Brothers George Grifall and Chris Koppe
More than 60 men of all nationalities, races and origins gathered in San Quentin’s Catholic Chapel to celebrate the lives of George Grifall and Chris Koppe. The two well-known incarcerated men passed away in San Quentin in the month of June.
“I love you, brother,” was the catchphrase for Grifall. Koppe was lovingly known as Colonel Sanders or Colonel Crispy.
After the evening meal on July 18, prisoners mingled and listened to the blues, led by the smooth drumming of Darryl Moody Schilling. As the chapel began filling up, Schilling picked up the pace with a livelier beat.
“He told me he loved me, and then I climbed in my rack,” recalled Michael “Doc” Dickman, his cellie, about the night Grifall passed away. “George told me not to wake him for the Saturday breakfast — he hates CDCR pancakes, plus we had plenty of food.”
Grifall had a “bad habit” of hanging his hand over the ledge of the bed, Dickman explained. He said that the following morning he kept bump- ing into Grifall’s hand and after a couple times, Dickman yelled for Grifall to move his hand, but he didn’t respond. Dickman became concerned.
“When I felt his hand, it was ice cold,” Dickman said. “He died in his sleep. Don’t believe the rumors out there.”
Walter Sprakea talked about meeting Grifall while incarcerated at Corcoran in 1999.
“I thought then, he was too friendly,” Walter said. “Back then, prison was harder to do time in, and you’d see him and say, ‘what’s wrong with that guy?’ He was always respectful and of course, would say, ‘I love you, brother.’”
Larry Ryzak added, “George was my friend. He was one the most loyal people I ever knew. I could still hear him, ‘I love you, brother.’ He never changed. He had good morals. He wasn’t perfect, but nobody is or we wouldn’t be standing here.”
Anthony Thomas read a poem that he wrote in honor of Grifall.
Richie Morris said that he didn’t know George well, but “his absence leaves a hole in my life. I always saw him be- ing kind.
“Now, Colonel Crispy looked like Colonel Sanders,” Morris continued. “We spend our time with people passing by us and never notice who they are. We got an opportunity here to record we stand among giants. I want you to recognize that.”
SQNews Staffer, Aaron Taylor talked about guitar lessons he got from Koppe.
“One day I see this dude in the rotunda playing the blues, who looked like Colonel Sanders bending the strings,” Taylor said. “Chris told me that he’d teach me how to play rhythm guitar,” However, Taylor said that he was slow picking up the lessons. “Chris told me he wouldn’t play with me because he said he never met a Black man who didn’t have rhythm.”
The incident, Taylor said, invigorated his willingness to learn guitar, and he practiced until Koppe later agreed to play lead guitar with him at an open mic.
In between men taking the stage to talk about their friends, Quentin Blues entertained the audience: (Dwight Krizman (Bass), Richie Morris (Guitar and Vocals), Chris Thomas (Mandolin & Vo- cals), Mark Kinney (Piano), Joe Thurson Percussion); An- drew “Boots” Hardy (Guitar and Vocal).
A recording of “Now I Can Rise”, with Koppe on lead guitar was also played.
Brian Holliday talked about his relationship with Grifall.
“Every time he saw me, he’d stop and say, ‘What’s up?’ You don’t see that in people too much,” Holliday said. “I really miss him.”
Quentin Blues closed the memorial with two songs for Koppe: “Full Tilt Boogie” and “Upward as I Fall”.
For Grifall, Quentin Blues played “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now”. Then “Boots” per- formed a song he had writ- ten the previous morning and dedicated to George.
“I dropped my pick inside my guitar and this song fell out,” Boots said. “This song is about the stories I heard about the man after he passed, the love and the handshakes.
By Juan Haines Senior Editor
Correctional Officer L. Griffin
San Quentin State Prison lost a great treasure on Aug. 23. After a lengthy battle with cancer, Correctional Officer L. Griffin passed away.
Griffin’s passing hit the men-in-blue like a boulder. Griffin had worked at San Quentin since Feb. 14, 1998.
“Once I heard about C/O Griffin’s passing, I was instantly saddened, being that we worked together for four years,” said Anthony Ammons. “One of the most important things that Griffin taught me was to always say ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome.’”
Harold Meeks added, “The wisdom and words of encouragement Griffin gave to me empowered me to keep mentoring the youth inside these prison walls. Griffin always reminded us that we can change, and it is possible.”
Griffin was well-known to younger inmates, who wore their pants too low—they’d catch hell for it. “Stop sagging your pants,” Griffin would tell the youngsters, and rightfully so. Griffin never missed an opportunity to speak candidly and directly and never worried about who listened or their opinions.
The prison staff, as well as the men-in-blue, knew Griffin for being cheerful in nature. Many say that laughter would fill the room whenever Griffin appeared— filling every corner in every inch of San Quentin.
Here are just a few of the things said about Griffin: “Griffin wasn’t just a correctional officer; Griffin was a mentor, a teacher and a pure hearted genuine soul, who always offered you the truth.”
“If you never knew what a real angel looked like then you never saw Griffin.”
“Griffin told stories filled with a wealth of knowledge but also with an abundance of joy, laughter and smiles.”
“It didn’t rain on Aug. 23, 2019; the sun shined, just like Griffin’s smile.”
Without a doubt, the atmosphere here at San Quentin will never be the same.
By Richard Richardson Executive Editor