Volunteers’ caroling brings joy to SQ inmates

By John C. Eagan

About 75 volunteers braved frigid weather to bring an evening of Christmas caroling to thousands of inmates in their cells and dorms at San Quentin State Prison.

“I saw a lot of joy,” said volunteer Steve Howell, music director at Tiburon Baptist Church. He led a group of about a dozen into H-Unit, a section of San Quentin with five dorms containing about 125 prisoners each. Many of the dorm residents joined the singing.

“We thought the carols gave a sense of home to the men,” Howell said.

Protestant Chaplain Mardi Jackson commented, “It was glorious. Music touches the heart in ways that words can’t.”

Christmas caroling volunteers

Volunteer Linda Rice was among the group visiting several multi-tier cellblocks where many prisoners joined in the singing.

“It was cold outside, but hearing the choir and seeing the men’s faces warmed up my heart,” said Rice. “It was a holy moment as we sang and looked into the faces of so many who remember learning those Christmas carols as children.

“There was widespread humility and genuine love shown to the men of San Quentin.  The men also showed us what it was to have joy in a dark place.  It was a glorious night and not one I’ll ever forget.”

“It was glorious. Music touches the heart in ways that words can’t”

Rice is known in numerous prisons across America as “The Harp Lady,” who for many years performed harp concerts for thousands of inmates, including several years in San Quentin.

“The men were very welcoming,” said singer Katie Kvanvig. “It was like going to a friend’s house.”

Chaplain Mardi Jackson sings with the crowd

About a dozen inmates accompanied the carolers on Dec. 17 as they wandered through the prison. The evening of Christmas season caroling in San Quentin has been an annual tradition for many years.

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