God can use prison time to turn someone into the person He wants them to be, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone told a San Quentin audience during a special Christmas Mass.
“Christmas is a time to receive God’s gift of His Son while committing to give back more for Him,” the San Fran- cisco archbishop commented.
Cordileone compared the prison stays of Jesus and Paul to the incarcerated people at- tending. He said while in prison, “God has given us time to grow into what He wants us to be. Take advantage of it.”
Father George Williams, San Quentin’s Catholic chaplain, said, “This year’s celebration had a wonderful spirit that many outside parishes cannot emulate.”
Williams spent 26 years as a priest inside prisons during Christmas. He said the holiday Mass is usually conducted at midnight for Catholics. He gave thanks and appreciation for the archbishop’s assistance in the celebration and praised the work of his choir.
The Mass referred to the Bible’s book of Isaiah, chapter 9, verse one which states, “The people in darkness have seen a great light.”
Father Williams noted the chapel at Christmas was standing room only, which is a “good thing.”
After the Mass, choir member Michael Adams said, “What the light of Christ reveals to you about who you are in your life, and what you will do with this knowledge, will define you as a Christian.”
“In this time of war against the enemy, it is time for all Christians to unite,” added choir singer Adriele Jackson.
Lisa Strawn, who led the Transgender Remembrance Day at SQ in November, commented, “Without Father Williams’ inclusive policy, Remembrance Day for the transgender community does not work. Father Williams did not hesitate to support the community and we are grateful for him and his church’s support. He is a real person of God.”
Incarcerated choir member John Krueger added that Father Williams always includes Protestant Chaplain Mardi Jackson’s congregation next door “in our church’s prayer. We hope and pray our choir can unite with the tremendous Protestant Chapel Choir next year to carol.”
After the choir sang “O come, all ye faithful,” Archbishop Cordileone reminisced about Christmas with a story about commercialism of the holiday outside.
“This time of year is hectic outside. Sales at one store after Thanksgiving included a very low price for a DVD player. The price created a wait at the store before it opened, where long lines created a big rush for the discounted DVD player. A woman who was first to get it was trampled unconscious but still held on to the DVD player…What tenacity!” said the archbishop.
“Why can’t we be that tenacious about God?” he asked.
The archbishop said the Catholic Church believes Christmas is becoming more and more mate- rial. “The real meaning of Christmas is about God giving us our gift of His Son through the Virgin Mary,” he said. It took some 2,000 years to prepare the Jews, Israel and the 12 tribes, he added.
The archbishop referred to David’s victory over King Saul and King David’s affair with Bathsheba. He commented that the biblical stories show that even in times of strife, David never wavered from worshipping the God of Israel — he never committed idolatry.
The message noted Jesus came from the lineage of David to unite His kingdom.
He expressed his desire for all Christians to maintain a silence during prayer and devotion.
The archbishop then dis- cussed current goals of Christians everywhere. “What matters most is if we stay true to God. How do we show truth to GOD?”
His answer: “Walk like His Son; show no idolatry, no pride, no self-doubt in spirituality, no addiction to sins. Stay focused on God by attaining the silence of God through si- lent prayer.”
The gift of God’s son comes with responsibility, said the archbishop. “He wants this gift (of dedication) from us in return.”
On the Friday before Christmas, Silent Night played as San Quentin students, their tutors and guests made their way into a classroom filled with the holiday spirit. It was to celebrate the year’s educational successes.
Six red stockings draped the classroom’s whiteboard. Below it, Santa’s tiny sled rode a golden tinsel as if it were snow. In front of the white board, two tiny Christ- mas trees sat on a table with gifts all around them.
“The End of the Semester Celebration at Christmas may mean something different to each of us,” James Metters said. “But, coming together is something we all can do.”
Metters is one of the peer- to-peer tutors in the Academic Peer Education Program (APEP). About eight years ago, the program began to support incarcerated students pursuing a GED. Also, at the event were peer educators, Rodney Baylis, Terry Hall, Raiveon “Ray-Ray” Wooden, Derry “Brotha-D” Brown and Floyd Collins.
“I’ve never been here on a Friday night,” said Diane Kahn, one of APEP’s outside facilitators. “I get more inspiration from the work you men do inside San Quentin than from people on the outside.”
The classroom was set up with its chairs placed in a semi-circle, like a flat amphi- theater with the head of the class as the stage.
The tutors and guests joined to perform Dad Ruins the Christmas Spirit.
The skit was a spinoff from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It’s a story about parents struggling to let their children know Santa Claus’s real identity. The skit honored parents as Santa Claus and paid tribute to the season of giving.
Metters, Brown, and Wooden played their parts while APEP volunteers Eugenia Maluf and Joanna Cornejo played supporting roles.
After the skit, Metters and Karen Yoder, another APEP volunteer, led everyone in Christmas carols, with Joy to the World getting the most gusto.
Then a Spanish band played Christmas songs, including I Want to Wish You a Merry Christmas in English and Spanish.
“I’m humbled to be here and to work with some wonderful people,” said Collins, who explained that working with ESL (English as a Second Language) allowed him to build a bond. “I speak to the guys in broken Spanish.
“I want to bring joy, even though it’s not easy to do here.”
After caroling, the students, tutors and guests played board games, mingled and talked about future educational opportunities.
“This started off as an end of the year celebration about the students and teachers get- ting together,” Baylis said. “But, after all was done, it was really about the true meaning of Christmas when we’re so far away from family. That’s why we’ve done it for the last seven years.”
The following San Francisco Bay area volunteers came to the celebration in support of the APEP tutors and students: Tammy Cabading, Joanna Cornejo, Rich Donick, Diane Kahn, Eugenia Maluf, Connie Merron, Madison Niesyn and Karen Yoder.
San Quentin’s Chaplain Mardi Ralph Jackson and dozens of supporters per- Hall has been in charge of formed live on Dec. 21 at the prison’s 28th Christmas Caroling event. The Chaplain said it was a time of adoration and worship for our Lord’s birth.
Elder Derrick Holloway stated that in a normal year “Mother” Jackson allows more than 90 churches to assist in the spiritual growth of her ministry. Volunteers assist year round—not just at holidays—and are greatly appreciated.
“Through outside leader- ship in Protestant churches throughout the Bay Area we learn more about evangelical sermons, gospel singing and Bible studies. Churches located as far away as Texas help “Mother” Jackson prepare her men for the spiritual warfare we encounter when we go home,” said incarcerated Elder Derrick Holloway.
The evening started with rehearsal after a prayer from Chaplain Jackson. The group was led by Chester Hall from Cornerstone Church in Livermore.
Hall has been in charge of the caroling event the last five years.
“Death Row should believe in God, and we hope they will be able to hear the choir from the rotunda, as we are not allowed inside. No matter what, it’s a blessing, a true high- light of our Christmas. Easily our biggest event of the year,” said Mrs. Hipple.
Before the group began its tour of the prison, one of the Bay Area’s leading gospel singers, Paula Bates, shared the mission of the night. “Hopefully we can plant a seed in men who do not yet believe, and they may ask, what must I do to be saved?”
Her operatic voice enables others to hear the miracles from the group. “It’s truly a blessing to share the Christmas Spirit and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ….It is all about Jesus,” said Ms. Bates.
Another leader in vocals, Jessica from First Church in Livermore, added, “The blessing to be with others who believe and who are
God’s people—while showing unconditional love for those in need—is the real miracle.”
The choir left Garden Chapel and circled outside the pavilion that is in the center of the Captain’s Porch, the main entrance, four post and the AC Center to begin their performance.
Lt. Sam Robinson and some of his staff escorted the performers around the prison. “This is an annual event I take in before I enjoy my Christmas. This choir changes men’s hearts,” said the lieutenant.
The group headed to North Block where Pastor Linda Lopes from Valley Christian Church said, “This breaks my heart. As a mother and grand- mother, I believe men should not have to live like this…but Jesus loves.”
At North Block, men stopped watching the For- ty-Niners’ victory over the Rams to enjoy Christmas songs like “Silent Night,” “Joy to the World” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
“It’s amazing, bitter catcalls turned into a spiritual silence I have never observed,” said incarcerated person Kevin Kelly. The choir left the first tier to cheers by the incarcerated.
Similar songs on the yard side of North Block, at the rotunda of Death Row, and at the stairwell of Alpine, Badger and the Hole in West Block allowed men to hear carols.
Group leaders like Mr. Allen Roberts, who has been serving the Neighborhood Baptist Church in San Francisco for 37 years, said, “I still come here to get blessed while I carol.”
Minister Randy Fishback from Hillside Church in Walnut Creek added, “I’ve been doing this for five years, and it is still my favorite event of the year. We all receive so much from the men.”
The Kurtz family came to celebrate Christmas with the congregation. “We feel blessed to participate with all of you and get so much in return. It’s truly God’s will and totally amazing,” said husband Brian Kurtz, wife Laura, daughter Naomi and son Dakota.
An alarm at North Block stopped a second attempt to sing to Death Row so the group improvised and sang in front of the hospital. Their hope was the sick would be able to hear as they saluted the support of Lt. Robinson and his staff.
Pastor Tom Phan of Open Arms Church said, “Mother Jackson has the greatest ministry, and we are proud to help this chapel in any way as we pray everyone lives through Jesus!”
Minister Leslie Arroyo of From the Well Ministries, a caroler for years, summed up the night. “To all of us this is an opportunity to reach other people’s hearts for Jesus. Whether we fight, lie, or no matter what sin we have done, we all must know he forgives.”
Singing continued Sunday night when more than 300 men and women participated in a candlelight vigil declaring Jesus’ love.
“Christmas lives at San Quentin’s Garden Chapel,” said incarcerated church member Sergio Alvarez. “By bringing the Spirit of God to the cell blocks we give hope. It was an honor to serve. Merry Christmas to all.”
“I have been participating since 1988, and through Garden Chapel we consider ourselves all blessed to give hope and comfort to men that cannot be with their families,” said the director of the evening’s choir.
Before the choir walked around the cell blocks, SQ News Advisor John Ea- gan gave insight as to what the night meant. Eagan has performed in the event as a member of the Tiburon Baptist Church. He has been doing so for 28 years.
He asks the incarcerated men one question. “I always ask, when did someone say they are proud of you? Invariably the answer is never,” said Eagan.
Kaylyn Hipple, wife of Minister George Hipple, has been caroling at the event for 20 years. She remembered the original organizer, Sam Huron of Man-to-Man Ministries.
Over 100 San Quentin residents ushered in Kwanzaa 2019 with a night of enlightening and culturally relevant speeches and inspiring performances. The speakers and performers focused on uplifting African and African American culture and acknowledging the ways they have contributed to society at large.
The December 26 celebration was organized by Arthur D. Jackson and his wife Veronica, who assisted with planning. Speakers included incarcerated artists and social justice organizers who emphasized the importance of using Kwanzaa as an opportunity to celebrate Black culture.
Dejon Joy, the event’s emcee, led a group of brothers in the reading of the seven principles of Kwanzaa before the performers and speakers took the stage.
“Kwanzaa represents a striving for freedom, a celebration of liberation and foundational principles that we re- connect with at the end of the year to take us into the next,” said Alyssa Villanueva, a Civil Rights attorney, who taught a Black Studies workshop at SQ for the college program.
“Our minds—our knowledge—is power. To say that it is threatening is not a cliché,” she continued.
“This was more informative and entertaining than I thought it would be. I’m glad I came,” said Gene McCallum, an incarcerated resident, referring to the speeches and performances.
Villanueva also highlighted the role that cultural knowledge played in the successes of Malcolm X, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Black Panthers Party.
“The individuals and organizations who came before us fighting for our freedoms looked to these principles— and they still provide the basic needs to thrive as human beings.”
Hamisi X. Spears got a standing ovation after delivering a powerful rap performance with lyrics meant to inspire people of color to become more politically and socially conscious. In one verse Spears belted out, “66 never had a chance to pass. My brothers and sisters wouldn’t get off their a#* to vote—the final result, we lost at the end, and half our families are in the pen.”
Following Spears, Malik Ali, another resident, gave a moving spoken word piece and Rhashiyd “RawLMNO” Zinnamon performed a lyrical masterpiece titled “Grown- ManMusic.”
“Peace to you if you’re will- ing to fight for it,” greeted Yoel Haile, an ACLU criminal justice program manager, to the crowd.
Haile, who also taught the Black Studies workshop, established Africans’ impact on the world by pointing to Prophet Moses’ presence in Egypt, the first churches in Ethiopia, the Islamic migration to Ethiopia, and the African origin of universities.
“Part of knowing who we are is knowing who we were and who we want to be,” said Haile.
“We are now serving the enemies’ needs at the expense of the doctors, lawyers, and engineers we could be,” he continued.
Tammy Appling-Cabading, a volunteer, also got a standing ovation after reading an uplift- ing poem she wrote specifically for the event entitled Walk in Imani.
“Twinkle, twinkle all you stars, do you ever wonder who you are? You are from the sons and daughters of the African diaspora lighting up the world …, “ she began. “Speak truth, do justice, and walk in the way of righteousness.”
Gregory Morris ended the evening with a moving speech about the importance of historical consciousness.
“History gives us a means to judge our actions by our cultural traditions. …The way we treat the women in our lives doesn’t match with historical reality,” Morris told the crowd when we connect with the traditions of our forefathers we will build healthier relationships with ourselves, our family and all communities.”
“This was the best Kwanzaa celebration that I’ve been to,” said San Quentin resident Daron Charles.
“It was a culturally enriching experience that I will carry on for years. It was refreshing to hear accounts of Africans’ contributions to history, an honor to present the fourth principle of Kwanzaa and to share the meanings with everyone,” echoed fellow resident John Yahya Johnson.
The spirit of the holidays filled the San Quentin Protestant Chapel for more than 300 volunteers and prisoners at the annual Christmas Banquet.
“It’s such a joyous occasion. It’s the best day of the year for so many of us!” said Fred Cole, one of about 250 men in blue.
Some 50 volunteers and the inmates braved the rain and wind on the cold gray Saturday morning, Dec. 7. Inside they joined in a heart-warming celebration to begin the holy holiday season.
Chaplain Mardi Ralph Jackson, dressed in festive red and black, greeted the guests with a warm smile and a handshake. “God bless you,” she said as they passed through the foyer into the beautifully decorated chapel.
Golden angels stood 12 feet high on both sides of the entrance. Green holly and pine garlands and wreaths with red ribbons and bows and glowing lights decked the windows, bannisters and walls.
“Rejoice, Christ is Born,” announced two of the festive banners. The gathering crowd mingled and engaged in lively discussions.
Guests filled the hundreds of seats at place settings with red cups and Christmas napkins on tables draped with red tablecloths. Mini Christmas tree centerpieces glowed with alternating color lights and “Believe” ornaments glittered with gold on each of the 34 tables.
The annual banquet acknowledges the hundreds of dedicated volunteers who share the love of Christ with the chapel’s congregation throughout the year. The guests of honor, the volunteers from all the Christian fellowship groups, sat side-by-side with the men in blue at each table.
“Hallelujah, praise the Lord!” began the emcee as the entire crowd rose to its feet. “The Lord is good.”
Chaplain Jackson joined the Garden Chapel Worship Team, a choir of nine with four musicians – in singing, “We worship You for who You are…hallelujah.”
Then an elder opened in prayer “Thank You, Father God, sup with us, bless us and keep us while we worship You…Amen.”
“Hallelujah!” praised Chaplain Jackson. “On behalf of the men in blue and myself, we welcome you. Thank You, Jesus. We worship Him today. We honor Him. He is worthy.
“We acknowledge every man who worked to turn this sanctuary into a place of celebration. Thank you, Elder Derrick Holloway, thank you brother Christopher Harris. Thanks to the men in the kitchen cooking right now, the crew at the door, musicians, men in leadership and Spanish ministries. Thanks to all our volunteers who sacrifice without any pay and give of themselves in the Lord’s service.”
“Joy to the world, the Lord has come,” rang out through the chapel as the Worship Team began singing anew. The audience, still standing, joined in the spirited performance, “Let earth receive her King.”
The next song had everyone clapping and swaying to the rhythm, “…Glory to the newborn King.”
Next came Tim Young on acoustic guitar, followed by an a cappella solo of “He is Able.” Both performers received standing ovations.
Evangelist Paula Bates from Prayer Garden, who volunteers inside San Quentin with the Greater Love program, had this message: “I can’t help myself but lift my hands and say, ‘Glory hallelujah.’”
In her bright red, black and white dress, Bates complimented the stage decorations that included poinsettias, wrapped packages, wreaths and stockings and a 12-foot-high Christmas tree with lights, garlands, balls and an angel on top.
The entire audience stood as Bates began to sing, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, what a wonder you are.” The musicians joined in and guests sang along, waving their raised hands.
The Prodigal Sons quartet then captivated the audience with a medley, “Merry Christmas to you…Silent night, holy night, Christ the Savior is born…”
The audience responded with joyous praise, cheer and applause. The in-house talent continued with two brothers rapping, “The plan God has for you,” a Spanish prayer, “Gracias Padre bendito, todo para Ti” and “Amazing Grace” a cappella.
Then came the feast served to everyone: barbequed chicken leg and thigh, turkey ham, macaroni and cheese, barbequed beans, corn, potato salad, a roll with butter, cake with chocolate icing and punch. The banquet was so well attended, some of the premium table seats were used twice.
“This is way better than standing in line in the rain for a tray of the same old stuff,” said one San Quentin resident, thoroughly enjoying the top-notch dining experience. “This is even better than Thanksgiving!” commented another.
The voices of fellowship from each table’s conversations kept the chapel warm during supper, even as the cold storm continued outside. A couple of volunteers were talking with a San Quentin resident at one table. Chris Clark, a volunteer with Cornerstone Fellowship, has been coming into San Quentin for six years.
“This is amazing. God is bringing glory right to where we are,” said Clark. After struggling with addiction for 28 years, faith transformed him. “I had my come-to-Jesus moment and woke up with a new hope and a new high,” he shared.
“I really love coming here, I love being here, I love the fellowship and the testimonies,” said Ronda Clark, who has been volunteering with Cornerstone at The Q for about a year. She and Chris have been married for five years and they share the same sobriety date in 2012.
“I tried it once and I was hooked,” said Ronda about the Christian Fellowship volunteer program. “You don’t even know how much we are blessed by you. It warms my heart every time. Even after we leave the prison, we keep you in our hearts and prayers.”
The Clarks pray with the inmates during the evening services. They will be here two more times in December, including Christmas caroling in the cell blocks.
Rick Burger has been a San Quentin resident about three years. He expressed appreciation for the chapel volunteers and the opportunities they bring: “Thank you for sharing your blessings with us. I hope I can be as big a blessing to others, inside and out.” Burger continued, “If someone would have told me when I was in county jail that when I go to prison, I would attend college, go to church and work, and become an amazing soldier for God, I would have told them, ‘Let’s pray for something a little more realistic.’ This chapel is a miracle.”
As the dining slowed down, entertainment resumed. Soothing acoustic guitar by David was followed by a “parable” by comedian Jesse Ayers that got the crowd roaring with laughter.
Chaplain Jackson took the stage once again to present the certificates to the volunteers. “The San Quentin Garden Chapel Christian Fellowship presents these certificates to you to express our gratitude for you and all you do to share the love and fellowship of Jesus Christ with us,” she said to each group. Representatives came onto the stage to accept the certificates and say a few words.
Some of the groups and volunteers recognized were 19th Street Baptist Church, Second Chance Ministry, Man to Man Ministries, Hillside Covenant, Tiburon Baptist Church, Malachi Dads, Aldo Yannon, Steve Wiegert, Overcomers, Evangelist Leslie Smith, New Faith Cathedral, Brother Donald Mack, Pastor Tom Pham, Elder Darryl Jenkins, Pastor and Sister Hipple, Evangelist Sam and Karen Knapp and Larry Wilson.
“How many mighty men of God we have here!” said Chaplain Jackson. The audience burst into a standing ovation.
“During this season, if you feel like giving up or if you feel like you’re all alone, remember God loves you. Jesus is your hope,” said Evangelist Paula. Then she closed the celebration with a strong and soulful song, “He is the reason…Jesus is the reason…”
The sun shone in through the chapel windows as the storm outside cleared and the guests began to trickle back out to the garden.
San Quentin’s Lower Yard opened on Independence Day to a carnival-like event that kept hundreds of prisoners entertained all day. A Christian coalition of young incarcerated men, Graced Out Ministries, sponsored the festivities.
“The idea was to bring young men and people of all ages together to express their gifts and talents and to let everyone know that God loves them no matter where they are,” said Graced Out organizer Dwight Kennedy.
Graced Out Ministries and the Protestant Church collected donations to give away cookies, chips and sodas as prizes, in addition to providing more than 900 burritos and bags of chips to everyone.
Fifteen people lined up to devour a Honey Bun at top speed to win a “pie-eating” contest. The Ironman Contest was a grueling task of 40 pull-ups; 40 bar dips; 40 squats and 40 pushups, followed by a lap around the Lower Yard. Finally, a 100-pound heavy bag had to be carried about 50 yards and brought back by pushing it on the ground to the start line. There was also a Three- Legged Race, Potato Sack Race, a Home-run Derby, Basketball Three-Point and Skills Contest, a Four-Man Push-up Contest and a Rock/ Paper/Scissors Contest.
The first Ironman contestant, Brian “Sharky” Holiday, completed the tasks in 6:24:69, a time that held nearly all day, until several youngsters broke it in consecutive runs. In the end, Jeremiah Lee scored 5:20:72, a time that couldn’t be beat.
“I did that for my son,” Lee said. “I never met him.”
Tony Trinidad entered four contests: Rock/Paper/ Scissors, the Three-Legged Race, the Potato Sack Race and the Honey Bun eating contest.
Referring to Graced Out Ministries, Trinidad said, “I like them because it’s us talking to us.” Trinidad is a participant in numerous self-help groups at San Quentin, including the Prison University Project, Criminal Gangs Anonymous as well as Vocational Plumbing “I didn’t expect that many people to show up,” said Graced Out organizer Antoine Waite.
The most popular comment from hundreds of men for the day was “fun.”
The Honey Bun contest went like this: with hands behind your back, eat a Honey Bun as fast as you can. The first man chewing and then opening up an empty mouth is the winner.
“I need water!” said first place winner, John Ray Ervin. “I’m going to pay for it.”
Cones lined the basketball court for the Three-Point Contest, Half-Court Shot Contest and the Skills Challenge.
Half-Court Shot Win was Anthony Guillebeau. Coming in second and third respectively were Raiveon “Ray Ray” Wooden and James Harrison.
As the yard’s PA systems announced, “In five minutes, the Three-Legged Contest will began in Right Field,” the old tied themselves to the young, Black to White, tall to short — they took off racing — step, step, hop and some tumbled in laughter while rolling in the grass.
The contestants for the Rock/Paper/Scissors Contest lined up, five men facing five opponents to play two out of three to determine the winner. Each contest began with smiles and handshakes; once they began; their hands shook three times to reveal — Paper covers Rock, Scissors cut Paper or Rock breaks Scissors.
The Four-Man Push- up Contest completed 25 push-ups. Winner Vadim Zakharchenko led the winners.
The day ended with a raffle to give away leftover prizes. Remarkably, there were no alarms sounded the entire day.
Graced Out Ministries organizers were Dwight Kennedy, Antoine Waite and Aaron Tilas.
Fellow incarcerated men Kevin Kelly, Norman Willhoite, James Benson, Paul Salseda, Danny Pita and Armando R. Gonzalez assisted Graced Out.
The 2019 Juneteenth weekend at San Quentin concluded with speeches and musical performances in the prison’s Catholic Chapel. About 70 inmates and a handful of outside guests attended the evening event.
The prison’s R&B band New Syndication of Funk (NSF) was the driving force behind the music playing songs such as “What You Won’t Do For Love” by Bobby Caldwell. Lee Jaspar delivered a memorable solo on guitar, and Rico Rogers was unmatched with his solo on the keyboard.
Inmate Paul C. Hamilton was one of the organizers and host of the early evening event. “I’m going to tell you what time it is” (about prison), he said at the beginning of his speech. “It’s serious business.”
Hamilton asked the au- dience. if they had five minutes to get on a bus departing from prison to take them home, which di- rection would they go? H- Unit, West Block, or North Block?
“At the end, when I finish speaking, you will know the answer to the question,” said Hamilton, explaining that “darkness symbolizes ignorance” before he told a story of how the worst place in Europe put men on a ship and sent them to Louisiana with slaves.
Inmate Tim Young played original music on an acous- tic guitar using a looped progression of major-seventh and minor-seventh chords as inmate Michael Mackey rapped and inmate Adriel Ramirez played the drums.
The trio performed the original song “The One You’re Overlooking,” a song about history, and current events with an overall politi- cally conscious message. It was met with a warm round of applause.
Young said “time alone” inspired the song. “Me myself, thinking about this life and how I felt.”
NSF returned to the stage to perform oldies such as “That’s The Way I Feel About You,” by Bobby Womack, “Can’t Hide Love,” by Earth Wind & Fire, “It Just Gets Better With Time,” by The Whispers, and what has seemingly become their anthem “Joy and Pain,” by Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly.
“It’s the second time we’ve ever done this song,” said Rogers, before the band played its original song “Vi- sions.” Tony “Tone” O’Neal and Rogers traded off sing- ing with Rogers doing most of the chorus as Paul Comaux played the tambourine. Jaspar added a jazzy guitar solo to the mix.
“We live in a world now today where the color of our skin and sexual preference is more important than our character,” Mackey said,
quoting rapper and author Sista Souljah. Then he sang “Sweet Dream or Beautiful Nightmare,” using prerecorded sound tracks from a CD played on the chapel’s PA system. “I’m just venting,” he said when the song ended.
Hamilton’s sermon con- tinued about prison being “a serious situation.” He said we live in a time where we can be exposed to the truth. “Some societies control the news and laws.” He said it’s how propa- ganda is disseminated.
“We don’t pay attention” (in prison), said Hamilton. He said there are people of color telling you that you can’t go anywhere. “We have to pay attention to what hap- pened in the past.”
“That’s why it took us so long to get the message (about the end of slavery), because we weren’t paying attention,” said Hamilton. “Whose fault was that?” His message was about law, freedom and being vigilant about what’s happening in prison. “If you don’t hear your name, you won’t get on the bus.”
At the end of the show, the performers and speak- ers all gave thanks to Sis- ter Aurora for helping them produce it. “I thought it was great,” she said. “Good beats and vocals. I enjoyed it. A lot of participation.”
Inmates Jamie Acosta and Eric Rives worked the sound and mixing for the event.
Watson Allison, who spent more than 30 years on San Quentin’s Death Row, was one of many in awe of sunset ser- vices for Good Friday — the day Jesus Christ was crucified.
Allison stood inside the Protestant Chapel as light filtered through its blue-tinted windows, dusk approached and men-in-blue mingled. Listening to Raul Higgins slapped the congas, Albert Flagg’s fingers danced on the piano while Greg Dixon rang out his piping organ. Dixon switched to a Fender guitar, adding a new dynamic to the drumming of Sincere Carter over Leonard “Funky Len” Walker’s bass guitar.
Edward Dewayne Brooks stood stage left, clapping and rocking in conversation with fellow ushers, choir members and the Worship Team.
As he listened, Allison said that he felt like he’s on the right path.
“I have a lot of support from people checking-in with me,” he said. “People come over to me just to see how I’m doing. That’s enriching to the soul.”
Nine long, fresh palm branches sat on the chapel stage. They shared the stage with the cross at the center. The palms stretched, nearly touching the chapel ceiling. A lone branch lay sideways on the stage’s steps.
Chaplin Mardi Ralph Jackson stood at the rear of the chapel as 34-year-old Carrington Russelle took the stage to share his addition to the sermon.
“She spends more time with us than she does with her family,” Russelle said about Chaplin Jackson. He encouraged the men-in-blue to take advantage of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice.
“We made some poor choices to get into this blue attire,” Russelle said. “Now you can make the best decision of your life by accepting Jesus.”
He emphasized that Jesus Christ was not murdered–he sacrificed his life to save us.
Vadim Zakharchenko, 32, gave a tearful sermon that brought attending men-in-blue to their feet. Zakharchenko said that, in the past, he came to church only semi-committed to Jesus Christ. He became tired of living that way, and after a conversation with his mother, he became fully committed to Jesus Christ.
George E. Moss, 49, shared his experience in administrative segregation in isolation after catching the flu. The experience restored his faith, and helped him understand God’s wisdom.
Armando R. Gonzalez’s sermon grappled with where true power comes from and why Jesus Christ sacrificed himself.