Songs of struggle and redemption boomed in San Quentin’s Protestant Chapel as two of its former residents brought an audience of hundreds to their feet with the sounds of gospel.
Richard Brown and Daryl Buchana were serving life sentences before they were given a second chance under Proposition 36. The 2012 measure reformed California’s Three Strikes Law, giving judges the authority to resentence non-violent offenders and release them.
On June 2, they returned to the prison with their gospel group, Faithful, to perform their new album and join in fellowship with their old congregation.
“I’m not perfect. It took me 17 years for God to touch me,” said Brown. “Keep doing what you’re doing to get out. God sent me back out when people thought they sold me out.
“Don’t feel abandoned. You haven’t been forgotten. I had 25 to life. When I got arrested, I thought I was too old and wouldn’t have anything. But God blessed me; now I have a wife and a house. Don’t give up,” Brown encouraged.
Both singers were in the San Quentin choir and were in a group called New Day along with still-incarcerated keyboardist/singer W. “Rico” Rogers. Brown and Buchana paroled and continued New Day with longtime friend John Easter. They changed the group’s name to Faithful due to another band having control of the New Day name.
“Coming here, you see a lot of brothers who love the Lord. They just need a second chance,” Easter said. “A lot of us were going through the same situations and struggles like everyone else — we just wasn’t caught. We just feel blessed to make it back to the church.”
The group reunited with Rogers to perform a moving rendition of “Heaven Is My Home” that had guests and inmates on their feet, singing along to the chorus “I’m only passing through because heaven is my home / Jesus is going to heaven to build us a mansion / Take me home, Father, please don’t forsake me.”
“They look good and prosperous,” Rogers said. “Seeing them made me realize how much I missed playing music with them. I can’t wait to get back to the music with them.”
Buchana added, “I remember a lot of these guys; we have gone from prison to prison with each other. I felt the love and kind of the sorrow, too. I now have an opportunity to go home — it’s just hard to process. I pray for all the Garden Chapel members.”
The Faithful sang “It Was Predestined” and “Give God the Praise” off their album. The beautiful harmony put you in mind of the golden-oldies singing group the Chi-lites, with Brown hitting the high falsesetto notes.
The Graced Out Ministries, an assembly of young congregation members, hosted the event.
Antoine Watie and Ferrari Moody gave inspirational sermons. Moody’s lecture was titled “Don’t Allow Your Emotions to Destroy Your Destiny.” He taught on lust for material things, lust for power, and lust for praise. He spoke especially about people who are unfaithful within religion and try to take down other believers inside the community.
Harry “ATL” Smith brought a blend of street realism and redemption through Christ with his gospel rap “Straight Up.”
“Christ coming, bra / It’s time to get focused and prayed up / Jesus hung on that cross, just to save us / And for that, Lord, I owe you everything / You deserve it all, Lord / I’m sacrificing everything, straight up,” Smith’s chorus said.
“My song is geared to the youth, because they have to be reached. Our grandmothers or uncles can’t do it,” Smith said. “They have to see us doing the right things.”