such a negative thing because, in a way, I feel like it is a representation of my time here too. No matter how hard I try, there will always be that stigma. To some, I will always be the person I was when I committed my crime. So I consider it my duty to represent all inmates in a positive way.
I challenge the news media to show us in a positive light when we succeed. When “Prison Riot” reaches more people than “No Violence,” how are you choosing to represent your future neighbors? What message are you trying to send the public?
Steven Ross Westcott RJ Donovan
Moberly Correctional Facility
What if everyone was one color? Then we would either like or dislike one another based on character and actions. It is impossible to physically change your birth color, but it’s in your mind what you see.
The United States Marine Corps has one color for all of its service members: GREEN. The Marine Corps is a unit — a team of men and women who disregard their racial differences so they can efficiently eat. sleep, and train together 24 hours a day. Black and White are opposites and too different. Black Marines are dark green and White Marines are light green. If you have two Marines with the last name Smith, and one is White and one is Black, you’d refer to either light green Smith or dark green Smith. Too easy.
As a combat medic, I treated many different people. Black, White, Latino, Asian, and Middle Eastern all bled the same, their pain was the same, as their fear of dying was the same. The last moments of their lives-—no different either. That is because they are all human and race had no status. Mortar rounds, rockets, and RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) did not discriminate due to the color of a person’s skin. When those weapons are fired, they are aimed at “to whom it may concern.”
For me it all hurt the same. Black, White, Brown- all my brothers and sisters in arms- I miss them dearly. We are all born the same and take our last breath the same. My challenge to you: treat one another between that period of birth and death—the same.
Shon Pernice 1236421 Moberly Correctional Facility Missouri
Living in the Shadows
I’m a tattoo artist living in the shadows of my own trade. It’s my hustle, my passion, my way of life. I tattoo with tools I create and find within these walls. I’m clean and respect my craft, still it’s unsanitary and against the rules in CDCR.
Yes I live in the shadows of a trade accepted in our times, acknowledged as a profession. Worthy of a skill to support me upon release. Yet, the very place I learned my craft punishes me for doing it.
I believe in change and seek to help our prison system change its policy on prison tattoos. I understand the negatives it can bring with this much freedom to express the arts. Yet I know we can regulate this with a policy to help us to perform our skills in a safe environment. Teach us safe practices as well, with the requirements needed and the importance of sanitation habits.
There are inmates who risk infections and diseases via poor cleaning habits due to doing all they can to hide their tattoos from staff. This creates a problem in which they must choose seeking medical attention and risking a 115 write-up. A good analogy: CDCR recently created a policy to prevent those having sexual relations with other inmates from spreading diseases by allowing condoms in our institutions yet are prohibited to act on any use of the condoms. Well, there are many if not all inmates who participate or practice the craft of tattooing. We should have a policy to inform inmates of the risk of infection and poor habits.
The culture of prison tattoo work will never go away. Within these walls it’s a way to express one’s trials and tribulations along with their tenacities and victories. This culture is not a secret. The best we can do is accept that we need a change. We need to embrace this craft as a possible vocation to teach those seeking this skill. We could finally bring along all our tattoo artists, including myself, out of the shadows. Thank You.
J. Ortiz “JB”
Letters to Editor
We thank you and encourage your letters to the editor. San Quentin News reserves the right to edit letters for content and length. Please keep letters to a maximum of 350 words.