A designed thinking firm asked a room full of prisoners, “How might San Quentin turn into a place that serves the rehabilitation needs of new arrivals?” IDEO, known for creating the computer mouse, brought 11 of its staff to San Quentin’s Protestant Chapel on Feb. 21 to brainstorm the question.
Three dozen prisoners met the IDEO staffers at six round tables. They came up with team names before getting to work; Maverick Innovators, Ennogene, Rascals, The Justice League, Team Innovative Solutions and Community Roots.
“We don’t know what it’s like to be incarcerated. You are the experts,” said SueJean Sung, the lead IDEO staffer. “So we’ll defer to your experiences, the way you want to tell them.
As a warm-up exercise, the teams spent two minutes thinking about building something from just soap, cardboard and string.
They came up with; soap on a rope, jewelry, toy car, clothesline, coat rack, model airplane, entertainment center, dice, chessboard and pieces, picture frame, a present for someone who smells, fake teeth, and a toilet seat cover.
After the warm up, the teams dug into how to make San Quentin a place that serves the rehabilitation needs of new arrivals.
“A welcome committee that gives the person the items they might need, including a haircut and shower,” said George “Mesro” Cole-El. He added, “Washing every three days is gross. Washing every day is better.”
The Justice League wanted to greet new arrivals with a welcoming committee that gave out hugs and intensive mental health evaluations.
“If you need us, just call The Justice League,” was their call sign.
Community Roots designed a pocket resource guide to show new arrivals how to spend money at the prison’s canteen, the location of religious services, how to use the telephone, visiting days and times, as well as the prison’s daily activities.
Team Innovative Solutions wanted intensive orientation sessions to show new arrivals every self-help program, with follow up check ups.
Other ideas were to give new arrivals an individual mentor, time management assistance, and visits to the prison’s college program.
IDEO’s takeaway on the day: “I’m usually pretty exhausted after these types of workshops, but I felt energized by the engagement, the ideas, and the people in the room,” said Sung.
Katie Clark added, “The workshop was generative and so inspiring. I felt like it was so much faster paced than a typical IDEO workshop and for that I felt bad that we did not have more time moments (like rehearsing, iterating, etc.)”
Anna Zylicz was tasked to ask the participants to reflect on what they learned from the day and describe it in one word. Here are a few: inspiring, enlightening and uplifting.
“If we are working toward a common goal, we can make a change,” Zylicz said.
Raylene Knutson said what would stay with her forever was “hearing individuals passionately and optimistically speak about the need to treat all individuals with compassion and humanity,” She added, “Systems, relationships and trust break down when this is forgotten.”
“There is such a huge difference between rehabilitation and incarceration,” said Devin Peek. “I met amazing individuals whose paths led to San Quentin (many times due to broken and biased systems).”
“What I have told my friends and family is that my experience at prison convinced me that prison shouldn’t exist, period,” said Jayme Brown.