As of July 12, San Quentin residents can use the gymnasium on the Lower Yard again after an almost five year hiatus and residents are elated.
“It feels good to have the gym back open,” said resident Jekarre “Skinny” Thompson. He was standing on the gym basketball court and getting in some shots. Thompsons’ smile showed his appreciation. “It reminds me of the old days. I was a part of the Youth Offender Program [YOP] when I first came here. Me and my buddies would meet up in here and we would watch the games.”
Thompson has been at San Quentin since 2019 when the gym was partially opened, sharing the space with a self-help program. Residents had access during the nights and on weekends.
On the first day of the re-opening the population did not get knowledge of it until late in the afternoon. When the gym opened its doors for residents there was a slow ingress, but longtime resident A. Starks did not mind.
“I saw the gym open and close,” said Starks. “I remember when it used to be reception. It’s a bad thing when it closed.” Starks reminisced on times when he would come in and play card games and shoot hoops on the basketball courts. Now he is just glad to be able to sit back and enjoy watching the big TVs.
Francisco Legorreta and his friend Ceferrino Trujillo were thankful to be able to play some cards on the tables and avoid the wind that blows outside.
“It’s a big difference,” said Legorreta. “Our cards not flying around. It’s a big difference after all these years.”
It was his friend Trujillo’s first time being inside of the gymnasium. He wished one more table game could be added. “It’s my first time in the gym. It’s more room, more space. We just need a pool table,” he said.
Sgt. Nelson had just received his detail for the gym assignment around the same time the residents had found out it was open. He said that he was glad to get the call for it.
“I like the open unit atmosphere,” Sgt. Nelson said. “It’s good to be able to have a place to get out of the heat. Having the gym open give the residents more recreational space.”
Sgt. Nelson said surveying the interior of the gym he noticed that it needed some upgrades.
“It could use some new paint on the walls and we probably need to repaint the courts, maybe some new TVs, maybe some new courts all together. Some new things would bring a different vibe,” Sgt. Nelson said. “We need to get more things going.”
Sgt. Nelson recalled when the gym was used for Covid bed space during the outbreak. At various times, prison officials have used the gym for bed space for emergencies.
When the prison was overcrowded in the ’90s, the gym was used as part of reception overflow. And when there is no space for mandated programs, the prison will allow the gym to be designated as the primary space for those programs.
To mention a few programs that have occupied the gym; Substance Abuse Program, Long Term Offender Program and the latest one, the Integrated Substance Use Disorder Treatment program. Those programs took up space in the gym and prohibited recreational activities from happening for the residents. But now, ISUDT has agreed to share the space with the population.
“There are no limitations with the gym being open,” said IAC President, Cainen Chambers, who had talks with the prison warden Ron Broomfield and the program heads to negotiate the space time. ISUDT is still functioning 5 days a week.
The program is vital to prison residents who depend on it for rehabilitation. The program provides services that are needed for those who might still be struggling in their recovery efforts.
“Thanks [to ISUDT] for being able to share this space with the incarcerated population,” Chambers said.