After two years of pandemic programing restrictions, volunteers and incarcerated residents were finally able to resume the prison’s beloved Christmas caroling tradition.
“People you never imagined will be touched by God’s voice through us tonight. We will sing and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ our savior,” said Sister Paula Bates.
The 2019 event was led by SQ Chaplain Mardi Jackson, who has since retired. For this year’s event, SQ staff strived to have an equal number of participants from the Protestant and Catholic choirs. Unification was the unstated theme of the 29th caroling event held on Dec. 21, 2022.
The choir gathered in the Garden Chapel before venturing out to perform where allowed in the prison. Returning leaders from the Bay Area’s Christian community were excited to see the event resume.
“It’s wonderful returning and spreading the Lord’s joy with the men-in-blue. Linda (his wife) and I missed caroling terribly over the last two years,” said Tim Hartung who preaches at the Man-to-Man Church in Santa Rosa.
Tiburon Baptist Church member and SQNews adviser John C. Eagan, who has attended 20-plus caroling events, said, “Caroling returning one way or another is wonderful because it does so much for men who have lost faith.”
Karen and Sam Knapp, pastors at Man-to-Man Ministries, agreed. “We travel with God and are fortunate to share his word, but we always make sure we’re in town when San Quentin caroling happens. We’re blessed to partake in song with the men for over 20 years,” said Sam Knapp.
Volunteer carolers from the TRUST program were amazed at the reception they received from Death Row. “There is tremendous faith and a lot of believers on Death Row. Everyone should see this,” said Dr. Kronstaadt.
Incarcerated performers shared their enthusiasm as well.
“Our brothers in Badger unit sang and clapped for us. I live there, and I knew sharing God’s Word with them would show them the light,” said resident Ammen Shinti, who performs in the Protestant congregation choir.
Resident Trent Woodmore performed with the 2019 carolers and compared the events. “[Staff] decided to start smaller this year and it was perfect just to see the Lord’s love flow from the entire prison. Every year, men from all denominations come up to us and thank us for touching their hearts. They need to know it wasn’t us; it was God,” he said.
After performing at West Block, resident choir member Steven Pascascio said, “It’s wonderful celebrating God’s Word with the entire prison for one night. Everyone forgets today’s celebration should magnify the world’s celebration of Baby Jesus; that’s why this is the most important night for men of all faiths.”
Tommie Hall, another resident caroler, said, “We’re blessed seeing men’s faces change — even men on phones stopped to listen. They really appreciated it. I will never forget this.”
As the carolers left each building, they sang We Wish You a Merry Christmas to the cheers of the appreciative residents.
Even H-Unit’s residents were surprised by a rare visit. “When I closed my eyes during the event, it took me back in time. I felt the emotions of Christmas at home and remembered our neighborhood’s churches caroling joyous songs at our front door,” said SQNews staff writer and H-Unit resident Carlos Drouaillet.
“Christmas at San Quentin has returned,” said resident caroler Ray Melberg. “God showed up for everyone and blessed us with voices to give hope to all — Merry Christmas to all!”