Athletics, education and self-help programs are major factors on changing lives in San Quentin State Prison. Here are some of the people who found rehabilitation behind the walls:
Thaddeus Fleeton, 49. 2nd-degree murder, serving a 15-life sentence. SQN: What has it been like playing for the S.Q. Kings these past two seasons?
It’s been a great experience — coming across paths with people from the street; the competitive spirit, the positive vibes and the enlightening conversations.
SQN: How long have you been involved in sports overall?
I started boxing at the age of 8 through 20; I picked up football at 12, and then basketball at 15.
SQN: Are you involved with any self-help groups?
Anger Management, AA/NA and Justice for the People. In addition, while I was at Salinas Valley Level IV, I took part in meditation. Breaking Barriers (Old Folsom ‘89) … Walking a Path – juveniles (Mule Creek ‘95-96)
SQN: What is the difference between the Thaddeus that first came into the system and the Thaddeus giving SQN this interview?
The “Thad” that came in was violent. That Thad had been to every Ad-Seg in every prison, and it was behind violence; I was reactionary; the Thad at The Q is a thinker, a positive individual; a people person, father, brother, son and uncle. I finally came to grips with my crime and owning up to it.
SQN: “Rehabilitated.” What does this word mean to you?
You have to look yourself in the mirror and own up to your responsibilities and obligations.
SQN: What would you say to that young person who’ll read this, and they are thinking that coming to prison is a “rite of passage?”
A young person thinking about this path … you won’t hug ya moms, can’t go outside when you want … you’ll have to follow orders – from authority, whether you want to or not.
Trevor Bird, 34. Convicted of 1st-degree murder, sentenced to 26 to life. SQN: How long have you been here at San Quentin?
SQN: What sports have you played at The Q?
I played two seasons with All-Madden flag football; in baseball, one full season with the Giants, starting at second base. I play tennis, soccer, as well as the Intramural League Basketball.
SQN: What self-help groups have you taken since your arrival?
Kid Cat, Last Mile, G.R.I.P. (Guiding Rage into Power); through R.E.A.C.H, I became a tutor for VEP, and GED prep. I’m also in the machine shop.
SQN: Have you taken any college courses?
I completed Principles in Accounting toward my bachelor’s in Adam’s State in Colorado. I have previously earned an A.A. through Coastline Community College.
SQN: What does it mean to you to be a student athlete?
The athletics keep my body fit. The academics keep the mind sharp. That’s how I can complete myself within these walls — sharp mind, fit body.
SQN: What is it about The Q that has allowed you to key in on the projects that you’re involved in?
This is the first prison that I’ve been to that’s linked to the greater metropolitan area. These groups offer connections to the community. The inmate community is so mature and like-minded that it makes everything we do so much more accepting than any place I’ve been. This entire environment is focused toward the person, not the skin tone.
Christopher Deragon, 35. Convicted of 1st-degree murder, 26 to life. SQN: How long have you been at the Q?
Almost five years.
SQN: The Chris that arrived here over four years ago was…?
Still somebody caught up in the prison mentality.
SQN: Did sports play a part in changing that?
Yeah, it did. This is the first prison I played interracial sports. When I first I arrived, I wasn’t going to play because it was integrated. However, I came down to the yard every day and watched the practice, and finally my cellie told me, “Just play baseball, who cares?” He was right. I asked myself, “Who cares? If I don’t, who else will?’
SQN: What self-help groups are you involved in?
Impact, Trust, VOEG (Victim Offender Education Group), Real Choices, Alliance for Change; I’m currently the co-leader for the Education Department. I’m in charge of all the inside and outside facilitators, and making sure that the curriculum is run correctly.
SQN: What does it feel like to be a student-athlete?
It’s a challenge because you have to manage your schedule at the Q. I have a full-time job, plus I out-count from three to five. I have Real Choices, which is youth diversion. Therefore, I get kids to focus on. Trying to find time to play baseball is difficult, but being able to break those barriers to play with someone without looking at the color of their skin is powerful in this prison environment. As an athlete, it opens the rest of my life to see people the same way.
Marvin Cosby, 39. Convicted of three attempted first-degree murders, three life terms, plus 24 years. SQN: What sports have you played since being here at SQ?
I’m an original All-Madden flag football player, for two seasons; I played with the S.Q. Warriors, three seasons; Intramural League, two seasons.
SQN: What self-help groups have you taken part in?
CGA (Criminals and Gangsters Anonymous) and AA/NA.
SQN: So, being at The Q is unique in the area of groups.
Well, the variety of groups helps you in many ways. They teach how to take the road to become a man.
SQN: You had a health issue that took you off the court; how do you teach the game to the players on the current Warriors team?
It’s dealing with adversity. Sometimes you have to turn a negative into a positive; it’s not all about the offense, it’s the defensive side of the game, staying focused, but most importantly, having fun. If you play hard, you can get good results.
SQN: How does that transfer over into life skills?
Well, it’s a team sport. You have to learn to coexist with other people. Sometimes, teammates are hard to get along with. Playing basketball teaches you how to acquire that team mentality.
Andrew Vance, 37; 2nd-degree murder – 15 to life. SQN: How long have you been involved in sports in general?
Since I was 7 years old — started with soccer at 7 … Little League at 10; no football, but playing basketball my whole term, since High Desert, 2000.
SQN: What programs have you been involved with since your arrival at The Q?
Anger Management with Dr. Richmond, AA, ARC – Addiction Recovery Counseling, GRIP alumni, and a facilitator for GRIP
SQN: Which group has had the most profound impact on you as a person?
GRIP and ARC, one for substance abuse and the other for anger, finding your authentic self.
SQN: You also play the guitar.
Yes, since the age of 12.
SQN: Do you find any therapeutic value in music overall?
Yes I do. Playing guitar can be mood-altering — soothing to an angry state, soothing to someone with heartbreak — very inspiring. It can make you feel like you achieved goals along the way.
SQN: Tell the people what it means to be, in your mind, “rehabilitated.”
CDCR didn’t rehabilitate me; I had to start with myself. What The Q did was offer the opportunity to take it upon myself to find the avenues of rehabilitation.