San Quentin News hosts violence prevention symposium
San Quentin held its first violence prevention symposium, the Day of Healing, in the Garden Chapel on Nov. 4. An intimate offender/victim dialog ensued between currently and formerly incarcerated individuals and survivors of violent crimes. The Mend Collaborative, an organization rooted in a restorative justice perspective, co-hosted the gathering. long-term strategy to promoting public saftey.
Trino Jimenez, a crime survivor, stood in the middle of a healing circle and spoke passionately about his oldest brother, who was murdered by a Black man in 1986.
“I found myself wanting to hold an entire community responsible for the actions of one man,” said Jimenez. “For me it was facing [the] reality that my brother was gone. It didn’t break my heart, it shattered my life.”
The entire room was silent as Jimenez described his brother Julio. The murder was so brutal that the funeral was closed-casket.
“So many lives were damaged from this action. How many birthdays and Christmases were missed?” Jimenez asked. He has vowed to channel his grief into making change in the lives of people who commit crimes, and “do whatever is needed for the healing process.”
Jimenez visits juvenile hall facilities to speak to youth who have committed murders, seeking to change the trajectory of their lives.
“I have received so much healing in this process of visiting this space and you guys,” Jimenez said.
The Office of Restorative Justice Archdiocese, Young Women’s Freedom Center, and CDCR’s Office of Victim Services also attended the event. Miguel Quezada and Rebecca Weiker, co-founders of The Mend Collaborative, spoke about the importance of the Day of Healing.
Kevin Sample. All responded to the judges’ questions.
As the willingness of the incarcerated men to be candid became clear, the questions continued to flow. “How do you feel about the judge who sentenced you?” asked an inquisitive judge.
Responses from the incarcerated men took a variety of forms: One talked about never making a connection with the judge presiding over his case; one mentioned a judge who seemed not to care; another expressed not being able to understand what was happening in his trial.
Jamal Green said that he felt like the judge who presided over his case actually was on his side and was fair.
Romero said he missed the opportunity to be more mentally present in the courtroom at the time of his trial.
“I didn’t trust him [the presiding judge] at the time but, I wish I could have opened up a lot more at that time,” said Romero. He has been incarcerated for 21 years.
Among the incarcerated men guiding the tour the collective amount of time amounted to more than 500 years, including multiple life sentences.
Some of the judges appeared surprised by the sum of the sentences among their guides. Some shook their heads in disbelief and a flurry of hands were raised with more eager questions.
“What can we do to redirect people from prison who come before us?” asked a judge. “What programs help the most for you guys?” asked another. “Has anyone had contact with their victim’s family?” The questions kept coming and the incarcerated men continued to answer them.
Then a judge asked a question at the root of the cycle of crime; “What can we do for youth that are going through the system?”
“Try to understand that when you deal with juveniles, you have to consider their causative factors and get some insight to their choices,” responded tour member Mike Pulito.
Other topics discussed included the following: What role did substance abuse play in your crimes? Were your parents an issue? What about child welfare and foster care? What were your experiences in court? What is life like on level-four yards and what’s the difference between that and level-two yards? How do you stay away from negativity while in prison? What could we do to stop crimes from happening?
One judge asked a question that caught some of the men off guard, “What would you tell your younger self?” “I would tell myself to have hope,” said Bankston.
The team of incarcerated guides received a standing ovation upon conclusion of the question/answer session.
The judges toured the prison’s historical sites, such as the dungeon, the prison hospital and Death Row. Some of their perspectives may have been changed.
One judge said that she did not want to come at first because she did not want to see people of African American descent gawked at like caged animals on display or some laboratory experiment. But she was glad that she came.
Upon leaving, some of the judges expressed empathy and compassion for the incarcerated.
tance of the Day of Healing.
“Those who have done harm have the skillset to serve survivors in the healing process,” said Quezada, who is formerly incarcerated. “We support people where they are at.”
Quezada served 25 years on a 40-year-to-life sentence, the last five at San Quentin. His sentence was commuted by former Gov. Jerry Brown.
Quezada facilitates meetings between incarcerated individuals and survivors of crime and their families. His focus is on creating a restorative healing process.
Laverne Taylor is both a survivor of crime and a formerly incarcerated woman who at one time was serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. She shared her journey of victimization and incarceration.
“Everything affected my soul walking in here,” said Taylor as she scanned the circle of prisoners and guests. “The jackets you wear, I printed CDCR on them.”
Taylor is a victim of abuse, and said that those experiences made her “want to go harder, not to be a victim,” as a woman in gang life.
“Being a victim never goes away … it’s easy to do what we know,” Taylor said. “My healing journey started right here … in these circles. Once we get to know ourselves in the healing process, it does not matter where we are. It’s difficult but we do it every day.”
Trino Jimenez spoke to the incarcerated population about what he wants to see from those who are working toward being released from prison.
“[I want to] receive a vow from you; that you will never enter into that space [and] to never harm anyone else…,” Jimenez said. “You have to own, be transparent, acknowledge and take responsibility for the things that you have done.”
Taylor added, “Hurt people hurt people, and healed people heal people. Prepare yourself for the apology that you may not ever get. When I got through the shame and fear of what I did, I was able to heal.”
After a short break, everyone gathered in smaller groups to discuss past hurts and traumas while also receiving support. Following the discussion, everyone was instructed to draw or write on the following prompt: “What in your heart needs to be healed?”
“Be gentle and careful with yourself,” said Rebecca. “Today might be a day where you are the positive ripple to another person. It’s about responding to all the needs of the people.”
Later the groups reconvened in the large circle, and Taylor asked everyone to “stomp your feet, clap your hands and snap your fingers.” She passed in front of each person, signaling when to switch to the next act. When the activity stopped, the room was silent. Taylor said the activity demonstrated that after the storm comes the calm.
“Hope is in us. But it’s not the hope for freedom, [it’s] the hope to heal and help others,” said Taylor.
—Marcus Henderson, Juan Haines, Anthony Caravalho and Richard Fernandez contributed to this story.