By Richard Richardson
EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN EXPLAINS ITS FUNCTION
When California prisoners have a general problem, the first stop is usually with somebody like Sam W. Johnson Sr., executive chairman of the San Quentin Men’s Advisory Council.
MAC’s job is “to advise and communicate with the warden and other staff those matters of common interest and concern to the inmate general population,” Johnson said.
MAC is composed of an elected representative from each of the prison buildings.
“I became a MAC representative because I wanted to help the general population create a better living environment where positive growth can happen,” said Johnson.
He said he wants to be a realistic voice of the general population to the administration; however, “What the general population sometime doesn’t realize is the MAC representative is not an alternative for the inmate grievance process or someone’s personal problem.”
“If the specific problem doesn’t affect the overall population, then the MAC really can’t do anything about it. Furthermore, the administration still has the last say on any concern. All we can do is present the issue or problem to the administration,” Johnson added. “Depending on the significance of the issue, if we’re not satisfied, we can always appeal to Sacramento.”
The living conditions in West Block were partly resolved after appealing to Sacramento by its block chairman, Jamal Lewis. The remaining issues are being reviewed by the San Quentin administration, Lewis said.
“When we all work together we can accomplish anything”
As another example of how MAC can be effective, Johnson said recently the administration discovered a “kite” (note) indicating an approaching clash between African-American and Caucasian inmates.
Johnson and the MAC representatives looked into the truthfulness of the note. After going to each building, talking to individual groups regardless of their race, found the note was a fake. The MAC representatives reported that the note was a fake to the administration. After the administration confirmed the note had no validity, institutional programming was not disrupted.
“When we all work together, we can accomplish anything. Our goal is to live in a productive environment,” Johnson said.
Reflecting on his background, Johnson said when he first arrived in prison, he realized his attitude and his way of thinking was an anchor holding him down, and it was the real reason he ended up in prison.
He said attending the Victim Offender Reconciliation Group at Solano State Prison made him realize he didn’t have to continue thinking and believing in old stereotypes regarding violence and prison culture. However, it wasn’t until he arrived at San Quentin and enrolled in the Victim Offender Education Group that he was able to let go of his old way of thinking and behavioral problems.
He said VOEG changed his life, allowing him to appreciate the importance of community.
“People who come from other institutions are not aware of how many programs are here. If they participate in them, they’ll eventually grow to appreciate all the help that this prison has to offer,” Johnson added.
Johnson said Acting Warden Kevin Chappell and Chief Deputy Warden Rodriguez are making his job easy because they support San Quentin’s many self-help programs and educational opportunities.