The soccer program at San Quentin is becoming more than a weekly pick-up game played by prisoners; it’s attracting support and competition from beyond the prison’s walls.
Since June, the prisoner teams have consistently played games involving the non-incarcerated, with additional games scheduled for this month.
“It helps develop good citizenship and helps in the rehabilitative process”
The program that the prisoners envision is one similar to San Quentin baseball and basketball, which have weekly scheduled games with various outside teams.
Gavin “JoJo” Robinson and Juan Carlos Meza, two prisoners who not only have a passion for the sport but who think it necessary for the general population to have a soccer program, are at the forefront of the program’s success thus far.
A bulk of their success comes from an Englishman, Andrew Crawford, who coaches high school soccer in East San Jose.
Crawford read an article in San Quentin News about supporting soccer in the prison. He met up with Don Smith, of Prison Sports Ministry, who has established basketball, softball and flag football at the prison. Smith trained Crawford as a soccer sponsor.
Crawford now brings in all the outside competition, including a professional team, the San Francisco Deltas Robinson added.
“Andrew put us together. We all play throughout the city,” said Shant who played in a Sept. 17 match.
“I’m the guy who stands in the background,” said Crawford in an after-the-game speech when the incarcerated expressed their appreciation to the outside players for their visit.
“I think a soccer program is necessary for people who grow up playing soccer,” Meza said. “It helps develop good citizenship and helps in the rehabilitative process.”
Sports, like other activities inside a prison, are a temporary escape from a monotonous prison life. Sports can also be a way in which a prisoner feels connected to a community that’s depending on his or her performance.
For Brandon Hidalgo, a Mexican native and resident of the prison, soccer is liberating. “I don’t feel like I’m in prison,” he said.
“I hope that this continues [referring to the outside competition] and that soccer gets more expansive,” said Robinson, who grew up playing the sport and who has been at San Quentin for more than a decade.
The program’s recent success has raised certain questions for many of the prison’s players, such as: who gets to play and who makes that decision? Since there are no organized practices, whoever shows up for a match that involves outside competition can get some playing time. At least that is how it has been for the month of September.
As the program continues to move forward, a body cap is certain since Meza and Robinson want to bring soccer to the level of the SQ Giants and SQ Warriors. For now, the incarcerated men who feel at home on the field continue to enjoy the competition and camaraderie with their visitors.