Many youth offenders who find themselves incarcerated at San Quentin fail to recognize the opportunities available to them and end up transferred to higher level institutions due to behavioral infractions.
“I didn’t realize what I had here in San Quentin,” said Andrew Joseph Biovin, 21, a youth offender who was deemed a program failure and was transferred out of San Quentin. “Now I want to go to programs and learn all I can. Now, it’s real. Now I care.”
In 2013, a new law AB1276, allowed new offenders between the ages of 18 and 23 an opportunity to serve their sentences at a lower level security prison like San Quentin, to have access to free on-site college programs like Patten University and a plethora of other rehabilitative and vocational programs that are available.
Miguel Sifuentes, a Kid CAT member and facilitator of a youth offender group called “BE-IT” (Benefiting Each Individual Together) works at Receive and Release (R&R) and, in that role, has a unique perspective on how some youths are coping at San Quentin, how some succeed and some fail. He had two interactions with Biovin at R&R and observed a difference in the youth’s attitude between the two.
“The first time he seemed conflicted about being transferred out. The second time I saw Biovin was months later when he was on a layover in R&R, being transferred to another institution. This time, I immediately recognized something was different about him. He had matured somehow in the months since I last saw him.”
“Youth issues are especially close to my heart because I am a youth offender; when I first entered into the system, I had to go to a Level 4 prison due to my age and crime,” Sifuentes said. “I understand how some of these young people are trying to adhere to a belief system, and [have] normalized acts of criminal thinking and fail to see the opportunities to change due to peer pressure.
“I hope that I can share Biovin’s story so that youths reading this story can learn from his mistakes.
“Biovin had disciplinary problems that had invalidated his stay here, and his story is not unique. In my experience as many as a few hundred young men have gone through a similar pattern, many of whom will not make it back to a lower level like San Quentin,” continued Sifuentes.
“I made a giant mistake, and now I want to help others not make the same one by sharing my story”
“During Biovin’s second time at R&R, we spoke for about an hour and a half, through a small tray slot in the holding cell where Biovin was in. He told me that he was previously in San Quentin for about a year and a half and is now on his way to a Level 4 (maximum security prison) after brief transfers to a level 3 (medium security) at California’s Men’s Colony and Vacaville. There he had additional disciplinary problems and is facing the possibility of a criminal prosecution.”
Like many youth offenders, Biovin was exposed to some limited rehabilitative programs at San Quentin but found it difficult to completely break away from old behaviors.
Among the disciplinary infractions incurred by youth offenders are: fighting, drug possession and/or failed drug tests, cell phone possession, and a “high speed chase” (running from staff) usually in reaction to one of the above.
Biovin was no different. “I used to say to the ‘O.G.’ lifers, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’” he said. “Everything they told me now is real. Now I see with my own eyes that other places ain’t cool.
“I messed up, I wish I could go back, do well, and make a different decision. Now I understand, I threw away my opportunity,” said Biovin.
“I made a giant mistake, and now I want to help others not make the same one by sharing my story. Now, I understand why lifers want to give back because I want to help others avoid the same problems I had too.”
In response to Biovin’s comments, Sifuentes said, “I was sad to see him in trouble, and yet tremendously happy to see his newfound insight. He’s everything I hope a young person could know for him/herself and say. Yet it came at a high cost. I hope these other young guys ‘get it’ before it is too late.”