My name is Jose Hernandez. I’m serving a 68-to-life sentence and have been incarcerated since the age of 16. I am now 25 years old and I want to reach out to all of you. I’ve currently been going back and forth to San Joaquin Juvenile Court, and I’ve had a chance to read the SQNews.
Most importantly, and what has inspired me to write this let- ter, are the articles, projects and KidCAT Speaks that has given me more hope—as well as drawn my full interest for the last seven months.
“Gangbanging on the groups and college courses SQ offers, he said he knew it was time to check it out for himself.
“I want this place right here to be a ground where I can change and grow,” he said. “Being able to find myself now—what I really love to do and having the free will to do it—I realize that’s what being a real man is.
“San Quentin has taught me that success is not about winning. It’s all about learn- ing and improving.”
Rivas deals with the negative consequences whenever he calls home. “My three old- er brothers, they’re in prison on the mainline right now,” he said. “My family tells me that they basically hate me—that they’re disappointed, that they never expected this from me.
“Even the sister of my daughter’s mother tells me, ‘You’re totally devalued. They all just degrade you like you’re nobody anymore.’
“At first, that really made me feel like they were right. It made me feel less than.”
Rivas recently became the newest member of Kid- CAT, unanimously voted in. He continues to impress the youth offender support community with his commitment to self-improvement and be- ing of service to others.
Nou Phang Thou, Kid- CAT’s last founding member to remain incarcerated, has mentored many youth offend- ers during his years at SQ. He noticed Rivas’ openness to change right away.
“One beautiful thing about Jonathan, he has great intu- ition to recognize his own weaknesses,” said Thou. “And then he has the commitment to seek out the help he needs and address those weakness- es—so he can become a better man.”
“I don’t have to be a follow- er, but today I can try and be a leader to the youth that are still lost,” said Rivas. “I just wonder how many of them out there on the mainline will lis- ten to me?”
Even with SQ’s non-designated status and overall progressive culture, many prisoners here still hold on to some degree of their old GP mentality. That dynamic con- tinues to shift slowly.
“Some of them changed their perspective of us,” said Rivas. “They think all SNYs are here for snitching, for be- ing child molesters—stuff like that. But it’s not until they listen to our stories, to my story, that they realize these dudes here have been through some stuff, seen stuff.”
Rivas said he grew up in foster care after his mother abandoned him when he was six and his little brother was four. “I used that as an excuse for me to act out in life. I grew up in juvenile hall.”
“That’s what I did—fight- ing, running away from group homes,” he continued. “Finally, I joined a gang at 14.”
Soon after that, Rivas fought with another youth at his foster facility, got convict- ed for the assault and battery, and would then spend almost four years in juvenile custody.
“I was released 16 days be- fore my 18th birthday,” he re- called. “And I went right back to the streets.”
It wasn’t long before Rivas was arrested again—this time for carjacking, along with gun charges and other crimes.
“I ended up taking a deal for ten years at 85%,” he said. “Right now, I’m set to go home at the end of 2023.”
At SQ, Rivas now facili- tates the Power Source cur- riculum, after being part of
its first graduating class. He credits the nationally rec- ognized self-empowerment program with helping him un- derstand himself and his past mistakes.
“I used to be selfish and never cared about what my family thinks,” he explained. “I never cared if they were happy.
“My dad tried to still be around for me and my little brother. He tried to get us back, but his drinking prob- lem stopped him a lot.”
He spends his weekdays apprenticing as a carpenter in vocational training—a prison job that will give him viable employment opportunities upon reentry. On the week- ends, Rivas looks forward to competing in soccer for his newfound community—often against outside guest teams through SQ’s organized sports league.
In June, Rivas gave an im- passioned speech at the Project Avary Walk, an event geared toward raising funds that pay summer camp fees for kids of incarcerated parents. Rivas spoke about his daughter, the painful separation his incar- ceration caused—and his mis- sion to make it back to her.
In addition to vocational classes, Rivas struggles his way through the Prison University Project’s college prep courses—non-credited classes he must pass before pursuing an Associated Arts degree.
“Whenever I feel like quit- ting class and giving up, I think about my daughter and someday being able to help her with her studies,” he said. “That always motivates me to keep going.
“You know, at San Quentin, if you’re not taking college courses or participating in groups—you’re just not cool.” come to prison.”
CDCR formally reclassified SQ as its first non-designated prison at the start of
At this point in my life I may be given an opportunity to have my case overturned. I plan to petition the courts and ask to be re-sentenced under the Youth Offenders Program (YOP). I’m even going to seek a court order to be sent to San Quentin so I can partake in learning the KidCAT (First Step) curriculum and hopefully become a mentor for the YOP community.
Now I need and want to pursue my path in obtaining the KidCAT curriculum, so I can mentor the program while I finish the remainder of my sentence. If I can obtain this experience while still behind the walls, it will help me live my dreams. I’ve prayed, believed and always kept my faith that I’d give back to my community when I am released. The dream now is to obtain the curriculum so I can facilitate workshops. I don’t have any sponsors, volunteers or financial resources to purchase your curriculum.
Thank you for your time in hearing a young man that has vowed to become a part of KidCAT.
KidCAT genuinely appreciates your time in writing to us. A big part of our work revolves around sharing each other’s experiences. We all learn from one another and support each other. That’s essentially how the KidCAT community first came into existence and continues to grow.
Hearing about your personal journey and your commitment to mentorship—that inspires us.
In terms of the our First Step curriculum, we are in the midst of an active reboot right now. Over the next couple of months, KidCAT plans to unveil an improved version and incorporate some new lessons that we’ve learned throughout our previous cycles. Also, there is an administrative procedure we must adhere to in order to uphold the overall integrity of our program.
Once we get all these hurdles ironed out, we will make sure to update everyone through KidCAT Speaks. We’re very excited about the future of the First Step curriculum, and we hope that can include you, Jose—and anyone who wishes to become involved with KidCAT’s mission.
The faith and commitment exhibited in your letter are the most important things to stay focused on, as well as always making sure your voice remains heard. KidCAT wants to emphasize to all our readers that your voices matter. KidCAT Speaks encourages you to write us here at SQ. Your letters inform and resonate within our community and never lets us forget our collective goals of self-improvement, rehabilitation and service. Thank you so much.