By Marcus Henderson
The 2016 Guiding Rage into Power ‘GRIP’ program graduated 80 dedicated men.
The year program guided prisoners on a deep healing journey inside themselves.
“Today these men are graduating from offenders into servants.” Said Jacques Verduin, GRIP Director and host of the event. “This program is ready to replicate.”
Families, friends and volunteers pack the visiting room to witnesses the graduation of tribes 641, 715 and 742. Each group represented its combined amount of prison time served.
That’s a total of 2098 years of incarceration culminating in this graduation.
Graduate and speaker Ferrari Moody captured the men transitions.
“We were dedicated to change,” said Moody. “We made ourselves transparent, open and honest about the thing we suppressed. GRIP helped us to unlock the past and afforded us the tools to promote peace and personal evolution.”
Samone Moody, his wife added, “I was excited to see him speak from his new self. He has learned to communicate better and let things go. That has helped our marriage; pride is not a priority any more. I am proud of him.”
GRIP counselors Susan Shannon and Jesse Estrin shared about their experience with their tribe.
“I was concerned how the guys would respond to a female leading the group,” said Shannon. “I deeply appreciate each one of these men; they are my heroes.”
Estrin added, “It’s hard to put in words a year worth of emotions and learning to be human again. I have learned more from these guys than I have from the outside.”
Graduates Adnan Khan of 715 and Somsak Uppasay of 641 address the audience.
Somsak spoke on seeing a family member being killed at a young age.
“I had no answers for where this anger was coming from and how to deal with the emotional scars,” said Somsak. “I had to embrace that seven year-old kid in me and to forgive.”
Victim advocate, Christine Mason spoke about being on the other side of crime. She talked about her mother being killed and what it took to heal.
“No one is created a criminal in a vacuum,” said Mason. “It’s never just you; we need everybody to heal. Victims rights are: the right to heal–be restored and to bring back home healthy and safe people.”
Mala beads bracelets were passed out by Mason to the men as a reminder for them to think before they react.
Fateen Jackson captivated the crowd with his spoken word called ‘Apologetic Salute’, apologizing to all victims who never received one and honoring the surviving victims.
San Quentin’s choir and the “New Syndicate of Funk” band had the crowd singing along to ‘People get Ready’ by Curtis Mayfield.
Melissa Davis, of the Marin County Probation Department, received the Muhammad Ali Victory Robe Award, for her great work teaching the domestic violence class.
“I’m thankful to be a part of this community and tribe,” said Davis. “We’ve shared and learned from each other; I will take that to the outside community.”
Eleven men completed the domestic violence training to become certified facilitators.
Jesus Garcia witness brother Arnulfo Garcia receive his hard earned certificate.
“I’m proud of him; he has came a long way,” said J. Garcia. “This is what prison is supposed to be about – rehabilitation.”
George Luna, former prisoner and now employed as a GRIP Facilitator shared about his transition in society. He has made the honor roll in college.
“I went from one institution to another,” said Luna. “You can become a success and give back to the community. I don’t get mad I get motivated.”
Richmond Councilmember, Gail McLaughlin spoke on how human tenderness helps connect with the bigger tribe in society.
“The tender side of myself is to advocate for more programs on the outside,” she said.
The May 6 event bought tears through out the ceremony. The men walked confidently with smiles to receive their certificates.
They signed a pledge to commit to a life of non-violence; then filtered through a human arch, formed by guest and volunteers symbolizing a welcome back rite of passage.
“I murdered Tiffany Dawn Boyce,” said Carlos Smith. “I dedicate this program to her. I learned to cultivate mindfulness and develop my emotional intelligence.
Dominic Smith added, “I’m proud of my father’s spirituality and growth. He can still lead us, given this circumstance.”
Pamela Sifuentes came for her brother Miguel Sifuentes.
“I feel great to celebrate the work he has done,” she said. “This is the first time we came to prison for something good. The things he has learned has made our relationship stronger.”
By Marcus Henderson