A small organization traveled from Austin Texas to San Quentin State Prison to hold its third fundraiser aimed at ending violence against children around the world.
The Amala Foundation inspires the diverse youth of the world to live in unity, serve compassionately and lead peacefully. Its goal is to empower youth to lead and serve with a heart-centered, global perspective, living in recognition that sustainable peace begins within.
Vanessa Stone founded the Amala Foundation 13 years ago. In addition to local youth programs like the Global Youth Peace Summit, One Village Project, and Young Artists in Service, the Amala Foundation also serves youth and communities worldwide. Several San Quentin organizations, including Kid Cat, Champion for Children, and The Work supports the Amala Foundation by organizing a walk on the prison’s Lower Yard and talking with other prisoners about Amala’s mission.
“I want to give a big thanks to Kid Cat for their support. Without the support of Michelle Rochelle, Steve Emrick and the whole administration this event could not have happened,” said inmate Stephen Pascascio, founder of Champion for Children.
A hardworking committee, consisting of Gino Sevaco, Dwight Krisman, Sam Johnson, and facilitator, Kathy Harris, organized the walk in support of Amala Foundation and raised about $16,000.
Kathy Harris of The Work has been coming inside San Quentin for 10 years to teach workshops on self-reflection and mediation. She teaches about 70 men with her program.
“I come in San Quentin because it’s the best part of my life. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than here,” said Harris. “The guys I work with heal me. Our circle has people from all faiths. Our spirit rocks full of grace.”
The event began with about 400 prisoners, prison staff, and Amala personnel walking the first lap in silence in a show of solidarity for the “many children around the world who suffer abuse,” said Sam Johnson, one of the event coordinators.
“The first lap around in silence was one of the most profound electrifying experiences I have ever had in my life,” said a community member and volunteer, Carrynn D.
Lap upon lap, prisoners walked and held conversations about child abuse, the premise of Amala Foundation and other social concerns.
“I told myself I was going to come here with an open heart, said one of the community volunteers. “I’m so glad I did.”
“Sincerity is the universal language. My heart can always open more,” said Eden Trenor, who assists Harris in facilitating The Work.
Inmate Anthony “Habib” Watkins arrived at San Quentin, December 2011. “I spent most of the time at other prisons locked down,” he said. “I had no access to programs and the first time I went to the board, they told me to get programs.”
Watkins said while at Soledad prison programs were difficult to get into. Six years later, he had the opportunity to be transferred to San Quentin where he immediately enrolled in The Work. Commenting on his second time participating in the walk, he said, “Last year I peeled a lot of the onion, and this year it seemed that I was intoxicated by the event.”
“I’m deeply, deeply grateful for the experience of coming here and meeting everyone,” said volunteer Chelsea Rose C. “As I go out the words that have been spoken will ripple out in the community. When I feel low I will take the wisdom and strength of you and remember that and keep going.”
“I’m very overwhelmed,” said participant James D. “It was much different than what I expected. It was beautiful to see how free these guys are despite their circumstances. I don’t know if the guys here realize how big of an impact they have on the community. There is a big transfer of love from San Quentin to the community.”
“It’s wonderful to see inmates caring,” said John Curzon, San Quentin’s Central Heath Services, associated warden. “Inmates are not doing this for a reward. They’re doing it because they want to give back.” Curzon is also involved with the prison’s Avon Breast Cancer Walk, and its Day of Peace celebration.
“I was raised in a violent environment, where my family caused me pain,” said Amala member Nany. “So, if your family can hurt you, what can the rest of the world do to you? I can never thank you all for helping me heal.
“Every time I’m in front of you guys, I cannot ignore what I see, and it’s a lot,” said Nany, crying. “I cry because I cannot do it any other way. I thank you every time I walk with you. Thank you for helping me heal. I’ve been doing what my heart is telling me to do. The Global Peace Walk has changed my life.”
“I’ve seen so much growth from what I’ve seen from last year. This is a secret culture of caring people that so many people are unaware of,” said Amala member and volunteer, Breez.
“Once the outside people learn about this, it will expand much larger,” said Community Partnership Manager, Steve Emrick. “This gives us a sense of accomplishment. It’s healing for the men. I can see this walk fits with the mission of CDCR. It gives inmates a chance to give back.”
“I’ve been waiting for this moment to come back to San Quentin,” said Everlyn Apoko, a leader with the Global Youth Peace Summit. “All my interactions in here teach me. I feel like Amala has given me courage. It has given me the courage to be myself. After coming to San Quentin I have had the courage to stand up for children and for human rights.”