Film producer and social justice activist Scott Budnick kicked it with youth offenders and spoke to Kid-CAT members about his efforts to put the human face on America’s broken criminal justice system.
“This is my favorite group in the whole state,” said the famed producer of The Hangover and the recently released Just Mercy. “It’s good to be back here.”
“I’ve been coming to Kid-CAT for years,” Budnick said as he looked around at about 30 prisoners in SQ Education’s B-Building. “I literally don’t recognize anyone—only a couple of faces.
“It’s nuts. Everyone in KidCAT’s going home.”
Budnick came that day with longtime SQ volunteer Ayoola Mitchell to speak with and meet youth offenders who may have heard of him but have never seen him face-to-face.
New KidCAT member Rafael Bravo, 28, introduced Budnick to the room.
“People say, ‘Who the hell is Scott?’ Well, I’ve known him since I was 16,” said Bravo. “If anyone in the world believed in me, it’s this man right here.
“He appeared one day when I was in YA [Youth Authority]. ‘Are you Rafael? Your cousin told me to come find you.’”
Bravo told everyone how Budnick eventually got him a job on a movie set.
“He offered me the best of opportunities I could possibly have,” said Bravo. “But I wasn’t right.”
Bravo ended up committing second degree murder and being sentenced to 16-years-to-life.
“While we’re incarcerated, this is the time to get right with ourselves right now,” said Bravo. “We have to be there for each other and lift each other up.”
Budnick then explained to the guys about his experiences seeing the inequities of the criminal justice system firsthand.
“When I was working on Old School, a friend of mine took me with him to Juvenile Hall. We volunteered for Inside Out Writers, working with a group of 10 kids—all facing life sentences.”
Budnick recalled asking one of the young men how their week had been. “‘It was a bad week,’ the kid told me. He said he’d just got sentenced to 300-years-to-life. ‘They stacked everything—I got washed.’
“And, this kid looked like he was 11. I thought, ‘Oh, they’ll have a good time with him in prison. This is awful.’”
That was one moment Budnick says changed his perspective, changed his life. “How do I live in a country that would do this to a child?
“I could not comprehend in my mind how we, as a country, think this is okay. Our system’s so incredibly racist and unfair. There’s like no White kids in Juve- nile Hall.”
Budnick related it to his own children. “My kid would get bailed out, have the best attorney money can buy and get a deal no one could have gotten.
“If you have money, you’re not going to get washed. I couldn’t just teach a writing class and feel like I’m giving back.”
Budnick went on to found the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) in 2013, an organization committed to offering guidance and help to the incarcerated and recently released, as well as advocating fiercely to affect policy change.
“Getting laws passed, we’re 4 for 4 so far, with Governor Newsom,” Bud- nick said. “And, I think we were like 13 for 13 with Governor Brown.
“Our policy work through ARC, that’s all done by you guys—because you guys are up there on Capitol Hill telling your stories.”
Budnick talked about how the lessons he’s learned as a filmmaker tie into affecting social change.
“Conflict, struggle, a happy ending — that’s what makes a great story, a great film,” he said. “And you guys have some of the most powerful stories on earth.
“No matter who I bring into prison, everyone changes when they meet you guys and see you as human beings.”
According to Budnick, it’s all about being able to humanize the incarcerated through storytelling.
“There’s such a beautiful light inside all of you,” he said. “That’s the lesson. Talking about you guys as human beings got voters to say ‘Yes.’
“The criminal justice system’s all about scare tactics. Think about that — we just need to make sure juries aren’t scared, right?”
Budnick is intent on using his Hollywood platform and success to illuminate the human faces stuck behind the walls of mass incarceration.
With Black Panther and Creed star Michael B. Jordan, Budnick produced Just Mercy, the film version of Bryan Stevenson’s nonfiction account of freeing Walter McMillian, a wrongfully convicted prisoner on Alabama’s Death Row.
McMillian spent years on Death Row due to a conviction based solely on the testimony of a jailhouse informant. And although his jury sentenced him to life, the trial judge intervened and ordered a death sentence.
Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to fight for people like Mc- Millian.
“The entire movie is about humanizing all the people on Death Row,” said Budnick. “There’s a pretty graphic execution scene in there, where we show it all.
“By the time the audience gets to that point in the film, we know the guy’s guilty — but they all cry when he’s put to death.”
In conjunction with Just Mercy’s January release dates, Budnick explained how he and Warner Bros. partnered to launch Represent Justice, “the largest political social impact campaign for a movie — ever.”
“We’re using our social media to send people to websites on criminal justice reform,” he said. “They’ll be able to see Juvenile Hall information where they can go volunteer.
“We want to try and immediately activate people—engage them to get in- volved.”
Budnick also expressed his excitement for Play For Justice, where the Sacramento Kings, Milwaukee Bucks and other NBA partners are visiting prisons to interact with incarcerated communities, bringing them basketball — and hope.
“I’m driving from here straight to Folsom,” he told the SQ guys. “Some people might think basketball fans don’t know anything about criminal justice — we’re go- ing to change all that.”
Ayoola Mitchell spoke about how she first crossed paths with Budnick. “I met Scott four years ago, when we both were speaking before the Legislature in Sacramento.”
“It really struck me, because, you know, I was dressed all in my adult clothes,” said Mitchell. “But him—I swear he had flip flops on and was there to address public officials just like I was.
“Something Scott said that day really resonated with me. He said, ‘I just don’t give a f–k.’ Me, as a Black woman—how I look matters. When I go in there, I know I’ll be judged.”
Budnick chuckled slightly. “Everyone already sees me as ‘the Hangover guy,’ so I can get away with it.”
Mitchell continued. “A few years later, I was visiting the ARC offices in Los An- geles. It’s all about that six degrees of separation—the way people’s live intersect.
“There was a guy who’d gotten out and was working for Scott, a guy I’d known since he was 16 in Juvenile Hall,” she said. “He told me he was going to the Oscars that year.
“I’m like, ‘I’ve never been to the Oscars. What about me?’”
Mitchell’s career in criminal justice reform spans more than 38 years, and running. “I’ve been fighting for y’all before some of you were even born,” she said. “So much needs to be done out there.
“I have such a heart for you guys.”
Budnick asked Mitchell what organizations she works for. “It’s just me—Ayoola. No non-profit. No organization,” she said. “I’ve always believed in redemption.
“I’m old as Hell, but I can’t retire until all y’all are free.” Budnick commended Mitchell for her continued effort and passion, particularly since she does it mostly on her own without all the fundraising and support networks he has access to. “It’s easy for me to do this work,” he said.
Some of the SQ guys had questions about what kind of reentry support ARC provides once they’re released.
“We got you,” said Budnick. “You’ll have a very stable place to live and people around you who care. If that keeps you up at night or gives you pause, don’t worry about it.”
A big question was about getting Budnick involved in spreading KidCAT’s First Step curriculum to other facilities.
“The model that was started here—that should be at High Desert, at these hopeless places,” he said. “There’s what, like 35 prisons in California?
“Your program should be available at all of them— anywhere there’s youth offenders looking for hope.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom will introduce a broader criminal justice reform package as part of his 2020 prison budget plan.
His plans include step down facilities that focus on rehabilitation and reentry options for people being released from custody. He ultimately wants to shut down one of the state’s 35 prisons, according to an article in the Sacramento Bee.
Governor Newsom’s plans are to give the state more power to oversee local sheriffs and lock up facilities. This is possibly due to California’s surge in homicides in some of its largest jails. He has sighted that inmates are held in inhumane suicide watch conditions monitored by lo- cal sheriffs, who rebuff state inspectors, according to the article.
“I’m generally not satisfied with oversight, period. Across the board,” Newsom said on the state’s supervision of the 70,000 inmates housed in county jails. “There’s not a lot of accountability and over- sight in terms of these issues and county jails.”
Governor Newsom’s ad- ministration is studying what changes could be made, but offered no specifics as to what changes will be made as of yet. Governor Newsom’s spokes- person said the governor will announce what changes will be made in January when he reveals his state budget.
There was a yearlong investigation by McClatchy and ProPublica, which exposed that county jails have struggled with the influx of inmates serving longer sentences after the 2011 series of reforms that included a measure that shifted inmates from the state prison system to serving their sentences in local county jails. This was due to the state declaring that California prisons are unconstitutionally over-crowded, according to the article.
“I’m generally not satisfied with oversight, period. Across the board,”
California lawmakers created the California Board of State and Community Corrections to oversee the burden of realignment. Their role was to increase funding for facility construction. The news agencies found the committee “toothless,” according to the article. Some of the reasoning was that the committee did not monitor jail deaths.
“State corrections officials do not have the authority to make county leaders change, and they generally see them- selves as partners, not regulators,” said Allison Ganter, deputy director overseeing the inspection team,
When the homicide rate soared in these facilities, the committee could not force counties to construct new or safer facilities. This was even after billions of dollars had been awarded in state financing to replace decrepit facilities.
Fresno County jail has experienced 47 deaths since the realignment program was instituted. This is twice the number of people who had died in the several years prior to realignment.
A bill has been introduced by Assembly member Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento. This bill would allow counties to create oversight groups with the power to subpoena county sheriffs but was shelved after opposition from local law enforcement. McCarty has vowed to re-submit another version of the bill next year.
The state corrections board cited Kern County’s jail due to suicidal inmates being locked in closet-sized rooms with nothing but a grate in the floor. These inmates were given a rip resistant yoga mat to sleep on. After incidents the jail switched to giving the suicide watch inmates blankets, according to the Sacramento Bee article.
McCarty said this is yet another example of mental health abuses, negligence and lack of proper oversight by a county sheriff’s department.
“This type of lax oversight results in lawsuits and settlements where taxpayers continue to foot the bill and pay for the misconduct of our sheriff’s departments across California.”
A top Google executive has formed a non-profit organization to help prison officials understand which programs work and don’t work to curb recidivism.
“In the criminal justice system today–an incredibly large and important and impactful system–we have none of those same abilities. It’s millions of lives, billions of dollars, and we don’t have a good sense of what’s working or a good way to set goals and hit them,” said Clementine Jacoby, who left her job as product manager for Google in June to work on criminal justice reform.
Jacoby cofounded Recidiviz in order to use data analytics to solve problems in the criminal justice arena.
“At Google, we had experimentation frameworks to determine which versions of a change would have the greatest impact, and when we rolled out a change, we could predict what it should do and monitor if it actually hit that goal,” said Jacoby in the Fast Company story.
A Bureau of Justice Statistics report in 2019 revealed that America had 2.2 million people in either jail or prison at the end of 2017, the article stated.
This number has been in decline over the last decade, but America still has more people incarcerated than any other country in the world does.
Recidiviz is now working with five states. “The people who are actually running criminal justice systems are already motivated to decarcerate for a whole variety of reasons-either their system may be over-crowded and they don’t know exactly what the best strategies are to get a handle on that, or they’re getting legislative pressure and advocacy pressure to downsize.”
Some tech companies already work in this space, making money without reducing the prison population. That is why Recidiviz decided to go non-profit, Jacoby said.
Recidiviz is the only non-profit at the tech accelerator Y Combinator and has plans to expand to more states, sharing the technology.
“Everything that we build is open-source. And so part of the theory of change is, can we get this technology out there, so that domain experts in the space can use this infrastructure to support states in doing data-driven decision making?” noted Fast Company.
The Fast Company article said that the data analysis also looks at how specific populations are helped by each program, so that programs can be better tailored. Ultimately, Jacoby said she hopes that reduced incarceration rates will allow money saved to go to- ward successful rehabilitation programs instead.
“You can actually start to shift the system from punitive to rehabilitative,” Jacoby said.
Veterans’ Toys for Tots continues to warm the hearts of many
The cheer of Christmas giving filled the San Quentin State Prison visiting rooms as children celebrated the holidays with their incarcerated loved ones in December.
“We got absolutely excited!” said 11-year-old Omar Elias, who came to the prison to visit his uncle Ramon Ruelas. Elias and his younger brothers Ismael and Danny were three of about 100 children who got toys during San Quentin’s Annual Holiday Toy Program.
“You should visit me more and get more presents,” said Ruelas, laughing with his nephews. During his 10-year incarceration , they had visited before but this was their first time getting toys.
The other prisons where Ruelas was before coming to San Quentin in 2018 didn’t have toy giveaways for children, but incarcerated veterans at San Quentin have kept the Toys for Tots tradition of holiday giving alive for 31 years.
“It’s a really great act. I really appreciate it!” said nine-year-old Danny to the veterans who gave them the toys.
“Seeing the little kids’ eyes light up when they see the toys really gives me hope,” said Marine Corps veteran Carl Raybon, the new chair- man of the Veterans Group at San Quentin (VGSQ). The 35-member group of incarcerated veterans organizes the toy giveaway each year.
Raybon was one of six veterans wearing pointy red and green striped elf hats and blue VGSQ hats who offered toys and holiday cheer to every family with children visiting during the weekends before Christmas and on Christmas Day.
A banner hung across the main visiting room declaring “Merry Christmas.” Snow- flakes, lights and garlands with red bows adorned the walls. Incarcerated fathers, uncles and granddads brought their visiting little loved ones into the children’s playroom to pick out toys to take home.
The tables were full of toys to choose from, including puzzles, charades, trivia games, Candy Land, Frozen II character sets, Marvel Avengers Black Widow and other hero figures, Vibe metallic spinners, watch and wallet sets and “Make Your Own Slime.”
A giant skee-ball game was the first toy to go. “Thank you,” said the smiling little girl. The first boy chose a Spalding NBA basketball and said, “Thank you, Merry Christmas.”
“I have so much fun do- ing this,” said Army veteran Kevin Brinkman, a VGSQ member since arriving at The Q in 2015. “It’s not just giving back, It’s giving forward.” Brinkman helped decorate and gave out toys for his third year.
“It’s all about the children,” said 33-year-old Marine Corps veteran Brian Corder, the new VGSQ Vice Chairman. “It’s a beautiful thing that even here
in prison children and families can get a Christmas experience, or at least something close.”
“It’s a blessing,” said Sergio Alvarez, who was visiting with his sisters, nieces and nephew. “We’ll do this next weekend too, so all the family can visit.” Visiting with his family is the highlight of his holiday season. Alvarez was visiting with his nephew for the first time in his seven-year incarceration.
“Woo woo!” said 2-year-old Jaylah, Alvarez’s niece, smiling and laughing as she grabbed a toy unicorn that began playing music and flashing lights. “It’s a nice surprise,” said Javyn, Alvarez’s 11-year-old nephew. It was the first time they and 13-year-old Aiyana got toys in prison.
Festively dressed families smiled for photos in front of a 7-foot Christmas tree deco- rated with garlands, balls, and a star on top.
“Every visit is a celebration, but today is a real joy,” said Jemain Hunter. He was celebrating his first Christmas together with his wife Kenya and their 19-month- old granddaughter Nayani.
“It’s a true blessing to see what lights her up—just like on the outside,” Hunter said, enjoying his granddaughter’s excitement. Nayani ran back and forth in front of the playroom and toys, smiling and giggling, and delivering sodas from the vending ma- chines to “Papa.”
“Santa Claus is coming to town,” sang a stuffed rein- deer with red bows and bells on its antlers. “Merry Christ- mas!”
VGSQ staff sponsor Rachael Murray walked in with dozens more toys, including LiteBrite, Chutes and Ladders, KerPlunk, Battleship, dolls, Legos, Transformers’ Bumblebee, and Hot Wheels. She said that the San Bruno Marines Toys for Tots program donated hundreds of toys for this year’s San Quentin event.
VGSQ member Earl Orr gave out the toys in the other visiting room in The Q’s H-Unit. Children visiting loved ones on Death Row also got to pick out toys to take home.
“Seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces brings me happiness,” said Army veteran Adam Sinegal. “It brings back good memories of Christmas with my children. I wish I was with them now.”
Danny “Heavy” Pita Jr. was visiting with his fiancée Shawna, and his little sister Harmonie. “I’m happy because I’m with my sister for the first time in about two years,” he said with a smile.
“Getting a toy was a nice surprise, but getting to see my brother is my favorite Christmas gift,” said 10-year- old Harmonie, leaning on her big brother.
After five years at San Quentin, the Holiday Toy Program is something of a Christmas tradition for Vin- cent O’Bannon and his family. He was celebrating with his wife Cynthia, daughter Autumn, and grandsons Zorion and Zy’ir.
“This family time is so happy, and toys add to the excitement,” said the boys’ mother Autumn. Three-year-old Zorion shook his head yes, smiling and said, “I love my paw paw.”
Maria, a teenager, and 4-year-old Frida came in with their mom Maribel to visit their brother Jose Sanchez.
Maria helped her little sister pick out toys: “Cuál quieres” “Cuál otro” “Segura?” (Which do you want? Which other one? Are you sure?)
The Sanchezes said that be- ing together at Christmas time is important for their family. The Christmas before, Jose was in county jail. “Me siento mejor hoy porque el año pasa- do no pudimos abrazarnos por la ventana,” said Maribel. (I feel better today because last year we couldn’t hug through the window.)
By the end of the day’s Christmas excitement, 1-year- old Ja’Mal was sound asleep
in his father Jonathan Weems’ arms. Big sister Ja’Leia said, “I’m just happy to see my family.” When her mom Danisha asked about getting a toy in prison, the 4-year-old replied, “Yep, I got a Magic Mat.”
As the visiting hours ended each day at 2:00 p.m., the children came back to the play- room to pick up their toys to take home. There were many smiles, many thank you’s, and even more Felices Navidades.
Families hugged and kissed once more and parted with toys in their hands and the warmth of the holiday spirit in their hearts.
The Sacramento Kings showed love to Folsom State prisoners during a special night of community healing. In a circle within the prison chapel, they shared life experiences before celebrating Folsom’s newly renovated outdoor basketball court.
Kings players, owner Vivek Ranadive, coach Luke Walton and others joined filmmaker-turned-social activist Scott Budnick to hear personal stories from incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals at the Play For Justice event Dec. 12.
“My recent visit to Folsom State Prison hit me in the gut in a wayI have rarely felt before,” Ranadive wrote in a Sacramento Bee op/ed. “140 years of captivity, fear and hopelessness hung in the air.”
Similar to San Quentin State Prison’s style of public tours, the out- side visitors, including Sacramento City Council member Steve Hansen, walked through one of Folsom’s housing units—to see for themselves how California treats its prisoners.
“The men—two to a cramped cell that looked like a cage—stared at us with hollow eyes,” Ranadive wrote. “I know there are victims on the other side of the equation…
“But seeing men in such conditions is something I will never forget.”
What seemed to move Ranadive the most, however, was the time spent in the circle listening to voices of incarceration.
“Each person spoke with honesty and integrity—more than I encounter in daily life,” he said. “There were no excuses.
“Each took complete responsibility for their actions and—even when the hope of leaving prison was slim— worked hard every day to better them- selves.”
Organized through Bud- nick’s REPRESENT JUS- TICE, the Play For Justice group also featured former Kings center Vlade Divac, current Kings forwards
Trevor Ariza and Marvin Bagley III, developmental coach Rico Hines and others.
Ariza pointed to prisoners in their cells and noted how some were physically bigger than him yet unable to fully stand up within their own living spaces.
The Represent Justice Campaign launched itself alongside the Budnick- produced film, Just Mercy, which co-stars Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan and Sacramento native Brie Larson.
Larson and the cast intend to participate in future Play For Justice initiatives, reported The Undefeated, an online publication.
“We know that showing the humanity, resilience and transformation of those be- hind bars leads to more empathetic and humane laws— and a system more rooted in justice and rehabilitation,” said Budnick, as quoted by The Hollywood Reporter.
Represent Justice and Budnick later delivered a Christmas treat to 11 young men and women housed at the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, taking them by bus on a field trip to the Los Angeles Lakers’ practice gym Dec. 23.
Lakers forward LeBron James and Just Mercy ac- tor Michael B. Jordan hung out with all the youths and joined them in a roundtable discussion.
Later the kids split up into 5-on-5 Play For Justice teams, coached by former Laker Champions Robert Horry and Metta World Peace, and played ball on the training facility’s hard court.
“Many of the [visiting youth offenders] said it was the first time they felt free in years,” said Budnick. “The day was a reminder that people cared about them.
“They felt heard, loved and had a sense of hope and inspiration for their futures.”
The Kings’ Folsom event had also included a Play For Justice basketball game— right there on the prison yard. The game showcased a restored outdoor court under a newly added pavilion roof complete with full-scale lighting.
“We’re proud to be the first participant in the Play For Justice initiative, which is shining a bright light on the unique issues facing incarcerated people in communities around the country,” said Ranadive.
The Milwaukee Bucks plan to bring Play For Justice to correctional facilities throughout Wisconsin, starting in February and featuring Bucks guards Sterling Brown and George Hill.
Brown currently holds a civil lawsuit against the city of Milwaukee, after the po- lice used a stun gun on him during a publicized arrest for allegedly double-parking in a disabled person spot.
“My teammates, coaches and I are honored to take part in this unique criminal justice initiative to hear the stories of our community members and the challenges they face on a daily basis,” said Brown.
Nike also came on board to donate shoes and other gear to the incarcerated Wisconsin athletes, whose families will be allowed to come watch them play.
“We are looking forward to sharing in this experience with them while also identifying how we can further this important conversation nationwide through basketball,” added Brown.
Por Lucía de la Fuente, Editora de español
“Nadie puede decir en qué momento comienza el despertar del hombre” (Eduardo Subirats, Utopía y Subversión, 1975, p. 148)
En lo que más me fijé la primera vez que te conocí, fue en tus manos. Grandes, con las uñas bien recortadas y con un tatuaje imperfecto. Tus manos siempre cargaban algo: una pluma, papel, tarjetas con números telefónicos, periódicos, libretas y bolsas de plástico trasparente con comida. Puños llenos de sueños… Tus manos eran por si solas un taller de trabajo, una oficina, una librería, una lucha hispana. Esas manos tuyas reflejaban de una manera muy pulcra tu trabajo: cuidadas, útiles, en eterno movimiento y fuertes.
Entre el cielo y la tierra (ese sitio donde nosotros, los ridículos y dramáticos humanos, intentamos vivir y sobrevivir) estaba tu laboratorio. En el hacías experimentos para revolucionar la existencia de los que no sabemos cómo saborear la vida de una forma sana. En el construiste comunidades y derribaste muros. En el luchaste por todos nosotros; de hecho, este espacio en el que hoy estoy escribiendo en español, nos lo conseguiste tú.
¿De quién eran esas manos mágicas que trabajaban entre el cielo y la tierra? Eran de un hombre que soñaba despierto y despertaba a sus sueños: correr programas de rehabilitación en español; “les voy a enseñar (alascorreccionales) cómosedebe
de hacer la rehabilitación adecuadamente”, me decía. Eran de un hombre que no recibía un “no” por respuesta; “eh, Lucía, va a estar bueno. Vamos a agarrar lo mejor para la raza. Tú confía”, me repitió. Eran de un hombre que tocaba puertas, que luchaba por los “compas”, que explicaba cuando nadie quería oír, que compartía con los demás hasta lo que no tenía, que respiraba profundo “cuando la cosa se pone fea”, que miraba siempre para adelante y dejaba atrás rencores y remordimientos, que creía ciegamente en la unión y el trabajo en equipo, que disfrutaba el estar vivo. Eran las manos de un hombre de palabra que, invariablemente, caminaba con la cabeza bien erguida porque estaba orgulloso de su cultura; orgulloso de nosotros.
Compañeros, ustedes que hoy están leyéndo estas palabras, déjenme decirles que le debemos mucho al dueño de esas manos: ahora es nuestro turno de trabajar entre el cielo y la tierra, para derribar muros y construir comunidades. A él no le importaba
si eras “blanco”, “moreno”, “latino”, o cualquier otro color; “no le hace. Aquí con nosotros todos son bienvenidos”, decía con una gran sonrisa. Mis compas, compitas, centroamericanos, y de cualquier otro país hispano, de Norte a Sur y de Sur a Norte, de
este a oeste, todos somos uno y uno somos todos. Juntos, vamos a mantener vivo el trabajo que él comenzó entre el cielo y la tierra; porque ese trabajo era y es para y por nosotros. Porque entre el cielo y la tierra sólo podemos caminar. ¡Ya basta de correr! Vamos a andar, un pie delante del otro. Vamos a despertar y a dejar ese racismo que nos pudre por dentro. Vamos a recorrer, cogidos de las manos, las carreteras que no entienden de fronteras; las carreteras que sólo saben de unión.
“No se descubre al sueño por haberlo des-cubierto, no son las luces del día, de la conciencia y la razón, las que lo desvelan. Más bien revelan una nueva luz. Una nueva claridad que penetra en la vida vigil con las sombras de recuerdos de deseos olvidados […] Al amanecer no se despierta del sueño; es el sueño el que despierta la vigilia” (pp. 147-148).
Despertemos de ese sueño que nos tiene adormecidos. Ese sueño que nos hace sentir cansados y desganados, esclavos del hartazgo. Despertemos al sueño de ser el mejor ejemplo de nuestras raíces. ¿De qué sirve una vida llena de sueños, si dormimos durante el día? Arnulfo T. García: esta lucha no se acaba aqui.
Luis Ojeda de 23 años, se encuentra en la Prisión de San Quentin cumpliendo una
condena de seis años por asalto agravado. Después de cumplir su sentencia, Ojeda será deportado a la Ciudad de México. Su hermana Jennie, de 21 años, reside, estudia y trabaja en San José. Ella no ha tenido problemas con la ley, pero teme ser deportada.
“Quería ser abogado para ayudar a mis padres, pero la regué y perdí la oportunidad que DACA me ofreció. Me siento avergonzado por haber cometido un crimen”, dice Luis. “Desperdicie la oportunidad que se me otorgó en este país. También me siento mal de que nos estén usando (DACA presos) como excusa para no renovar el DACA. Pienso que no es justo”.
En el año 2012, el ex-presidente Barack Obama creó el programa DACA (Accion Diferida para los Llegados en la Infancia) para proteger de la deportación a los
niños que entraron a los Estados Unidos antes de cumplir los 16 años de edad.
Los hermanos Ojeda están entre los 800.000 inmigrantes indocumentados que fueron traídos por sus padres a los Estados Unidos a muy temprana edad, y que solicitaron la protección de DACA. Este grupo de inmigrantes son ahora son conocidos como soñadores.
A principios de su administración el Presidente Donald Trump anunció su intención de terminar con DACA . Desde entonces, los soñadores enfrentan un futuro incierto.
Sí las amenazas de terminar con el programa se materializan, Jennie enfrentará una eminente deportación. “Me siento preocupada”, dice Jennie.
“Tengo esperanza que el Congreso haga algo respecto al DACA”
“Si no hacen nada al respecto, no solo mi familia será afectada, sino también mucha gente. Destruirán nuestros sueños, no podremos seguir asistiendo a la escuela y tampoco podremos seguir trabajando legalmente”.
Por haber cometido un delito y recibir una condena, Luis ya no tendrá beneficios migratorios al terminar su condena.
De acuerdo al artículo de Will Racke The Number Behaind The Dreamers, publicado por el Daily Caller “desde la implementación de DACA en el 2012, un total de 2,139 (cerca del 0.3%) soñadores han perdido su estatus migratorio por un comportamiento criminal”.
Luis se convirtió en soñador a los 18 años, pero perdió el estatus cuando cometió su delito.
A pesar de estar en prisión, Luis expresa que se benefició del DACA. Su futuro, dice, se basaba en el sueño americano.
“Antes de la creación de DACA, cuando tenía la edad de 11 años, me estresaba pensando que la migra (ICE) me iba agarrar y separarme de mi familia. A los 18 años obtuve DACA y esto me ayudo a obtener mi licencia de manejar y un permiso de trabajo, con el cual obtuve un trabajo como cocinero en un restaurante y continué con mi educación”, dice Luis.
Luis admite sus errores y acepta el castigo impuesto por sus malas decisiones. Sin embargo, las amenazas de Trump afectan emocionalmente a soñadores como Jennie.
Jennie recuerda como DACA cambió su vida. El programa le permitió trabajar legalmente en los Estados Unidos. Actualmente trabaja como secretaria en una compañía de plomería durante el día y por la noche asiste al Colegio De Anza. Una de sus metas es llegar a ser arqueóloga y antropóloga.
“Me gusta aprender acerca de las personas que vivieron aquí hace mucho tiempo, del significado de las religiones, sus diferentes puntos de vista y las civilizaciones antiguas”, dice. “Si llegara a ser una antropóloga podría explorar el mundo”.
Un reporte de American Action Forum encontró que los soñadores contribuyen a la economía estadounidense de diferentes maneras.
“Estimamos que el trabajador promedio con estatus de DACA contribuye con unos $109 mil dólares anuales a la economía. Si todos los beneficiarios de DACA fueran removidos del país, el Producto Interno Bruto del país decrecería por alrededor de $42 mil millones de dólares”, indica el reporte de AFF.
En un estudio llamado National UnDACAmented Research Project, Roberto G. Gonzales, investigador de
Harvard, encuestó a 2,000 portadores de DACA. Gonzales descubrió que el 22% de soñadores tienen una licenciatura, comparado con un 32% de la población total de los Estados Unidos que cuentan con licenciatura.
“Antes de la creación de DACA, cuando tenía la edad de 11 años, me estresaba pensando que la migra (ICE) me iba agarrar y separarme de mi familia”
Si DACA es cancelado definitivamente la mayoría de los soñadores tendrán que hacer cambios drásticos en su vida. Algunos no tendrán otra alternativa que regresar a vivir en las sombras – en constante temor a la deportación. Para otros, significaría regresar a sus países de origen de los cuales huyeron y conocen muy poco.
“Estoy muy asustada y me da tristeza cuando miro las noticias – parece que están jugando con nuestras emociones, no nos toman en serio. ¿Cómo podremos tener un futuro? Me da mucha tristeza, me preocupo y me causa estrés”, dice Jennie. “(Sin embargo) tengo esperanza que el Congreso haga algo respecto al DACA”.
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.”
On a clear and crisp Friday morning, 30 of The Q’s 1000 Mile Club members started the race at 8am for 13th Annual SQ Marathon.
One of the runners was going to be crowned a champion because the five previous winners were no longer housed at The Q. The favorite for the title, Fidelio Marin, took an early lead and held it for most of the run, but in mile 21, he twisted his ankle. The man right behind, Mark Jarosik, then took the lead and went on to win the marathon. Jarosik is now the sixth man to be crowned champion of the marathon, joining the ranks of Markelle ‘The Gazelle’ Taylor, Lorinzo Hopkins, Eddie Herena, Stephen Yair, and Chris Scull.
The annual marathon is supported by coaches Frank Ruona, Kevin Rumon, Diana Fitzpatrick, Jim Maloney and many others and is the culmination of the 2019 running calendar, the team having ran a total of 12 races in 2019. The next racing schedule begins in late January/early February 2020.
1st Mark Jarosik
2nd Fidelio Marin
3rd Steve Reitz
Other runners who completed 26.2 miles:
Vicente Gomez, Moua Vue, Martin Gomez, Darren Settlemeyer, Tommy Wickerd, Michael Johnson, Steven Brooks, Darrel Mora, Dan McCoy, Alberto Mendez, Oscar Aguilar, Heriberto Escalera, Tien Pham, Ben Tobin, Michael Keyes, Ramon Ruelas and Jonathan Chiu