Two essays that appeared in The Atlantic magazine set up Ta-Nehisi Coates as a voice for African-Americans. He wrote The Case for Reparations in 2014 and in 2015, he produced Letter to My Son.
In The Case for Reparations Coates cites, “Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy.”
Coates argues, “Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.” In the article, Coates uses the in-depth history of Clyde Ross, a real person, to support the case for reparations.
In Letter to My Son, excerpted before publication of Between the World and Me, Coates tells his 15-year-old,
“Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.” The father cites his own life and compelling evidence to say that African-Americans live under a deliberately inflicted state of violence.
Since the publication of those works, there has been little movement to push for the US to consider its “moral debt” to the descendants of slaves. Since 2015, police have killed hundreds of African-Americans either wrongly or mistakenly, yet no laws were broken in doing so.
Coates’ latest focus on African-Americans combines all of his historical knowledge in, The Water Dancer (2019), a novel full of magical realism.
The historical fiction is set during the oppressive time of US slavery. The protagonist, Hiram, struggles against what it means to have a father and brother who are white, yet his darkened skin enslaves him. In the midst of subjugation, he has his eyes on a slave woman that his White uncle owns.
Coates uses his scholarly knowledge about the Underground Railroad, fugitive slave laws and the abolitionists as fodder to set up various dramas that his characters must navigate. In doing so, Coates created a world different from reality, while at the same time a believable world based on American history.
The following narration describes the feelings involved in Hiram’s enslavement. He fo- cuses most acutely on the sepa- ration from his family, another parallel to incarceration.
To sell a child right from under his mother, you must know that mother only in the thinnest way possible. To strip a man down, condemn him to be beaten, flayed alive, then anointed with salt water, you cannot feel him the way you feel your own. You cannot see yourself in him, lest your hand be stayed, and your hand must never be stayed, because the moment it is, the Tasked will see that you see them, and thus see yourself.
The following passage points to Hiram’s acceptance of the conditions that created his stark reality as well as his detachment from humanity: Slavery is everyday longing, is being born into a world of forbidden victuals and tantalizing untouchables—the land around you, the clothes you hem, the biscuits you bake.
Coates is able to capture Hiram’s docility and hopelessness that comes with slavery, which also is a condition shared with the incarcerated and rehabilitated: So many of us who went, went with dignity and respect. And it occurred to me how absurd it was to cling to morality when surrounded by people who had none.
Coates uses Hiram’s memory to recall events in great detail as a literary device to drive the novel’s plot, which translates to “freedom by any means
The Water Dancer is the product of Coates’ thinking in all of his works—that African Americans are integrated to all of US history, not just segregated segments that seem irrelevant today.
The story is a remarkably poignant exploration of oppression that has happened and can’t be changed. In The Water Dancer, Coates explores the possibility of what can be changed by using historical fiction and magical realism as a guide.
Creators of a new Pelican Bay podcast look to build community and prisoner relationships—one story at a time, reported the Lost Coast Outpost. https://lostcoastoutpost.com/
“These guys just want to better themselves and create a stronger, more resilient, community,” said Paul Critz, a journalist who teaches inmate students the tools they need to record their personal stories.
Inspired by San Quentin’s Ear Hustle, https://www.earhustlesq.com/ Pelican Bay Prison’s https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/facility-locator/pbsp/ UNLOCKED became the first of its kind at a security level IV institution.
Created by Critz and about 30 incarcerated men, the podcast aims to bring together the men on the inside and to communicate with the residents of Del Norte and Crescent City.
“They’re Del Norters too, and they’re very interested in hearing from the community. They want interaction. They want to humanize themselves, “ said Critz.
Dubbed as the single most important project in his career, Critz uses a portable recorder, laptop and a hand-held microphone to show his students how to put together a narrative.
While given much room for choosing content, Pelican Bay’s Public Information officer John Silviera advised Critz not to “bash the institution.”
“There’s a lot of gray area all around that phrase,” Critz told the Outpost. “We have to figure out what that means because at what point does bashing your reality become bashing the institution that’s responsible for your reality?”
Critz credits what he calls “The Awakening” as the pivotal moment in Pelican Bay’s history that led to launching the podcast.
“The Awakening” refers to the 2015 Supreme Court decision that shut down Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Units in 2013, following a widespread series of hunger strikes that began at the prison.
Critz’ students chose “The Awakening” as the subject of their first podcast. “They wanted to talk about… the changes that have been happening at Pelican Bay and other prisons as a result.
“The real awakening is hope,” said Critz. “They’re able to think about a future, maybe getting out – certainly even with people who’ll never get out.”
Critz, experienced in freelance journalism and radio, is best known as the operator of Crescent City’s community radio station. He was tapped to head Pelican Bay’s UNLOCKED by Stephanie Wenning, former executive director of the Del Norte Association for Cultural Awareness.http://dnaca.net/
Of all the reviews Critz received, “The one that stands out the most,” he told the Outpost, was from the daughter of one of his students.
“I love listening to this podcast. It makes me happy to know my dad is doing something positive with his life. I can’t wait to hear more,” she said.
The second annual San Quentin News Journalism Guild Graduation took place in the Garden Chapel on Jan. 17. Twelve graduates from November’s class combined with this current class of 11 to celebrate finishing the six-month course.
The event honored the graduates, recognized advisors and brought attention to the impact of programs like the guild on rehabilitation.
Richard “Bonaru” Richardson, SQ News’ Executive Editor and winner of the Arnulfo T. Garcia Leadership Award, spoke about the importance of the guild.
Having worked every position from print to layout to Editor-in-Chief, Richardson reflected how words began to change his life.
“At my last prison, a guy called me pessimistic, and I wanted to beat him up—even though I really didn’t know what the word meant,” said Richardson.
Inmates across the country can thank Richardson’s curiosity and intellect when he looked the word up and realized his own talent with words.
“Words mean a lot; we communicate with each other; we all have the ability to grow. Our newspaper allows people to grow—and will continue to do so,” said Richardson.
“Our graduates—know you were journalists before you picked up a pen. Remember, if no one tells your story, who will?” Richardson said. “Please use your voice; it’s the most powerful asset (weapon) you have.”
Lisa Adams, the newspaper’s development manager for two years, called her career journey from state and federal prison “empty, until I found my niche helping others.”
Adams is collaborating with Wells Fargo Bank executive Amanda Weitman to generate philanthropic donations for the news agency. “Inside and out, we give the world access to the understanding and awareness of social reform and its impact. This news agency reduces recidivism by giving hope to the incarcerated throughout the nation,” said the philanthropic executive.
Today, San Quentin News is a leading voice for incarcerated people in the country.
San Quentin News’ editor-in-chief, Marcus “Wali” Henderson, remarked upon the journalism program’s capacity to build bridges. “(SQ News and Wall City) journalists tell stories that people are afraid to tell.”
Henderson, who used to chair the Guild, then introduced keynote speaker Tracy Brumfield.
Brumfield has transformed from “a heroin addict in and out of jail and then prison” to founder of a women’s news agency called RISE.
She inspired the crowd, speaking about her addiction, “I’m beating its ass.” For the graduates she said, “The power of words—storytelling—includes talking about our journey. I found it extremely empowering to tell my journey…Write about what you know…your testimony!”
The Department of Juvenile Justice’s Ericka Mutchler celebrated the success of the incarcerated female population in California. Mutchler gave praise to Wall City’s third edition, which featured incarcerated females.
“The women featured on the back page of Wall City were my [juvenile] clients who co-wrote articles for the edition. I am pleased to announce all of them have been released with jobs,” said the counselor.
Henderson introduced former San Francisco prosecutor Marisa Rodriquez after he spoke about the social reform symposiums at San Quentin. The latest forum with the San Francisco Police Department was a “Blue on Blue forum [which] improved communication between law enforcement and incarcerated persons. It [forums] will allow us continue to build bridges that no one else can,” said Henderson.
In 2012, Rodriquez took a suggestion from her father to visit San Quentin.
“Now, I can’t shake this place,” said the former D.A. “It [the visit] was very, very moving, and I didn’t expect that. I shared the experience with my supervisor, San Francisco D.A. George Gascon.” She told Gascon there was something very special happening at San Quentin, and he needed to go in and see what was happening himself, if we are going to change justice.
Gascon’s office then collaborated with the late Arnulfo Garcia to create the first symposium. It focused on San Francisco Community Court prosecutors’ desire to investigate what drives youth to commit crimes.
The symposium was such a success, today the forums are a core of the news outlet’s brand.
Rodriquez said after Police Chief (Del Scott) brought in his team, it led to the creation of the nation’s first Formerly Incarcerated Advisory Board. The board includes San Francisco prosecutors and formerly incarcerated men and women, many of whom had life sentences before being paroled.
CDCR administrators who ensure accuracy and analysis for SQ News include), Terri Hardy, Krissi Khokhobashvili, and Ike Dodson. They received plaques of recognition and said, “No matter what happened in your past, who you are when you come out on the other side is what matters.” Henderson also praised the group of Wall City advisors in attendance. Kate McQueen, Sarah Horowitz, Doug Levy and Dan Fost represented the magazine’s advisory board of 12.
Mike Daly, the chief probation officer in Marin County, believes in restorative justice, something he’s put into practice instead of talking about it.
During an interview with SQ News in January, Daly discussed pro-social thinking and how to “rewire’ people to be the best they can be after becoming involved in the criminal justice system.
“I want people to know that restorative justice does work, and there’s data to prove it,” said Daly. “It should be part of a forward thinking criminal justice system.”
To successfully undertake restorative justice as a model, he said, there has to be input from district attorneys, victims, offenders and other stakeholders.
In Marin County, “Cases are referred to the probation department for restorative justice only after being cleared by the Marin County District Attorney’s Office and the Marin County Public Defender’s Office,” the Marin Independent Journal reported
For three years, Daly’s office has been innovative in its approach to criminal justice.
“I think I’m the first in Marin to hire someone to do restorative justice,” he said. “We offer that if the victim is okay with it. We want to be careful not to re-victimize…”
Citing some of the failures mass incarceration has produced over the last 30 years, Daly said a change in the culture of corrections needs to take place as well. He acknowledged the increase in California’s prison population didn’t happen overnight but said the legislature was asleep at the wheel for two decades.
Between 1990 and 2005, a new prison opened in the United States every 10 days,” wrote Bryan Stevenson, attorney and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, in his book Just Mercy. “Prison growth and the resulting ‘prison-industrial complex’ – the business interests that capitalize on prison construction – made imprisonment so profitable that millions of dollars were spent lobbying state legislators…”
“We didn’t examine or make adjustments,” Daly said of the years California’s recidivism rate was at 70%.
He said it was there for a long time, and every year the state budget kept going up. Eventually a federal three-judge panel stepped in.
When that happened, the courts instructed California to reduce and maintain its state prison population at a cap of 137.5% of design capacity in order to deliver adequate medical care to all inmates.
Shortly thereafter, in 2011, California lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 109, Public Safety Realignment, and implemented it to manage the state’s unprecedented growth in its prison population.
Other significant reforms followed in California’s criminal justice landscape. Changes in the law such as Proposition 57 are changing the situation, he said, while admitting it’s not perfect, “but it’s a start.”
Daly said he’s worked with Ralph Diaz, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
They’ve established a Skype program that allows inmates headed for post-release community supervision (PRCS) to communicate with their probation officer before leaving state prison.
Daly was president of the Chief Probation Officers of California in 2014. According to the Marin County Probation Department website, “(former) Governor Brown had placed a tremendous amount of responsibility on the shoulders of probation departments across the state. You don’t do that unless you have trust and confidence in your partners.”
Daly said he felt that trust.
“We will work with Governor Newsom and hopefully create the same trusting bond that we had with Governor Brown,” the probation department website states.
“We’re not a ‘lock ‘em up county,’” said Daly. “I’m happy that Marin has adjusted to Realignment very well.”
He said all of its criminal justice leaders who voted to allocate funding feel that strong rehabilitative programs are the best for public safety.
Assembly Bill 109 provides funding for many of Marin County’s support systems such as finding shelter for those on probation.
“We will pay for that free, for the first six months,” said Daly.
Daly noted that Senate Bill 678 also provides funding for programs that offset prison.
“This bill was introduced around 2008, and it’s still active today,” he said.
The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program also funds Daly’s restorative justice service, the Independent Journal reported. Daly stressed that defendants who participate in this program are less likely to reoffend.
Daly was appointed as Chief Probation Officer in 2009 by the Board of Supervisors, but confessed he wasn’t ready to deal with the politics that came with the job. Since Realignment, the management of lower-level prisoners was shifted from the state prison and parole system to the county jail and probation system.
To promote justice, Daly said “We’re proposing that the age of jurisdiction for juveniles be 18 to 19,” citing the science behind brain development and the foundational reasoning that the brain is still in a stage of development between the ages 18 and 25.
“We all have our points of change,” said Daly. “What I’m trying to develop [in them] is intrinsic motivation. Sometimes guys don’t care about themselves so it’s hard to make those changes. When you make that move intrinsically you have a much higher likelihood of being successful.”
“I’ve seen guys who’ve turned the corner,” said Daly, adding “Extrinsic motivation doesn’t work on guys from the hood. You have much more success when you develop intrinsic motivation.”
Daly said statewide, 8% of those on PRCS violate their probation and return to prison, but in Marin County the number is 2%. “We’re considered a high performing county,” he said.
In 1990, Daly received his bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly in Social Science with a concentration in criminal justice—the same year he started his career with Marin Probation. In 1999 he earned a master’s degree in public administration from Golden Gate University.
“I’m super proud about (restorative justice) and I’m looking to expand,” said Daly. “I’d like people to know that we are the first department in California solely to conduct restorative justice for offender and victim. I’m pretty proud of the footprint we have in Marin.”
Secretary Diaz calls for a sense of urgency for prison reforms
As they covered 5,000 miles and an ocean on an international flight on Sept. 14, CDCR Secretary, Ralph Diaz and Connie Gipson had plenty of time to consider their doubts.
“It won’t work here.”
“California is too big, too violent and plagued by prison gangs.”
Those thoughts soon gave way to excited optimism, as the pair, CDCR’s Secretary and Division of Adult Institutions (DAI) Director, bonded with senior staff from the governor’s office, formerly incarcerated people, peace officer union representatives and criminal justice advocates in a life-changing environment across the globe.
Over six days, Diaz and Gipson toured Norwegian prisons, training facilities and reentry programs, witnessing famed humanistic practices that deliver wellness, safety and empowerment to everyone involved.
The trip, funded by philanthropic programs and organized by an ambitious visionary at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), made significant impact on CDCR leadership. “The world shrunk,” Diaz explained. “I saw staff and inmates engaging in a very positive way, as if the environment belonged to all of them, not just inmates or staff.
“At that moment I saw aspects of this that can be done.”
Diaz and Gipson were joined by California Men’s Colony. Warden Josie Gastelo and Salinas Valley State Prison Warden Matthew Atchley and Captain Edward Brown. Governor Newsom [sent] representatives Daniel Seeman, Deputy Cabinet Secretary, and Kelli Evans, Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary for Criminal Justice in the Office of the Governor.
Other attendees included formerly incarcerated advocates Adnan Khan (Co-Founder of Re:Store Justice) and Sam Lewis (Executive Director of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition), or representatives from the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
“I think it was the right people in the room, and what was so fascinating was that we all came to our discoveries throughout the week,” Gipson said. “It was really beneficial to have so many different perspectives going through the same experience.”
“We chose Norway because they have a very public health approach to corrections. They say that people go to court to get punished and go to prison to become better neighbors,” said Williams. “Every single policy/procedure and contact with a program is seen as an opportunity to bring health and well-being to people who are incarcerated, and simultaneously this gives staff and correctional officers the opportunity to change people’s lives for the better.”
To make the trip happen, Amend partnered with the community-based nonprofit organization Smart Justice to raise philanthropic funds. The biggest contributors included The Jacob and Valeria Langeloth Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
Advocates for all
In Norway, the only human right an incarcerated person loses is liberty. The system, including architecture and habitat, is designed to mimic the community those citizens will return to. Interactions with staff are specifically structured to champion wellness and safety.
“I believe we have segments of what is happening in Norway going on in our institutions,” Diaz said. “We have to line it up, put it on paper and give employees the permission to care about the inmate population and remind them that rehabilitation has been a part of their job since the day they signed up.”
There are clear benefits to the normalcy of the environment for staff as well as inmates. Williams said initial reports from Norway show health and life expectancy metrics for correctional staff mirror the outcomes of other citizens. She pointed to research in California that has highlighted a public health crisis among correctional employees, who are more prone to depression, suicide and poor life expectancy.
Khan, whose work at Re:Store Justice brings victims and offenders together for dialogue and forgiveness, said, “My advocacy has always been about crime survivors, bringing them in to prison, and currently/formerly incarcerated people, but when Brie talked about suicides and life expectancy of staff — that bothered me. I had to reevaluate my advocacy. Am I choosing to be the leader of a specific demographic of justice reform or an advocate for public health and humanity? Human rights and public health advocacy has to include correctional officers that are suffering and in pain.”
How Norway changed
Norway’s prison model, thriving at a reported recidivism rate of 20%, wasn’t built overnight. Advocates point to demands by the Norwegian Parliament that authorized a shift to rehabilitation and humanistic practices in the late 1990s.
Over time, accompanied by changes in sentencing laws, massive changes to all aspects of the correctional system began to take hold.
Those changes go far beyond the supportive housing units with private restrooms, couches, stocked kitchen units or even small forests in recreational yards that keep offenders connected to the world around them.
Officers interact warmly and respectfully on a first-name basis with incarcerated people and are trained much longer—two years versus CDCR’s 13-week Basic Correctional Officer Academy. They are schooled on psychology, criminology, human rights and ethics. The process includes a lot of perspective shifts, like placing an officer in the role of an offender and experiencing different custodial tactics.
“I always look at experiences, trainings with an open mind, but I admit, I was pretty apprehensive about this,” Gipson said. “Early on I felt like this was too good to be true, but the more I started to listen to their concepts and principles of normality, humanity, the more I bought in. Everything clicked, and I was just blown away. I came back excited because I feel there are a lot of possibilities for us.”
The California way
A theme understood by trip-goers and emphasized by Norwegian officials is the practicality of change.
Norway didn’t evolve into a better form of correctional care immediately, and uprooting the same system and dropping it into a vastly different population is not the solution for California.
“We are not trying to make it the Norway way or the European way but the California way,” Diaz said. “We are a unique, diverse populace with cultures within cultures, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make necessary changes.”
“We just have to make it the California way. That doesn’t mean saying no to security but yes to a different way of doing business that improves the workplace and makes a better life for people returning to our communities,” he added.
Diaz said he looks forward to collaborating with other states that strive for similar innovation and emphasized the importance of supporting an environment that both acknowledges the suffering of crime victims and delivers on a promise to create fewer victims in the future.
He joined Gipson in a presentation to CDCR wardens across the state on Nov. 6, highlighting the most impactful concepts and practices that simultaneously promote wellness, safety and rehabilitation.
“We have to look at our historic policies and ask ourselves about each one: Why? Is it humane?” Diaz said. “As policy makers it is our job to change policies and explain why, because in the end we have to create a more humane prison system.”
The insight inspires action.
“My first step is getting a workgroup together to look at what policies and procedures we have in play that escalate vs. de-escalate,” Gipson said. “I also want to look at our training and talk about giving staff the comfort to manage situations within their authority without fear of making a mistake.”
“My big takeaway is a sense of urgency to make these necessary reforms because we have witnessed positive impact for all those involved in a correctional setting and for those returned to communities,” Diaz said. “I know what can be done. I know the department’s abilities and the ability of staff to get things done.”
That’s the California way.
Be it California or Mississippi, when news of suicides, murders or riots reaches any prison population the feeling is always the same: “damn”—if it’s spoken or not. Especially if you’ve been through it or witnessed these things.
Society might think “there goes those violent monsters acting up again.” What is rarely discussed is that we are a product of the society. Most of us incarcerated and are Americans, and America is filled with double standards (we’ll get to that later) and most of the time breeds intolerance.
Black people and others are still suffering under racism, and we don’t have to go back to slavery to see this. Black people can’t BBQ, sell water or lose cigarettes without the police being called. A Black man was even arrested for eating a sandwich at a San Francisco BART transit station platform. We can’t even sit in our own homes without being shot and killed.
Have we ever talked about collective trauma? It’s not just individuals who suffer. It’s whole communities. Our immigrant community is being detained, and kids are/have been separated from their parents—OK, more trauma. Our President even ordered the assassination of a Iranian general using violence in the name of stopping violence.
Have we been raised to be intolerant against any and everyone who is not like us (on both sides)? Has violence been shown as a way to solve our problems? Is this learned behavior?
We witnessed our President say that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight and not get charged. Damn! That’s a criminal threat, or what we incarcerated call a “terrorist threat,” and people in here are doing three to five years, if not a life sentence, for a statement such as that.
During President Trump’s House impeachment trial started by the Democrats—more separation—Trump was alleged to have attempted to strong arm, bribe or leverage—or whatever a good word choice would be (quid pro quo)—to get the Ukrainian president to investigate his rival, excuse me, his possible political opponent, for his own advantage.
Once again, there are hundreds of thousands of people serving long sentences for attempting to do a crime. But what really was most interesting to those incarcerated was how the Republicans, Trump’s “homies” (supporters), kept touting that all the evidence against him was just hearsay. Wait, wait, wait—how many people are sitting in U.S. prisons and jails convicted on hearsay evidence? And I haven’t yet mentioned the venomous call to reveal the name of the whistleblower. Trump’s supporters came just short of calling the confidential informant a “snitch.”
When the smoke cleared Trump was impeached in the House (by his rivals) on “Abuse of Power” and “Obstruction of Justice.”
But, he was acquitted by the majority Republican Senate. Imagine that! a jury of one’s peers. I think most people incarcerated would have loved to have their friends, supporters or homies on their juries. It wouldn’t be hard to guess the outcome.
Now let’s talk about prison violence and reform. When people are sentenced to 800 plus years, what is expected? They have officially written their lives off and wonder what they have to live for or if they will ever see the streets again. Add to that, they are incarcerated in harsh and questionable conditions.
San Quentin’s newest food manager says in a predominately-male prison, it takes a woman’s touch to balance out the population, especially when it comes to food.
“I worked with men and around men my entire career,” said Martha Garcia, Correctional Food Manager II.https://www.calhr.ca.gov/state-hr-professionals/Pages/5480.aspx (CFM). “So it’s no big deal to be a woman in charge of a situation like this. This is not my first rodeo,” she adds with a big smile.
Known as the “Big Boss” by her nine staff members, Garcia and her crew are responsible for feeding nearly 5,000 men at San Quentin Prison three times a day, 365 days a year.
Garcia says her love of cooking began at home but evolved into a passion to cook for the public. Her first gig was teaching young adults how to cook in a state funded program. She has worked in restaurants and participated in cooking clubs. She also has experience in catering. Her first job in a prison was at Salinas Valley State Prison,https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/facility-locator/svsp/ Level IV.
She rose through the ranks over the years as a cook in several other prisons, Tehachapi State Prison, Old Folsom Prison and California State Prison,(CSP) Sacramento just to name a few. It was at CSP that she wanted to make a difference in the diet for the older incarcerated men.
“I always loved food,” Garcia said compassionately, “I always want to put the best food forward. I saw a lot of older men getting sicker, and I wanted to change the medical condition.”
Garcia came to San Quentin over a year ago because she liked its historic relevancy. When she arrived, she estimates the kitchen was under staffed by at least 50 %. Since she became Food Manager, the food and services have improved.
“When she came here the breakfast eggs changed for the better,” said part time incarcerated kitchen worker Maurice Reed. “Yeah the eggs are cooked better now. In fact, breakfast, lunch and dinner got better. Lunches got them granola bars in them and fresh veggies and the food is good at least 3 times a week now. I miss the real catfish for dinner; I cannot wait to have that again. The only thing I can say that I wish would happen is that it be more consistent.”
Reed has been at San Quentin for almost 8 years now and he said he definitely has seen the food change for the better.
Garcia added new meals and a variety of foods, such as fresh yogurts, puddings, tangerines and chocolate milk.
The lunches are bagged with treats such as granola bars and BBQ potato chips. Dinner meals on Fridays are not the usual processed breaded fish. The men in blue now dine on real fried catfish and potato wedges, (fish and chips). One recent Friday meal was chicken covered pizza.
Although Garcia loves cooking for the men-in-blue, her other main concern is the staff. At the sound of an alarm, she is quick to make sure her staff is okay.
She oversees day-to-day operations from her office. However, that is not where you’d find her most of the time. She is usually helping her, “overly strained and over worked,” staffers with their duties.
“She is doing an exceptional job,” said five-year veteran Supervisor Correctional Cook, (SCC) I. Sapao.
Sapao is usually the morning supervisor but is working the night shift due to a staff shortage.
“I never seen a manager who helps out, but she helps,” she said.
From unloading the trucks on the dock, to the preparation of the food, Garcia is involved in it all.
“I remember my humble beginnings,” Garcia said, “To deal with people you have to be a people person. You have to have a sense of humor and be a little quirky. Just because you’re here (in prison) don’t mean that you have to be down.”
She added, “I learned that it’s important to respect people and incarcerated men have always showed me respect.”
Garcia gets along with people she works with—free staff and men in blue alike.
“I never had a problem with her, and she is always easy to communicate with,” said two-year incarcerated worker Jose Ledesma. “She never gives us problems, and she is just a good food manager. She’s the same every day.”
The men in blue receive fresh whole veggies and fruit daily. Garcia credits the previous food manager for that. However, she smiles while she takes the credit for adding all of the “crazy ones,” like red bell peppers and squash.
Not everyone likes all of Garcia’s changes.
“Only complaint I received so far is that I put too much spice in the food or too many onions or something of that nature,” Garcia smiles modestly.
The gratitude form the San Quentin residents have not gone unnoticed.
“I really appreciate the addition of the yogurt,” said San Quentin resident Stu Ross.
San Quentin gets about $5.4 million annually according to Garcia, which is spent quarterly to provide food for the prison. Prison officials in Sacramento create diet meals and issue the budget that Garcia has to follow. She stays within budget by searching the internet for the bargains.
“I’m a foodie,” said Garcia, “I don’t believe that you need all that expensive stuff to have a good meal. I work toward the goal of having a palatable meal. Plus, I look for deals that will provide opportunity to save money plus provide a good meal.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing major changes in California’s criminal justice system by reducing probation to two years and boosting rehabilitation programs for offenders.
Newsom said the change is aimed at cutting costs and reducing recidivism.
He said he proposes spending “an unprecedented amount of money” — $210 million over four years – in rehabilitation programs early in the probation period, where they are believed most effective, The Associated Press reported Jan. 11.
The plan sets probation at a maximum of two years, down from five for felonies and three for misdemeanors.Probation officers support the change but police chiefs are opposed.
Longer probation terms allow officers to search offenders, their homes and vehicles to find drugs, weapons, stolen items or other evidence, said Ron Lawrence, president of the California Police Chiefs Association. According to him, this tends to reduce crimes.
Lawrence said his group opposes changes that would lessen accountability. “Lessening the tail on probation would frankly lessen that accountability.”
Support is voiced by the Chief Probation Officers of California. The group agrees that focusing on rehabilitative services is the best way to help change their behavior and reduce re-offense.”
“The data and the evidence and the science bears out,” Newsom said. “You front load services – those first 18 months are determinative. He said the change was prompted by a major increase in car burglaries following passage of a proposition that reclassified some felonies as misdemeanors.
“This goes directly to the car break-ins, this goes to the petty crime issue, this should be celebrated by the law enforcement community because of the intensity of services we want to provide,” Newsom said.
Longer duration of supervision not only costs money,” he said, “For small petty things you throw people back in the system and that cycle of violence perpetuates itself.”
The reform group Californians for Safety and Justice points out that ten times as many offenders are sentenced to probation than to prison but probation receives only a fraction of the funding.
President Donald Trump used another one of his executive orders to create a committee dealing with how to enforce the law equally and without bias, according to Tom Jackman of the Washington Post. With endorsements from organizations like the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and others, the law would deal with equal protection, adding more people of color and females to the police force, and using 21st century techniques to fight crime.
“The thrust of the order,” said Nina J. Ginsberb, a Virginia-based lawyer who is president of the defense lawyers’ association, “begs the question as to how interested this commission will be in solving the deep and structural problems in America’s criminal justice system, as opposed to simply delivering on certain law enforcement requests.”
The U.S. attorney general will have the authority to determine the composition and the procedures for the functioning of the commission.
The measure was signed in October 2019, and those in charge have less than 10 months to complete their work. A similar bill is pending in Congress, the Dec. 23, 2019 story noted.
According to the article, the bill calls for review of policing poor communities, handling of the homeless issue, the needs of the mentally ill, and mass incarceration
Finding a way to make this happen presents a challenge not just for law enforcement, but other government agencies, said Terry Cunningham, deputy executive director for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Cunningham said that working groups have to find a bipartisan way in Congress to implement all of these things. “We’ll have their report, but how do you get it funded?”
The story reported finding funds requires a bipartisan panel and when the bill goes before the various committees the concern is that certain elements of the bill be phased-out. Across the aisle participation has been hard to achieve when working to iron-out delicate issues. This bill, however, affects the whole country. Law enforcement, along with the Justice Department, will try to get their way.