Norberto Andino, 53, sat in a circle of about 25 people that included his classmates and teachers. The Colombian-born man came to prison without the ability, he said, to write even two sentences in English. It was the first time that the life-term prisoner reconsidered his educational journey.
“When I went to school in Colombia, I was so ashamed,” Andino said on July 15 at the third San Quentin News Teacher’s Forum. “My mother didn’t have money for me to eat. I had to walk for an hour to get to school in 102-degree heat almost every day. I felt embarrassed.”
Ms. H. Lucas is one of Andino’s teacher. Many of her students at San Quentin have lived in economically disadvantaged communities that are plagued with violence and other hardships.
“I have to understand the impact and added stress that these factors might bring to a student,” Lucas said in a previous interview. “I don’t know what they’ve endured or what they are going through, so it is important to be patient and understanding of each person.”
The forum’s aim was to give educators from the San Francisco Bay Area the opportunity to meet students who didn’t complete high school and wound up in prison – students who are in the process of obtaining their high school diploma or its equivalency.
For decades, The Rand Corporation has studied educational opportunities for the incarcerated and found, participation in any kind of education program, independent of the prisoner’s offense, or topic and level of the intervention, increases employment post- release and reduces recidivism by up to 43%.
Another study in 2019, Prison-based Education: Programs, Participation and Proficiency in Literacy/Numeracy found retaining employment post-release is “critical” to reduce recidivism.
“Every dollar invested in correctional education saves nearly five dollars in re-incarceration costs over three years,” Rand concluded.
Kita Grinberg teaches in Mendocino county jail.
Grinberg says she sees how academics and healing support each other.
“Opening the doors to edu- cation is what’s needed to stop recidivism,” Grinberg said.
“We use the time in the jail positively.”
“I feel very strongly when I hear about the failures,” Ayers said, “not just as individuals, but as institutions. But, what are we going to do about it?”
Elaine Bryce’s high school students emailed questions about incarceration. The responses from SQN staff about the realities of prison negated their preconceptions. Bryce said that their honesty changed the trajectory of her students’ lives. “For that I will be forever grateful. I’m here to learn from you guys.”
Bryce and her students are scheduled to tour the prison on a later date.
The incarcerated men presented the teachers with brief stories about their educational experiences inside and outside of prison. Many of the stories indicated that childhood trauma, family separations, substance abuse and violence played a large part in disrupting their education. A common theme about their educational opportunities at San Quentin was the caring classroom environment that the teachers provided.
Lorenzo Romero said that when he came to prison he didn’t know how to read or write because his learning disability prevented him from pronouncing words or understanding definitions of words.
“I never found a teacher who believed in me in the other eight prisons,” Romero said. When he enrolled in the education classes at San Quentin, he said, the teachers gave him the confidence that education could work for him.
Anthony Coleman, a self- described first-generation gang member who is now an ex- gang member, once worked as a teacher’s aide. He now mentors young individuals in math, English and life skills.
“I like to help the ones who won’t come to the education classes here.” Coleman said, referring to San Quentin teachers. “I’ve never seen the loyalty that the teachers apply here.”
Charles Brandon, an 11th-grade dropout, said participating in the forum was encouraging.
“Being a part of that made me look at my life and want to do better,” he said.
Norberto Andino, who can now speak and write English fluently, added, “I want to put all my effort into getting a GED. It’s gonna take some time, but I know I’m gonna get it.”
By Juan Haines and Joe Garcia, Staff Writers