Part 1 of a 2-Part Story
Here on Condemned Row we are limited as far as the Program goes. There is one program that until its recent demise was very much alive: the Education Program. Let me introduce one of the most awesome people that I have ever had the honor to meet and work with, our teacher, Ms. Aida. Here is our interview:
Samuel Capers: Where did you go to school?
Ms. Aida: I went to many undergraduate schools. But I finished my Masters Degrees in Adult Education and Human Resources at Colorado State University.
SC: How long have you been teaching, and where was your first job as a teacher?
Aida: I have been teaching for 20 years. My first job as a credentialed teacher was at Bayview Elementary School in Richmond, California. But I had already taught Jazz Improvisation here at San Quentin. As a fulltime teacher in Richmond I came to San Quentin two nights a week to complete a Jazz program that I had developed.
SC: At what point did you decide to make teaching a career?
Aida: I was 34. I was working in the financial corporate world, in sales. I was actually doing quite well, but I did not want to some day be on my deathbed thinking, “I got all these people to sign on the dotted line, but how did I really help?”
SC: At what point did you decide to come to work for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation?
Aida: I was working on my teaching credential and being a jazz musician to make money. Someone from the California Arts Council suggested that I make a phone call to San Quentin and see if they needed a music teacher. Bingo! I got the job, as a contracted artist.
SC: How long have you been employed here at San Quentin?
Aida: I have actually worked here at San Quentin for 23 years in a row. As a state employee, 19 years.
SC: Why did you decide to come into a place full of convicts, whom society views as failures? What motivates you to do this job?
Aida: I am motivated to do this job because I believe that we all need to find a way to learn about the miracle that we all are. Learning has been a tool for me so I love to share the vision.
SC: Sadly, many, if not the majority, of The Row will never see the streets again. With that in mind, why do you feel that a condemned prisoner should continue on with his education?
Aida: I think it’s important for a condemned prisoner to continue his education because learning is a key to connecting to the world. And as long as we are alive we are connected. The other reason is that many of the men have children and their interest in education should encourage their offspring to follow the trend of pursuing educational goals.
SC: It is funny that you mentioned that. It was/is my daughter, who is now attending UCLA, who impressed me to continue my education. Though she credits me for pushing her through mail, visits and phone calls, it is she who encouraged me, her father, to go back to school. So in this instance it was a two-way street. Somebody once told me that even for a prisoner condemned to death, knowledge is the meat of life, that mankind cannot continue on productively without it. What is your take on this?
Aida: Yes, I feel that knowledge is one of the greatest gifts that we have as human beings. That is our birthright, to learn and know the depth of life through our mental capacities. Knowledge can lead us to become aware of the control that we actually can have upon ourselves without outside interference.
A Diamond in a Rough Neighborhood
Part 1 of a 2-Part Story