By Richard “Bonaru”
Editor-in-ChiefI arrived at San Quentin State Prison in 2007 from Soledad along with 20 other prisoners. It wasn’t 24 hours before we were called to the lieutenant’s office and warned, “San Quentin is not your average prison, and we don’t need trouble makers like you guys here.”
Being a Black man, with tattoos and braids, opens a door for society to judge me by my appearance. Yet, I refuse to succumb to the pressure of societal beliefs of what a Black man should look like and how he should behave.
I immediately enrolled in the Prison University Project because I wanted an education; I was determined to not be judged only by my looks and labeled a trouble maker.
I was soon placed in the vocational print shop with instructor John Wilkerson. On my first day he asked me to fold newspapers for San Quentin News (SQ News). By the end of the day, I really hated SQ News.
As time went on, Wilkerson taught me how to operate a grumpy old Heidelberg printing press. I printed the SQ News and institutional calendars on the Heidelberg until the print shop closed in 2009. I was the last prisoner to operate the Heidelberg and receive a vocational trade in offset printing, thanks to Wilkerson.
After the print shop closed, then Editor-in-Chief Michael Harris and Arnulfo Garcia asked if I would continue running the press to print the SQ News.
The last edition of the SQ News printed at San Quentin was in April 2010. Since then, an outside printing plant has taken over the job, thanks to our former adviser, Steve McNamara.
I later learned how to design SQ News using Adobe Acrobat and Adobe InDesign with the help of Aly Tamboura. Having the opportunity to design the SQ News gave me a chance to really understand why prisoners write stories for publication.
In my opinion, the SQ News stories highlight prisoners who want society to know what real rehabilitation looks like. We write about programs that work and about policies that don’t.
We are proud pupils of longtime advisers – Linda Xiques, Professor William Drummond, Jon Spurlock, Joan Lisetor, John Eagan and Steve McNamara. Our new volunteers (and soon-to-become advisers) – Nikki Meredith, Josh Quittner, Sarah Horowitz, Quentin Hardy, Susanne Karch and Jan Perry are leaders with a strong belief in people like us who are striving toward rehabilitation.
As a father and grandfather, public safety is now and should have been all along my primary focus in life. I realize the damage and corresponding effects I have caused to my victims and their families, to my family and their communities.
No one who knew me earlier could ever believe that I could or would attempt to improve the lives that matter to all of us through writing. Building a working relationship with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Press Secretary Vicky Waters and Public Information Officers Krissi Khokhobashvili and Lt. S. Robinson has given me the opportunity to have a dialogue about important criminal justice policies that affect society and public safety.
As I step into the role of the editor-in-chief, it is my responsibility to ensure that SQ News continues to move forward and explore programs that change prison culture and embrace policies which open doors to rehabilitation.
It is and always will be our goal to make SQ News accessible to every prisoner in California. We know the task isn’t going to be easy as we struggle for funds to provide a newspaper for each and every prisoner. We are not there yet, but we’re working to make that happen.
Regardless of what society thinks about you (or me) as a prisoner, your voice is important, and it needs to be heard. Feel free to come to the Journalism Guild in the newsroom on Friday mornings, at 9 a.m., and learn how to express yourself through writing. If you are at another prison, please send us your thoughts via mail. Your letters are valuable, and they define the reality of our growth here at SQ News.