By Journalism Guild Writers
The San Quentin community came together in the Garden Chapel to memorialize and commemorate Levelt Duverne, 39.
Duverne’s April 25 suicide stunned the San Quentin population.
The memorial service for Haitian-born inmate was attended by about 50 men in blue, institutional staff, and the San Quentin Prison University Project volunteers.
The service began with a prayer led by Protestant Chaplain Mardi R. Jackson.
Following the prayer was a reading of Psalm 23 by Kara Urion, the Prison University Project administrator who worked with Duverne.
“He was one of the most brilliant students in the college program,” remarked a tearful Urion prior to the service.
San Quentin’s New Dae musical group sang, “Heaven is my Home.”
Former cellmate Danny Cox eulogized Duverne. “He was a brilliant mind. He studied a minimum of 12-14 hours a day and spoke seven languages fluently. He often spoke of his family with a lot of love and affection,” said Cox, breaking down several times. “It still weighs on my heart.”
After the eulogy, a number of memories of Duverne were expressed by educators and men in blue.
“He was really open to being changed by things he learned,” said Marianne Kaletzky, a graduate student from UC Berkeley who teaches Spanish at San Quentin. “There is that piece that’s missing from my life now.”
Alton “Coach” McSween recalled, “He always had a smile on his face.”
“He was brilliant, as he was humble, and the best asker of questions I’ve had in the classroom,” said one of his English 101-B instructors, Geoffrey O’Brien.
“Levelt was always incredible and intense, funny, and had a good sense of humor,” expressed Victoria Kahn, another of his English 101-B instructors. She added, “I loved his personality. He didn’t seem the type of person that would commit suicide. He was engaged in life, a critical thinker and extremely intelligent.”
“Levelt always was generous when sharing his ideals with the class. He always asked instructors intelligent questions. In his final presentation to class, he expressed passion and rigor for topics, and inspired everyone,” said Haley Pollack, his English 204 instructor.
Alex Miley, Spanish 102 Instructor, said, “We really missed him in the class and his contagious joy in learning. But I am glad we did get to have him at least for the time he was here, and I am so glad to have the opportunity to share his memory here today with the other students and teachers who knew and loved him. He was a very special student, and he touched us all.”
Sam Aranke, program administrator for the Prison University Project, said, “I will always remember Levelt for his quietness and respectful ways. He had a way of asking questions that were generous, caring, and patient. His death reminds us of the need for support for those of us who might be suffering all alone.”
Juan Haines commented, “He was a wonderful human being.”
Jody Lewen, director of the Prison University Project, said of Duverne, “He was an extraordinary person…we were heartbroken to lose him.”
The service concluded with another prayer led by Chaplain Jackson.
Duverne was 10 years into a 16-year-to-life sentence for second-degree murder.