Craig “Qadree” Birch, 53, was serving a term of 40-years-to-life under California’s Three Strikes Law before his sentence was recalled by the sentencing court for his “exceptional conduct.” Under the newly passed Assembly Bill 2942, he was re-sentenced to 27 years and paroled from San Quentin in May.
Birch was arrested in September 1994 in Sacramento County and convicted in March 1995. He served 24 years and eight months for a first-degree burglary with enhancements for prior prison commitments.
“It’s a learning experience on how I was able to go into the court system with no thought of what I was facing.” He said he didn’t think he’d serve that much time under the Three Strikes Law, but admitted, he wasn’t fully aware of the law when it passed.
“At the time, even though they had the law, I didn’t care because I was going to continue on the path of committing crimes,” said Birch. He was 28 back then and was think- ing and acting as a person who was in favor of crime. He never considered the consequences. “I was in that mode (don’t care about self, law and order, rules and regulations) and I wanted to stay there.”
While serving time in another prison, he said it was an older inmate who convinced him to take a look at his life and asked him if he wanted to be a hardened criminal, or change the way he thinks, “into a positive, a constructive individual.”
“I was introduced to one of my first programs in Lancaster State Prison called Self-esteem,” said Birch. “It built up my confidence level because I had low self-esteem about myself. From that point, I went into the substance abuse program to learn about my past addictive behavior, to get knowledge about why I was committing crimes.”
Along the way, Birch said he took the course Office Ser- vices and Related Technology, and then a computer technical course at Lancaster. He said he kept going to prison libraries to read and research the law, and he became a practicing Muslim to follow the tenets of Islam.
“Those played a major role in my transformation,” said Birch, who wasn’t a follower of Islam before he came to prison. His Islamic name, Qadree, means “One who can achieve.”
Birch continued to focus on self-development. “At Folsom [State Prison], I continued on the path with motivational development, and Tai Chi. I took peer education, healthy living, and I started my first college course.” He said the prison had an Employment Development Department course that taught him how to write “winning resumes,” and how to communicate in interviews with potential employers.
“It continued on when I came to San Quentin,” said Birch. “I’ve participated in the ARC program, Making Good, Anger Management, CGA, and Restorative Justice.” He also took a class in investment planning.
“I stayed working in different assignments to keep me busy,” said Birch. At 3:00 a.m., he got up to work in the prison’s kitchen, but it was his education that consumed his time.
Through Lassen Community College, Birch completed Sociology I & II; Psychology I, II and IV; Philosophy/World Religion; Anthropology; Humanities I & II; Pharmacology; U.S. History (before and after the Civil War); three English courses; three Math courses; Food & Nutrition; and a Health class.
“If you don’t have your high school education, get it and choose a career other than prison.”
Coastline Community College offered Birch courses on Introduction to Business, Personal Finances, Management, and Organization Skills.
“I’m going to continue to work and continue on with my college education,” said Birch. He’s one class short of earning his Associate of Arts degree. “I still have plans to run a small business that deals with retail and clothing. I’m just a little nervous.”
Initially, Birch said he filed for recall of his sentence directly to the district attorney’s office in Sacramento County where he was convicted. “I didn’t receive a response from the DA,” he said.
Believing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the court that sentenced him would recognize his effort to rehabilitate himself, Birch said he wrote to the CDCR Secretary to ask what the procedures were to file for a recall of sentence under Penal Code 1170(d).
“The secretary of CDCR, without my knowledge, filed an 1170(d) about me being re- sentenced,” said Birch. “My counselor advised me of it by calling me in to advise me of it in the month of February.”
Before going back to court, Birch said two correctional officers wrote him letters of support, and four CDCR staff members wrote him letters. This, he said, was because they’d viewed his behavior and conduct over the years and got to know the man and not his crimes.
Birch was a young man when that OG [slang in prison vernacular for “original gangster”] convinced him to redirect his path on a positive course. Now he’s following the old mantra “each one, teach one.” His advice to the younger inmates: “If you’re in society, either go to college, learn a technical skill. If you don’t have your high school education, get it and choose a career other than prison.”