‘Youth are guided through nurturing and compassionate and educational opportunities’
On July 2, a social event at the prison chapel brought together community members from the Bay Area with inmates, most who began their prison terms as juveniles.
The inmates, many of them now in their 30s and 40s, are involved in a self-help program called Kid CAT (Creating Awareness Together). The inmates and their community supporters say they are on a mission “to inspire humanity through education, mentorship and restorative practices.”
Inmates who participate in the Kid CAT program enroll in The First Step, which is a childhood development course exploring three phases of life — the past, present and future. It is a 28-week course with eight modules: Masculinity, Self-Identities, Identifying Emotions, Communicating, Environmental Influences, Consequence, Empathy/Compassion and Forgiveness. The course is taught using large group discussions, lectures, activities and the circle process.
“Youth are guided through nurturing and compassionate and educational opportunities to grow and flourish into caring and productive members of their community,” said Elizabeth M. Calvin, senior advocate, Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.
Kid CAT members say they are motivated to demonstrate “the human capacity of redemption, disarming the stigma in relation to youth, crime and incarceration.”
The guests and inmates shared an afternoon meal, listened to speakers honor recent and past Kid CAT graduates and reflected on legislative accomplishments.
Gary “Malachi” Scott, a founding member of Kid CAT, was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the banquet. However, due to complications, he was not able to come into San Quentin. Nevertheless, Scott sent a prepared statement, read by Kid CAT Chairman Michael Nelson.
“The youth out here need you guys,” Scott’s statement read. “I realize how important the hygiene drive is. You guys have the power to change lives. I couldn’t have done the things out here without what I learned in there.”
“Gary Scott is doing great things,” said Shalece Booker. It was Booker’s first time coming inside San Quentin.
“I’m glad he’s out there doing the work he’s supposed to do,” said San Quentin News Design Editor Richard “Bonaru” Richardson. “Young people are so easily influenced.”
Scott and Richardson worked in the same office when Scott was San Quentin News sports editor.
Calvin told the audience about the difficulties of getting juvenile justice reform through California’s legislators.
She pointed out that when juvenile offenders are sentenced to LWOP (life without parole) in California, these juveniles did not think the same way as adults when they committed their crimes. She said when the criminal justice system treats juveniles as adults, the punishing aspects of incarceration is a failed policy.
Calvin talked about the challenges it took to get the mandatory language removed from life without the possibility of parole sentences given to juveniles and to get juveniles with LWOP sentences a chance to have their sentences modified to life with the possibility of parole.
“At a public safety hearing, one of the witnesses who testified was Jeanne Woodford,” Calvin said. “She talked about the transformation she saw inmates go through.” Woodford is a former San Quentin warden.
“What sustained me through this was the belief that it was the right thing to do. We have a duty to repair the world. We have a duty to repair ourselves. That duty exists even if we don’t believe it will succeed,” Calvin said.
She said passage of the legislation was the “most dramatic change in sentencing law in more than two decades,” adding, “We hoped from the beginning that this was a first step to talking about the broader issue of how we change the perspective on how to treat juvenile offenders.”
Kid CAT members say they “work toward restoring that which has been harmed by the men’s poor choices, in the form of providing services to inside and outside communities and to pioneer a community effort of improving societal values in regards to youth and what is important to their well-being and development.”
“It is important not to let other people define who you are,” Calvin said. “Every day, it is a choice of defining who you are.”
“The most important thing is the idea that in a single person there is the entire universe,” Calvin said. “Each of you is a universe. Each one of you is a universe individually.”
“Growing up, not a person asked me about my goals,” said Kid CAT member Tommy Winfrey. “However, we have big goals. We want to reach for the moon, and if we grab a few stars on the way, then we’ve accomplished something.”
“We are seeking to establish a nonprofit foundation to help those coming out of prison,” Winfrey said. “Within a year, The First Step course will be re-created in a handbook and published so that we can bring our curriculum to two other prisons and to a high school — so that youth don’t have to come to prison. Within two years from now, we would like to be in 10 prisons and get into an additional two or three high schools. Our long-term goal is to get a set curriculum in high schools. We want to promote Youth Justice Awareness, which happens in the month of October. Youth Justice Awareness is already happening in 20 other states.”
Kid CAT also has a community outreach component that works with organizations to address youth issues. There is a holiday card-decorating event for Oakland’s Children’s Hospital.
The San Quentin group publishes a Kid CAT newsletter, The Road: A Path to Youth Empowerment.
Every six months, Kid CAT conducts a hygiene drive for Bay Area homeless children.
The Kid CAT Juvenile Lifer Support Group meets twice a month. JLSG provides a space for incarcerated men who entered the prison system at a young age to be able to process topics uniquely catered to address their specific needs.
“I have no shame in my game when it comes to programs that I believe in like the Kid CAT program,” supporter Dolan Beard said. “I feel so inspired by them. You inmates, the men in blue, inspire me.”
Beard talked about how important the hygiene drive is to needy youngsters.
“What inspires you and what is your motivation? Everybody has a giving heart. They just don’t know what and when to give. Want has no calendar. Needy people are needy all the time. Gary Scott said, ‘Be a leader, take action.’ If at all, what will be your call to action? How will you create awareness? Need knows no calendar.”
Inmate Cleo Colman, who works in the Curriculum Department, said about 40 inmates meet Sunday nights. He said inmate facilitators team up with outside facilitators to teach each module. “The men are taught how to identify emotions and to distinguish primary feelings from secondary feelings. By doing so, the men begin to understand where frustration comes from in order to take the appropriate action toward the feeling.”
Two bands entertained the audience:
Contagious: David Jassy, singer, Paul Comauex, vocals, Kevin D. Sawyer, guitar; Lee Jaspar, keyboard; Darryl Farris, bass guitar; James Benson, drums; and John Holiday, congas.
Buzz Kill: Joey Mason, guitar and vocals; Richie Morris, lead vocals; Dwight Krizman, drums; Andrew Vance; rhythm guitar; and Darryl Farris, bass guitar.