Welcome to a Life
Every Friday morning in the education building 12 individuals gather with a leader in training inmates for careers in the fields of renewable and sustainable energy.
Topics like solar panel and wind generator installation, water power, aquaponics, perm a composting, high yield gardening and living off the grid are the norm at these gatherings. Welcome to the Green Life.
Angela Sevin, who holds a Master’s Degree in experiential education, is the official sponsor of “The Green Life,” and the former sponsor of “Keepin’ it Real.”
Sevin said, “The Green Life is a peer-educated, self help course with an intensive curriculum of topics that relate to subjects like anger management, substance abuse and father son relationships.”
“These peer educated classes integrate pathways toward obtaining necessary skills and temperament to successfully perform in the new environmentally conscious America.”
She went on to say, “Our program is combining efforts of various prison assistance groups to make S.Q. the first California prison, and the second in the country, to go green. It is a directive program to enable or empower these men to discover what it is they actually want to do.”
Peer educator Michael Harris said, “Van Jones said when he was here, you guys are great entrepreneurs. He gave a shout to that. But he said you just chose the wrong product.”
Lawrence Blankenship, a Green Life peer educator housed in H-unit, emphasized, “It is a learner centered, performance based program for inmates who want to be an asset to public safety and not a liability. By having employable skills we become positive helpers in our communities and not destroyers.” He pointed out that, “We’re like community builders. This gives me the chance to encourage people to do the right thing. That’s what I am happy about.”
Sevin explained, “The idea was inspired by Van’s talk with the men and this is now his mantra: ‘… if we care enough about our planet to recycle and to not throw away aluminum cans, we can also salvage and maintain the lives of humans. Giving second chances to our prison population equals no ‘throw away people’”.
Courtney Mazzola is a facilitator for The Green Life and a Marriage and Family Therapy Intern Psychologist. Mazzola said, “The Green life is a progressive movement answering Jones’ call to help improve our planet by harnessing sun, wind, and water for renewable and sustainable power. We’re using nature’s most precious resources to lesson our carbon footprint. This is an opportunity to be involved in courses that will prepare these men inwardly by showing them how to be active participants in their own lives”
Mazzola added, “The men, at S.Q. will learn new green technology trades taught by professionals in their respective fields. Mazzola ended by saying, “This in turn helps our neighborhoods, and promotes public safety, upgrades the planet and eventually the entire universe.”
“To be in S.Q. is a unique opportunity to really look at life how we use to live it,” said Cornelius Wigfall, another Green Life peer educator and an inmate at S.Q., “These kids are constantly coming in and out. They have no directions, no life skills, they have nothing. To be a part of giving them something, a chance they did not have is Karma to me, and that feels good.
Beth Waitkus the director of Insight Garden Project, better known as (IGP), is also an organizational consultant. When asked what motivated her to become involved in The Green Life, Waitkus said, “Inside Garden Project has been down in H-Unit for six years. It evolved from a very tiny little program way back in 2002. We started when Jeanne Woodford was the warden and our goal is to help rehabilitate men through the process of organic gardening.” She commented further and said, “We believe that process helps us to reconnect to ourselves, our communities and our natural environment.”
Said peer educator Samuel Hearnes, “I was drawn to this program because nobody out there taught me that there was a better way. Everyone that reached out to me said, ‘Here’s a gun. Go do this.’ I came to prison when I was 19 and as I look back over my life I try to figure out what could I have done that would have made things better, what decisions could I have made as opposed to being a part of the problem itself? No one ever told me that if you go to school you can do this. In these courses you can build a plan here and map out your life for success.”
Troy Williams said, “It’s time for a change and The Green Life is the new revolution. I cannot think of any other movement that is peaceful and necessary to save the planet and all of mankind. I want to be a part of the driving force that wakes America up by stopping the violence in our neighborhoods, and keeping our youth from walking down the same destructive paths I did. The Green Life is a grass roots movement that has the potential to do all that, as well as provide economic outlets for urban communities.”
Joanne Connelly, the curriculum developer for The Green Life, said, “These courses are designed for the inner growth of each individual person. Our curriculum includes identifying negative mental triggers and how to overcome them, realistic and attainable goal charting and an assessment of life skills. In addition we will also focus on the emotional preparedness and core needs of the students. Connelly also revealed, “Our plan is to invite companies to S.Q. who want to train inmates for renewable energy jobs. Connelly finished by saying, “I have enjoyed the passion and individual initiative in this group of men.”
Inmate Kevin Tindall said, “I destroyed my community. After one destroys, you want to rebuild your community. I didn’t have anyone support me so I want to give of myself by helping others. With the skills taught here I can do that.”
Sevin also revealed, “We need to collaborate to come up with a better plan not only for ourselves but for San Quentin, as well.”
Del Banjo a group membersaid, “I like to have a reason to get up in the morning to do something positive otherwise boredom sets in. And I think a lot of people here are sold short I think a lot of people in prison when given some opportunities, education or some information and possibilities to do positive things. Banjo also stated, “And by peer education itself you can inform people to give them information to make better choices. So I think prison itself interrupts life but it doesn’t end life.. Shakespeare once said; “No decision is void of self interest.”
Since writing this article I have become a member of the Green Life. The inmates and outside sponsors in this program have shown dedication in creating a program that is geared toward rehabilitation, public safety and training men for the Green Jobs. As a flag ship for rehabilitation this class will be is the prototype for other prison across California. I look forward to the future of this program. JulianGlenn Padgett, contributing writer of S.Q Journalism Guild.