The earthly sound of a wood flute set the mood. The Green Life environmental program held its first graduation for 18 students and nine group facilitators on Nov 16. San Quentin prisoners were awarded certificates for participation in the only such group in California’s prison system.
Jorge Heredia and JulianGlenn “Luke” Padgett, graduate/facilitators, emceed the ceremony, speaking on the significance of The Green Life program and its impact on the students, institution, and community.
“The Green Life program gives us a unique and important way to give back to our communities after our release,” said one graduate.
Facilitator Arnulfo T. Garcia gave a special thanks to Michael Harris (no longer in San Quentin), one of the men who was an integral leader in the formation of the program.
Students studied specifics about environmental issues affecting the planet, as well as solutions to protect it for future generations. Topics were Waste Management and Recycling, Green Building, Energy Resources, Water and Air Quality, Parks and Open Spaces, Biodiversity, Environmental Justice, and Public Policy/ Community Action.
Graduate student Fabian Vazquez was recently given a parole date. The parole board praised him for his involvement in The Green Life. “So we’re doing the environmental thing at San Quentin now?” a commissioner asked. (Your file) “indicates that you have participated in 20 hours of training in green technology.” The impact of his participation in The Green Life was recognized and factored into the board’s decision to grant parole.
The Green Life founder and director Angela Sevin said her idea was to “develop a groundbreaking eco-literacy and green job preparedness curriculum, striving to share practical pathways for meaningful lives.”
The Green Life is comprised of people united to seek solutions to environmental issues, and they call themselves, Solutionaries. Their mission statement: “A collaboration of Solutionaries from inside and outside communities that inspire and awakens our connection to the earth and each other, by contributing to individual, community, and global transformation.”
“The Green Life program was a long time in the making,” Sevin told the audience. “People wanted to get involved and learn.” Referencing a Van Jones quote, she said, “If we can give a second chance to a can or a soda pop bottle, why not a human being?”
The Green Life’s co-sponsor, Pandora Thomas, said after “committing” herself to the earth, she came to California and fell in love with the concept of helping men at San Quentin getting involved with environmental issues. “I’m so grateful to be part of this awesome program and those committed to it.”
Twenty-five outside environmentalists attended the ceremony and banquet that followed.
Many guests said they were amazed and appreciated, not only to the students and to sponsors, but also San Quentin’s administration for permitting an opportunity for men interested in environmental issues.
Outside guest Dedan Gills said The Green Life graduates were doing a “great service – one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever witnessed. Seeing you in prison caring about our environment from the inside out is just amazing.”
Another guest, Jason Mark, a member of the Earth Island Institute and editor of the Earth Island Journal magazine, interviewed a number of graduates and guests. According to the Earth Island Institute’s mission statement: “We grow environmental leadership by acting as an incubator for start-up environmental projects, giving crucial assistance to groups and individuals” such as The Green Life program at San Quentin.
Outside guest Ashara Ekundayo performed a brief “libation ceremony” – a West African tradition of pouring water, “the element that sustains all life and connects everything on the planet,” explained Ekundayo. It is believed that pouring the water also represents strengthening friendships and family ties. At the conclusion of the libation ceremony, Ekundayo offered the ceremonial water to hydrate a potted tree.
Also present was environmentalist Bill Twist, president of PACHAMAMA (.org) Alliance. He said that being part of The Green Life program is a “great experience and very worthwhile. The generosity given to me was really open. I was treated with as much grace as I have received anywhere I’ve been on earth.”
Twist told the students that it was important to him how “deeply engaged” The Green Life members are. He gave special praise to Angela and Pandora for what they have done with the program. “I’m honored to be here to share this experience with all of you,” said Twist.
The Green Life will continue its curriculum with new Solutionaries in February 2013.