I am proud to have worked and walked the journey of prison journalism with a remarkable group of men for the past five years. These dedicated men have produced the award winning San Quentin News while also balancing college and rehabilitative programs.
That hard work has paid off for some of those in the newsroom: Six of our fellow staff members received commutations from former Gov. Jerry Brown, while other staff members have been “found suitable” by the parole board and are home now.
I am honored to have my name recently added to the distinguished list of editors- in-chief of San Quentin News. Coming off a Level Four yard with a life sentence, I never thought I would find more to my life than just doing time.
I thought I was OK because I was functioning. I wasn’t self-medicating with drugs or prison wine. I still had my hard exterior, but I was dead inside.
I locked up a lot of the real me. I didn’t know what “making amends” was until I came to San Quentin. The first day I arrived, my old cell-mate from Calpatria State Prison, Rahsaan (“New York”) Thomas, asked me to help cover a baseball game in which the prisoners were playing a team from outside, an event that would be unheard of in my former prison world.
Thomas told me to inter- view those people. My mouth dried up, and I realized I haven’t talked with anybody besides prisoners and guards for more than 15 years. That was my introduction as a reporter. I had to learn the power of capturing history and fairness, no matter if you like a topic or not.
I have been working for the paper for five years now, after beginning as a member of the Journalism Guild and working my way up to become the Journalism Guild Chairman. I learned the importance of telling our stories.
When we produce this paper, we do have all of you in mind, your families and ours and those who have paroled and are trying to reintegrate back into society.
We read all your letters, your complaints, support and grievances. We want you to know and understand that we are a news agency; it’s our responsibility to report on different aspects of our prison life. Our mission statement is to report on rehabilitative efforts to increase public safety; that is our task.
Some question us on why we are reporting on sports and entertainment? I would like to say San Quentin has a long history of entertainers performing within the prison –from Eartha Kitt, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, Common and many others.
By coming in to entertain us, these visitors give us a sense of normalcy. It is a moment in time to allow us to imagine being free. These same people are using their celebrity status on behalf of criminal justice reform, including Kim Kardashian, Common, J. Coles and many others we have covered in the San Quentin News.
Bob Meyers, Golden State Warriors general manager, and Eric Reid, former 49ers safety, who took a knee with Colin Kaepernick, sat on a Sports and Social Justice Roundtable at San Quentin that was moderated by Van Jones, a CNN political commentator and founder of #Cut50, an organization to reduce U.S. prison population by 2050.
These people make contributions beyond sport and play by adding their voices to our cause. Meyers gave a former San Quentin resident a shot at the D-League. Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant produced a documentary, called “Q-ball,” about the basketball program here and its rehabilitative nature.
We recently hosted a team of CDCR recreational coaches from around the state prisons system to discuss how they could bring some of these sports programs to their institutions. We continue to work to show that change is possible for those who want it.
Some readers want more legal advice, but not one of us is a lawyer, and we wouldn’t want to misdirect anyone.
But we will always report on CDCR policy changes and any new laws that are passed. Believe me, we hear you— and we are doing time just as you are.
Even if you don’t like something or someone, it is not for us to take away their voice. Our stories are intended to give voice to all of our audience, including volunteers, staff and administration.
San Quentin News has been working for our incarcerated population since its revival in 2008 and that’s more than a decade. Our staff will continue to get a newspaper out and into your hands, despite lock-downs, quarantines and searches.