The two top candidates for the 12th District State Assembly seat in California visited San Quentin State Prison ahead of the November 2022 election.
Damon Connolly and Sara Aminzadeh, both democrats, stopped by SQ to hear about its rehabilitation programs and talk about their campaigns. Both are vying for the Assembly seat vacated by Marc Levine, who is pursuing the job of California Insurance Commissioner.
“I am hoping to be in a position to represent you at the state level,” Connolly said. From a personal stand-point, I want to advocate for programs that will help us turn around people’s lives.”
Connolly and his aide, Gustavo Goncalves, sat down with a group of incarcerated people and had a round table discussion about Mt. Tam College, San Quentin News, the Shakespeare program, and other aspects of SQ.
“I’m a fan of San Quentin News,” Connolly said. “I read several copies over the years. Looking to learn more about the newspaper in particular.”
The San Rafael resident has a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley. He is from a working-class family and is the first person in his family to graduate from college. He is currently on the Marin County Board of Supervisors. Connolly has also worked as a city councilman and is a member of various regional boards and commissions.
“We have entirely too many people in prison in California,” said Connolly during his visit. “No other state or country comes close. We need to do better. We need to create a society which is more fair and just.”
Sara Aminzadeh is a Kentfield resident who has a law degree from the University of California Hastings College of Law in San Francisco.
“I see this as a movement toward justice,” Aminzadeh said during the group discussion with the incarcerated. “It’s one that you are all a part of and I would be honored to be a part of that movement.”
“We’re not going to get it done without your leadership and your voice,” she emphasized.
Aminzadeh previously worked for the environmental nonprofit organizations California Coastkeeper Alliance and the Pisces Foundation. She has served on the California Coastal Commission since 2017.
“I don’t look like the typical politician. Part of why it’s important for me to be here is because of my four-year-old son Henry. This is about leaving him a planet that is livable,” she said.
Aminzadeh said she also sees it as her duty to help get rid of institutionalized and systemic racism. She wants to help shut down the school-to-prison pipeline. She is particularly concerned about juveniles who received excessive sentences during a time when their brains were still developing.
“Everything you guys said about your childhood and some of the trauma you suffered, I deeply empathize with that,” said Aminzadeh in reference to the group discussion.
In the June primary, Connolly led Aminzadeh with 38.6% of the votes compared to 35.4%, which was a difference of about 1,500 votes, according to The Marin Independent Journal.
Although incarcerated people cannot vote, Connolly and Aminzadeh support restoring that right and wanted to hear the pressing issues that incarcerated people have and how they could best represent them. San Quentin is located in Marin County, which is part of the 12th District.
Both candidates are passionate about fixing what’s broken in our criminal justice system and reducing the prison population in a safe and effective way. The two also said they believe there is a need for parole reform. Aminzadeh also cares about climate change and the impact COVID-19 has on the prison population.
Connolly added that he wants people to have the resources available that they need to successfully reenter society.
Whoever wins this November election, it will be a win toward a more just criminal justice system. It’s also a win for the incarcerated population who got to participate in this historic conversation.
“Thank you for coming in,” said incarcerated person Tony Tafoya. “It’s an honor. It kind of like restores some dignity to us and tells us that we are actually human, especially since we all wear the same color and a lot of the time we are spoken down to, to dehumanize us.”