Before coming to San Quentin, Correctional Officer Calvo was homeless and living on the streets, alcohol ruining his life.
Calvo described himself as a functional alcoholic, who held a job, but was drunk all the time. Due to the progressive nature of alcoholism, his problem got worse over time. Calvo, who is retiring after 18 years at San Quentin, shared his insights about life’s struggles in an exclusive interview with San Quentin News.
“I didn’t care about the consequences of my drinking,” said Calvo, “ I was a slave to alcohol.”
Antwan “Banks” Williams, co-creator of the popular podcast Ear Hustle, worked in the prison’s kitchen with Officer Calvo.
Williams remembers an incident that changed his viewpoint about correctional officers.
“I worked night shift, and we had just got done cleaning up. Officer Calvo and I were standing around, and he opened up to me about his addiction problem and how he has been clean and sober for 20 plus years,” said Williams, “That was the first time ever that a staff person has ever shared something like that with me. What it did for me is it made me look at him as a person outside of his occupation.”
“He didn’t have to treat us the way he did, with the utmost respect,” said Williams. “I find that to be admirable, and I enjoyed the two years working with him.”
Before coming to San Quentin, Calvo said, he was on a downward spiral. After several blackouts and waking up in hospitals, his family and friends decided they could no longer help him.
He was forced out of the house and began living on the street.
It was during this period of homelessness that he had a spiritual revelation, a moment of clarity that made him question his lifestyle.
“I finally surrendered and asked God for help,” said Calvo, “I turned myself in to detox. From detox I turned myself in to a 90-day treatment program, and it changed my life.”
Several San Quentin prisoners said Officer Calvo did not just have respect and professionalism for his kitchen staff, but for all incarcerated individuals.
“I first met Calvo during Ramadan of 2017,” said Abdul Halim, a mentor for the Coalition for Justice and incarcerated computer coder with The Last Mile program,” He came and found brother Rashad and I to figure out how to make sure that we didn’t run into any problems receiving our first meal to break our fast during Ramadan.”
During the Islamic holiday of Ramadan, observant Muslims incarcerated in California prisons receive their food at special times because they may only eat before sunrise and after sunset.
Halim said that timing the meals can be problematic.
Calvo made sure that the kitchen was properly prepared to fulfill the needs of the participants in Ramadan.
“I learned afterwards that he (Calvo) does that every year,” said Halim.
Outside of work, Calvo volunteers his time helping to feed the homeless and helping others overcome addiction.
“Over the past several years the prison system has made more changes toward rehabilitation. Education and training is important, but if an inmate has an alcohol or drug addiction, the issue has to be worked on first on a daily basis or they relapse and lose everything,” said Calvo, “I know this from my own life experiences.”
Calvo has a sponsor and helps new participants in AA work through the Big Book and the 12 Steps.
He understands the importance of a strong support net- work. Sergeant Hasan, one of Calvo’s supervisors, helped him through difficulties in his life such as losing his father and a divorce. “It was hard working in this prison environment and going through those life experiences, but Sergeant Hasan made sure I got the help I needed, and for that I’m truly grateful,” said Calvo.
Prisoners as well as the correctional staff say they will miss Officer Calvo.
“I want to thank him on be- half of all of the people who live in H-Unit for always being a genuinely caring and respectful individual,” said Halim, “Shukran (Arabic for “thank you”), Officer Calvo.”