Mural en la unidad H de San Quentin
“Calvary” de Octavio Ocampo
C. O’Neal en el 2010
Mural en la unidad H de San Quentin
“Calvary” de Octavio Ocampo
Mural en la unidad H de San Quentin
“Calvary” de Octavio Ocampo
C. O’Neal en el 2010
An international squad of escape artists, grand illusionists, mind readers and tricksters descended on San Quentin State Prison for a special Nov. 26 performance right before Thanksgiving.
Set to make their Broadway San Francisco debut later that night, Champions of Magic chose to first visit SQ and dazzle prisoners with theatrical wizardry and humor.
“On paper, I’m sure a room full of 300-plus criminals seems terrifying,” said Los Angeles magician Kayla Drescher. “But we didn’t view anyone we met as their crime or their number.
“We were just happy to meet and perform for a great audience of human beings.”
The British duo Young and Strange opened the SQ show with their original signature illusion.
“We weren’t sure what equipment to bring inside the prison,” said Richard Young. “We came up with this trick when we were two broke teenagers—nothing but cardboard and some sharp wood.”
With a bit of slapstick and comedic flare, Sam Strange got Young squeezed into a standard-looking cardboard box.
“Caution—Heavy Load,” Strange read the label, taking a jab at his partner’s somewhat portly girth.
Strange then thrust 17 spears, one after another, straight through the box from all sides. Young’s hand popped out the top—waving a white flag in surrender.
Strange drove one last spear smack down the center, a maniacal grin across his face. The standing-room-only chapel crowd “oohed” in amazement at how Young could be in there.
Young gladly emerged after Strange pulled each and every stick out. It was clear the holes left behind went through-and-through.
Mentalist Alex McAleer, another Brit, took the stage next. “I don’t read palms or talk to the dead,” he said. “I talk to the living.”
He selected Tony DeTrinidad and Brian Holliday from the audience.
“I can see you wondering, ‘How can this British guy read my mind? Will it hurt?’”
McAleer turned his back to each prisoner while they answered specific questions on slips of paper. DeTrinidad was asked to think of one simple word.
Holliday wrote down the name of someone he cared about. “Put some other personal information about them on there, too,” said McAleer. “Not too fast—nice and slowly for me. I’m a performer. I’m very needy.”
The answers were placed in envelopes and sealed behind McAleer’s back then handed to Tommy Wickerd in the front row.
McAleer soon voiced DeTrinidad’s word choice—“pasta.” Wickerd tore open the envelope to confirm it.
McAleer then focused on Holliday. “This is a bit more difficult. Close your eyes,” he told him. “I can tell you’re picturing it. The name starts with a ‘K.’ Am I right? And I think you gave the age, too.”
The mind reader then told the crowd about Holliday’s 21-year-old sister, Karen.
“I’m still trying to figure out how he did it. There’s no way he saw me writing any of that stuff,” Holliday said later. “Guys on the yard keep asking me if I was in on the trick.”
Fernando Velasco, the 21-year-old magician from El Grullo, Mexico, was up next.
“There’s a number of things you need to be an escape artist,” he said.
From her front row seat, Lisa Strawn volunteered to help bind Velasco securely with plastic wrap and duct tape.
“Don’t worry—I got this,” said Strawn. “I’ll make sure he’s good and tight.”
The other magicians began raising a four-sided curtain, yet almost instantly Velasco stopped them before they could finish. He’d gotten free—with the plastic and tape all still hanging there intact.
“The single most important thing you need to escape is luck. Lots of luck,” said Velasco, surrounded by applause.
Drescher’s expressive eyes set the tone for her boisterous, cheeky performance. Reliving her teenage days as a policeman’s daughter, she called “three young gentleman” from their seats to compete for a date.
“No way. That’s the name of the guy I went on my first date with,” she said coyly after asking Brandon Riddle-Terrell his first name. “Ooh, and look at those big muscles—just like him, too.”
Each man answered questions, trying to merit the one sealed envelope out of four with a “date” card inside. “Sorry, you didn’t pass my dad’s background check,” Drescher said, dismissing them one by one.
The crowd sat in anticipation, enjoying Drescher’s personality as much as her magic. Of course, the “date” card remained in the final envelope that no guy could obtain.
Young and Strange closed the short set by having the entire audience participate in a final illusion. Asking everyone to put their hands together and interlock their fingers, the pair demonstrated the same.
“This is crazy, but we’re going to totally blow your minds,” said Strange. “Lock your fingers up tight—and don’t let go.”
In front of everybody, they asked the participants to twist their hands around without releasing. Young and Strange accomplished the feat easily, but no one else could unravel from the awkward position.
The true magic, however, may have taken place after the performance. The four magicians, along with their producer Alex Jarrett and Broadway SF’s Scott Walton, received their own special tour of SQ’s North Block, Death Row and Main Chow Halls.
“My cast mates and I are really passionate about politics, documentaries, etc.,” Drescher told SQNews. “I remember watching, with my dad, trials of some of the people whose cells we passed on Death Row.
“That was an amazing experience, but also understanding that the justice and prison system in this country is… well… a mess. I was excited to learn from people who’ve experienced it firsthand.”
When Champions of Magic were inside North Block, Jerry Drawhorn, barely at SQ for two weeks, had to tell them what it meant to catch their chapel performance.
“I’ve never seen a magic show in prison,” said Drawhorn, incarcerated for the last 26 years. “Being down all these years around bad, ugly, evil—it’s hard to keep your humanity when you’re around stuff like that 24/7.
“I’ll always attend beautiful events like this because it keeps me grounded—keeps me going without going crazy.”
While in Chicago on the next leg of their tour, Drescher and Jarrett both emailed about the visit’s impact on Champions.
“San Fran shows were good, but I can honestly say we all enjoyed our performance with you more,” said Jarrett. “We’ve told many people what a positive experience it was for us. I hope it will inspire other performers to make themselves available if permitted.”
Drescher added, “Growing up with a dad that’s a police officer, you’d think I would view criminals as ‘bad guys.’ I was lucky to learn from him that one bad decision doesn’t mean someone is a horrible human. The visit to San Quentin certainly showcased all of that.
“Later that night [in San Francisco] was the first time in a while our show hadn’t gotten a standing ovation. I just yelled from the stage, ‘THEY STOOD FASTER IN SAN QUENTIN!’
“We’d do a show for all of you every day if we could — haven’t stopped talking about how lucky we are to have had this experience.”
Patrick Maloney taught art to incarcerated men at San Quentin for more than 40 years, his first 10 years were spent voluntarily teaching condemned men on Death Row.
Maloney was born, Feb. 5, 1938. He passed away on Aug. 18, 2019, surrounded by his loving family and his art at the home that he built in Nicasio in the late 1960s.
His generosity enriched thousands of lives as he often worked with those on the margins of society: recent immigrants, the incarcerated, juvenile offenders, and low- income and at-risk children and families. He went out of his way to learn from other cultures and from others’ experiences.
Maloney once said, “I make art to maintain my connection to life.”
A memorial service was held on Nov. 10 at the Whipper Snapper Restaurant in San Rafael. Maloney designed the restaurant’s interior and it is filled with his artwork including chandelier and walls.
“Patrick was a community artist before the concept existed in America,” Katya McCulloch, an Arts in Corrections (AIC) instructor since 2004. “That is something that his family allowed us to share. So, the memorial was precious that it brought together Patrick’s family and the community that treasured him so much.”
At the memorial, McCulloch read the following words of praise from several incarcerated men enrolled in San Quentin’s AIC program:
Bruce Fowler: You couldn’t help but admire Pat. He’s the first person I’ve met that never said a negative word about anyone or anything. He taught me so much more than how to paint; because of him, I strive to be a kinder, more compassionate person. I will always honor his memory and never forget the eight years that I was blessed to have him in my life. I will forever love and miss you my dear friend Pat.
We took a liking to one another as if we’d been best friends all our lives”
Gary Harrell: Patrick always kept his word and showed up on time at 7:45. I started working with him in 1996 from fear of not be- ing able to draw. After a few years, I started to draw. I learned so much about art listening to Patrick, a very soft-spoken man that told me, stay focused on the subject matter.
I’d never have become who I am without his teaching. He changed my life. I began thinking of productive ways for art and for that, I am forever thankful.
Jeff Isom: Pat was a very kind, caring and loving individual. Even in his struggles, he was selfless – always think- ing of others beside himself.
Stan Bey: We took a liking to one another as if we’d been best friends all our lives.
Orlando Smith: I could never imagine Pat being up- set or angry or upset or in a bad mood or snappy—he was the most mellow person I ever met—he’d make people feel super comfortable.
Anthony Vasquez- Ramirez: We talked a lot. Sometimes it had nothing to do with art. I think that one of his best qualities is that he had the willingness and ability to listen. He had the patience, willingness, and ability to just listen. I know that as a painter and family man, that he had an interest in young adults, teenagers who found themselves caught up in the criminal justice system. He was a one-of-a- kind man, extremely artistic, patient and a good teacher. I know he’s in a good place. We need more good people like him.
Norwalk Public Defender Philip Peng in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador
by John Krueger , IllustratIon by KelvIn ross
By Ronald Gabriel
People might think Marin Shakespeare at SQ simply provides prisoners the opportunity to display their acting talent—but there’s a whole lot more to it.
The program actually bases its core principles around the rehabilitative benefits of drama therapy. Suraya Keating and Marianne S. facilitate the weekly workshops and are both professionally licensed therapists.
“We basically use the tools from theater arts to grow, transform and heal our lives,” said Keating. “When we come together to create a performance, we’re giving each other the space to share our authentic selves.
“To be seen and heard openly, we start to reveal our unique strengths, vulnerabilities and wounds.”
Each SQ theater cycle consists of first performing a Shakespeare play, and then revisiting some of the same themes through originally written “parallel” pieces. That’s where the significant therapeutic work takes place.
“The men get to share their own stories and reach into their own creativity,” said Marianne S. “They discover how to express their own truths.
“Then to actually perform this in front of an audience, they get the chance to directly affect people through their expressions of vulnerability.”
Drama therapy graduate students from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) spend a full cycle working with the SQ troupe. The immersive internship, called a “pre-practicum,” provides ample hands-on experience toward their Master’s.
The last cycle’s two students, Geno Creese and Daphne Ong, culiminated their pre-practicums by performing alongside their incarcerated colleagues Oct. 11.
A professional actor, Ong said she’d reached a point in her career where she felt she needed to reevaluate her future. Drama therapy seemed the natural answer.
“I’d always felt the therapeutic effects of performance art in my own theater experiences,” said Ong. “My work at SQ confirmed what I felt. What haven’t I learned here?
“I got to really engage—not just from an academic point of view, but to really see it in action and actively help people.”
Creese spent four years in Los Angeles pursuing his dreams of acting, but, just like Ong, he said he knew there was something lacking.
“I didn’t just want to be an actor. I wanted to heal and help others heal,” said Creese. “I wanted to share my own experience of healing through performance.
“Seeing all the beauty, joy and light within these guys every week, it really renewed in me the value of community—of a chosen family. It’s something I’ll carry with me.”
Keating first discovered her passion for drama therapy during her own graduate studies in 2005. Like Creese, Ong and many other CIIS students since then, Marin Shakespeare gave her a platform to nurture her craft.
“I’m super proud and touched by the courage, the openheartedness and spirit of support amongst our group,” said Keating. “For me, or any other facilitator, it’s good modeling.
“As we workshop and assume these character roles, it helps us examine what we ourselves struggle with being human.”
Keating splits her Marin Shakespeare duties between SQ and also CMF—where she said she enjoys working primarily with youths.
After already establishing a career in advertising, theater and film, Marianne S. said she went back to school late in life and reinvented herself.
“I was trying to figure out how I could be more of service, and I saw this beautiful program inside San Quentin,” she said. “Working with Suraya, I noticed right away how powerful trust is in this process.
“Men of different races and cultures coming together to put on work done for 400 years. These guys always show up for each other—that’s where all the trust comes in.”
The Oct. 23 performance of Marin Shakespeare at the San Quentin chapel featured another series of original parallel plays—inspired this time by The Winter’s Tale.
David Gadley started things off by illustrating the inner turmoil caused by overdose and an unavoidable drug test in Making Better Choices, before Jason Griffin examined the trauma of childhood abuse in A Hiding Place.
“I remember bruised faces, my mother pulling my hair—I remember myself,” SQ volunteer Chérie McNaulty said later about the powerful images Griffin’s poem evoked in her as she listened from the audience.
Seeing McNaulty noticeably shaken by his performance, Griffin immediately went to sit by her side in the pews after his reading.
“He was concerned about my emotions, but I told him that’s all part of the healing,” she said.
Derby Brown and Raiveon Wooden joined forces for Lethal vs. The Gruesome 3, which dealt with the frustrations that lead to mental crises and suicidal thoughts.
“Hey Mr. Suicide, why would you get those kids to take their own lives?” Brown voiced.
Then Belize Villafranco inspired everyone to get up and move around with his Healing Song. Audience members stood, clapped in rhythm and soon formed a conga line, weaving back and forth from the stage and into the pews.
Kerry Rudd next brought the crowd back to a contemplative mood with his play, Stay Greedy… or Make Amends? It told the story of a robbery crew that eventually returns the stolen loot to its owner.
Chris Thomas sang Remembering How To Breathe and enlisted Billingsley to pantomime a physical interpretation center stage. Then Billingsley performed his own Mind Yo Biz 2, a play about resolving old jealousies.
In his Freedom of Expression in the Midst of Oppression, Brown rejoiced through a chorus of “I’m rollin’ with Jesus—I’m rollin’ with Jesus.”
An institutional recall for prisoners in SQ’s H-Unit interrupted the show midway at 11:10 am. Performers housed in those dormitories were required to leave the chapel and report back to the unit.
Despite the unexpected shuffle of performances, Jessie Ayers’ Transitions hit a home run with its message of prejudice transformed into acceptance. Ayers drew from the observed discomfort some SQ prisoners hold against transwomen prisoners.
“How does a dude one day all of a sudden wake up and decide he’s a chick?” said Ayers in character—deriding a group of trans prisoners who simply said “hi” to him.
Suraya Keating and Kate Brickley played speaking roles as part of the trans group. They were joined on stage by SQ’s own Adriel Ramirez and Nah.na Reed.
“How do you call yourself a Christian?” Brickley’s character responded when Ayers attempted to cite the Bible as proof against transgenders. “I’m not your bro.”
“There’s only two rules in my house, honey—if you don’t fight it, I won’t bite it,” Keating’s pigtailed trans character chimed in to continue heckling Ayers.
The play shifted scenes to a full year later, when Ayers’ character encounters Brickley’s at a Christmas banquet. “Don’t act like I don’t see you all the time on the tier,” he tells her, referring to them being housed near each other in the same building.
“You see me… do you know what it means to just hear you say those words?” responds Brickley, starting to cry. “You see me.”
They end up shaking hands and wishing each other a Merry Christmas—all to huge rounds of standing applause.
To make up for some of the performers lost to the H-Unit recall, John Ray Ervin, Sr. gave an impromptu reading of original poetry. “This is live theater, y’all,” he said.
Richie Morris, who was recently found suitable for parole after 34 years behind bars, had 20 fellow prisoners join him onstage to face the audience.
Each person took the microphone to speak of his convicted offense aloud, along with his sentence and the number of years he’d already served.
“That’s 339 years total between us,” said Morris. “I want you to wrap your head around that—if you can.”
On that note, Morris and Quentin Blue closed the show with their song, The Last Mile.
The flyers and playbills clearly advertised a collection of “parallel plays,” yet hardly anyone who attended Marin Shakespeare
San Quentin’s October showcases knew quite what to expect.
“The performances you will see today invite us to contemplate a crucial choice many of us must make in our lives—the choice to live from fear or love,” explained Suraya Keating in her Director’s Notes.
The opening act on Oct. 11—Darwin Billingsley’s Father & Son: The Broken Curse—left no doubt that the audience in the SQ chapel would see the acting troupe bare their souls onstage.
Billingsley portrayed a family’s painful journey through the cycles of addiction, trauma, dysfunction and, finally, redemption and hope. Raiveon Wooden played his son.
“As father and son we come together—to break this curse, forever and ever,” chanted Billingsley and Wooden in their final scene, paralleling characters from Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen from Verona.
Sam Kouzzah read from his poem, Prodigal Son, while Tommy Payne, Kerry Rudd, and Wooden stood in place performing interpretative dance moves as they stared hauntingly out at the spectators.
In An Angel’s Curse, Jason Griffith revisited the theme of addiction before singing Nirvana’s Come as You Are.
Garry Grady, in his originally crafted Good vs. Evil, examined the human quality of why “it felt so good to be bad.”
Rudd read from SQ’s No More Tears group agreements before Andrew Wadsworth read an apology letter to his victim, Antonio Young.
High energy and drama ensued next as Philippe Kelly and Wooden riled up the chapel crowd during Justice, a play filled with rivalry and vengeance that featured multiple well-choreographed fight scenes.
“Where’s Raygeta? Where is he?” Kelly growled as he stalked his way through the aisle ways and pews. He got right into the face of audience members, and they ate it up.
Punches, throw downs, karate kicks to the head—such theatrics kept the crowd fully engaged. Midway through, Kelly even dragged Wooden’s limp body entirely out of the chapel in an attempt to dispose of his enemy.
After a grand finale group battle reminiscent of professional wrestling, Kelly and Wooden clutched each other face to face and yelled, “If you smell what Shakespeare is cooking…” a nod to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Before his play, Bed Time Story, Tommy Payne—with the video help of First Watch’s Adamu Chan—produced a short animation film as a complementary preamble to his cautionary tale of wizards, magic and gnomes.
John Ray Ervin, Sr., read his spoken word Dear Soul from offstage while Kelly and Wooden returned to stand in somber silence with their backs against one another.
Ervin came to the performance in a wheelchair, refusing to miss his chance to speak his piece about the day he lost his mother, Annamarie. “That day, half of my heart died,” he read.
Rudd next performed Complicated, a tune he wrote himself. Before starting, he told the audience, “Even though I’m in state prison, I’m gonna have a good time singing it.”
Ronell Draper, who most people at SQ know simply as “Rauch,” likened his “When Will It Be Enuff?” to a public service announcement, rather than a performance.
“This is to showcase what goes on here, so you can understand what you’re seeing. The men and women in blue—they’re expert therapists,” he said. “How many of you are part of my support team? Anyone—please stand up.”
Over twenty people, prisoners and outside persons alike, rose to Draper’s call. He segued his presentation into equating prison reform to community reform, pointing to Marin Shakespeare’s mix of inside and outside participants.
“I’m moved,” said Draper to the audience. “You came here to see us. Imagine that.”
Wooden returned again for his short piece, Love Is Poison, in which he personified love as a female entity. “Is love poison?” he asked. “It all depends on how you treat her.”
The Oct. 11 performance ended on a high note with Belize Villafranco’s Healing Story and Song. The whole ensemble gathered onstage and spilled into the front pews as Villafranco led them in lively rhythmic dance.
Renowned acting company finds emotional connection with incarcerated actors
First visiting the historic and innovative prison in June, this time the Hamilton gang filled an entire row of the SQ chapel for an original theater experience inspired by Shakespeare.
“I didn’t expect to laugh as much as I did,” said Darilyn Castillo, who plays dual roles. “The comedic angle in some of the pieces was really refreshing.
“And it was great to hear the ‘public service announcement’ from that guy—what was his name? Rauch [Ronell Draper]?—to take that pause from performing for a moment of realness. I felt it. It was real.”
Asst. Company Manager Crystal Clayton visibly shed a tear or two during the two-hour collection of short plays.
“Right from the beginning it was very clear how hard they worked to showcase their pieces,” she said. “I laughed. I cried.
“I felt so many emotions sitting in the chapel, watching them perform one by one—each so different, yet all filled with so much heart, passion and emotion.
“They should be extremely proud, knowing they are not only creating change amongst themselves, but changing each and every one of us who had the pleasure of watching them.”
After the show, the Hamilton folks made sure to speak with the SQ acting troupe for as long as time permitted before leaving to perform back in the city that evening.
Lead standby Marja Harmon’s warm, broad smile stood out like a spotlight as she shook hands and congratulated the SQ Shakespeare company.
“Watching the men perform their original pieces was incredibly humbling,” said Harmon. “It was a perfect reminder of the healing power of theater and music.
“The vulnerability and creativity that was on display was remarkable. It was a beautiful transference of energy and connection.”
Hamilton understudy Rebecca E. Covington has personally seen mass incarceration affect her own family’s past. “Coming into San Quentin truly means something each time for me,” she said. “It’s very healing to interact with you guys.”
The correlation between Hamilton and the SQ performance hit home for Castillo. “Everything that was performed today had this great connectiveness that was very fitting to each person,” she said. “Not lost in that connection was all the individuality.
“That’s the same thing that makes Hamilton so meaningful for us as actors—it’s not cookie cutter. We all get to be ourselves.
“And that’s what made today so special—that same connection and support. We felt that in there.”
Marin Shakespeare Asst. Director Marianne S. told SQNews later, “I’ve seen this actual cast perform. Donald [Webber, Jr.] plays Aaron Burr to the fullest as he turns to the dark side and kills Hamilton.
“I told Ray Ray [Raiveon Wooden] to ask him, ‘What’s it like to be the villain?’ Accessing your dark side and having the audience dislike you—that takes courage.
“It was great to see him engage with Webber and have that conversation.”
Wooden’s eyes lit up when asked about their interaction. “I put my whole heart into that show,” he said later. “It was a real gift for us to have these professional actors in the house watching us.
“He [Webber] told me what a great job I did—that I really channeled all my energy into being the bad guy. To hear him tell me that in person. Wow.”
Webber himself appreciated both theater communities getting the chance to mingle. “These guys are real actors. I feel re-inspired for our show tonight,” he said. “I heard they’re doing Othello next. I’d like to come back for that.”