Seven San Quentin inmates have completed a three-year intensive program qualifying them as addiction recovery counselors.
They were recognized at the 11th Annual Addiction Recovery Day, along with representatives of Peet’s Coffee and Tea, financial supporters.
The program required 2,240 hours of counseling training to meet the educational and experience criteria for professional certification. The graduates were: John Bergeron, Gregory “White Eagle” Coates, John Lam, Edward Scott, Nou Thao, Martin Walters and Quinton Walker.
Peet’s Coffee was recognized for the generosity of its employees, who donated a portion of their Christmas tips to support the ARC program.
“Recovery saved my life,” said Walters, who added that he has been sober for nine years. “It was a journey. I have been in many dark dungeons in these state prisons. But I found love for myself and the tools to stay sober, and now I’m certified to continue to help others.”
The local Peet’s staff shared Walters’ desire to give back to those harmed by addiction. Peet’s district manager, Rick Ramirez, and outlet store manager, Mallory Olmstead, came to the event on Sept. 23 and spoke about how their family members’ struggles with addiction prompted them to advocate for donating to the ARC program.
“Recovery saved my life”
“We are proud to help,” Olmstead said. “You can see the impact it is having, and we will take that back to our stores. I had family suffer from addiction and didn’t get help they needed, and to see the drive of these men makes you want to move forward.”
Ramirez added, “My father was an addict and died. I grew up around a lot of guns, violence and alcoholism as a child, and it was very scary. I’m just glad I made some good choices and had an uncle that was a good example.
“Coming here makes you appreciate what you have,” he continued. “What these men have shown is that if you open up yourself, you can have an impact. They have taught me to start thinking the same.”
The small crowd of visitors and the incarcerated were treated to the smooth sounds of the San Quentin Music Program, which was sponsored by prison staff member Raphaele Casale. San Quentin’s house bands received thunderous applause for several original songs, and visiting comedian Mark Lundholm, a former prisoner himself, had heads rolling back with laughter.
“I mow the warden’s lawn so I can do whatever I want here,” said Lundholm. “You can always tell who the new inmates are because they are the ones always moving around. The hard-chiseled ones have been around a while because they just stand there. That’s how you spot the new COs (correctional officers) too, they always moving around, while the older ones are just waiting around for retirement.”
Lundholm heckled a few inmates and staff and joked about his time in prison and his own struggles with addiction. But he got serious with the crowd when he shared how his father molested him.
“My father taught me how to use my words because I had to protect my brothers,” Lundholm said. “I learned to use comedy to defend myself. I also learned you must forgive the perp because, if you don’t, you will become one of them.”
Lundholm encouraged the men in blue: “Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you are great. You have to tell yourself that now; when I was in prison I told myself that and look where I’m at in my life.”
Dr. Davida Coady, ARC volunteer instructor, called each graduate to the podium to receive his diploma, and each gave a short speech.
“It’s about somebody believing in you, and that’s what we give our clients (other prisoners),” said certificate-earner Thao. “A lot of people in San Quentin suffer from low self-esteem but won’t admit it. That’s why we try to build courage and self-worth in our clients, because living in a false reality can keep you in a world of drugs and alcohol.”
Thao stressed the importance of knowing the difference between having a Relapse Prevention “Plan” and a Relapse Prevention “Program.”
“A program is about communicating your needs and wants that helps you get through your impulse behavior,” Thao said, “while a plan is just something you have on paper.”
Visitor Daniel Petersen of the Support 4 Recovery organization shared how the dyslexia he suffered from as a kid led to addiction.
“I felt ashamed, alienated and different,” Petersen said. “And at school I would start fights so I wouldn’t be exposed. Then I got introduced to drugs. I got praised for my high tolerance for drugs and my ability to score drugs. I went from snorting, to smoking, to shooting dope.
“I had a friend murdered while he was stealing car radios, and I had a close friend die from an overdose,” he continued. “I was sitting in a dope house and started to cry. I knew I needed to change. I checked into New Bridge Foundation and began my delicate road to recovery. Once you place recovery first, everything else will fall in place.”
Petersen said he just celebrated 19 years of sobriety in June.
Kristin Lobos, from Support 4 Recovery, spoke about having a teenage daughter who went through an addiction and is now five years clean and has an 18-month-old baby.
“I just live in a space of just loving her,” Lobos said. “You just have to build a system of doors of recovery they can walk through. But they have to have the courage to walk through them.
“That’s why I like coming to these graduations, because a lot of people don’t understand the rewards of having a family member in the recovery process. It’s a healing journey and not just a dark scary place. It’s about walking that path with your loved one, and I’m walking mine with my daughter,” she added.
The event ended with a pledge to maintain sobriety and to continue to help others.
“This is our community,” said Walker, another certificate earner. “It’s necessary for us to step forward and begin to help and heal each other. I’m thankful for being a part of this team of counselors. We know what it’s like to feel hopeless, so we are here today to say there is hope.”
A special thanks went out to the ARC volunteers and sponsors Dr. Davida Coady, Tom Gorham, Ric Baez, Tom Aswald, Kiki Kessler, Martina Spilman, Judy Bassen and the San Quentin administration.