Contributed by Mount
What does it take to build a healthy community? We’ve been exploring this question by interviewing MTC alumni who are contributing to their communities in a variety of ways. This is the beginning of a series we’re calling In the Community, focusing on returning citizens and the impact they have both outside and inside San Quentin.
Vaughn Miles and Jason Green are from Richmond and are now back in the community which they recognize so well. Both Vaughn and Jason now work for the City of Richmond Office of Neighborhood and Safety as mentors serving at-risk youth. We spoke to them to learn more about their backgrounds, their current work, and how they help young people in their hometown.
“Growing up, it was fun,” said Vaughn. “We rode our bikes all over Richmond. We used to run our dogs; I used to be into pit bulls. I’d run my dog from one side of Richmond to the other side of Richmond. Those are the good times.”
Jason Green said, “Growing up without a lot of money, and when the crack era started, I actually started selling drugs to pay my football fee. I was playing for the Richmond Steelers.”
Growing up in rough neighborhoods Vaughn and Jason adapted to their culture. However, consequences came with just navigating their environment.
“I’d rather hang out on the streets,” said Vaughn. “I didn’t just sell dope, I started off robbing. I did robberies and then slowed down the robberies and started selling drugs. School …. I didn’t want to be there. I already know when I go there all I’m going to do is get teased. You don’t have lunch money. I don’t like going to the free lunch line.”
Jason said, “[On the streets] you ran into money you never had before. You could buy things you never had before. And just our culture turning, being so materialistic from slavery and all that, we looked at each other’s value as what do you have, what’s appealing?” Jason explained.
Jason and Vaughn were both at San Quentin at the same time. Both of them facilitated and graduated from many self-help groups, and took courses at Mt. Tam College.
Said Vaughn, “I got my GED when I was in there and I fought to get that. I had to take the test a few times to get it. And then when I got that outta the way, now I wanted to go see what this college was about, and I know college was helpful in a lot of ways … it started slowly building my confidence up, and then the staff, man they went all out the way to help you. It was nobody looking down on you or making you feel stupid because you didn’t know something. You could have asked them the stupidest stuff and they sat there and broke it down with the purest of heart for you.”
“Sitting inside them classes and getting help, and the people … that’s what helped transform me out of my state of mind,” said Vaughn. “When I stepped into that field of giving back, that became my desire.”
This “desire” is a lifestyle now. Vaughn and Jason do gun violence prevention and conflict mediation.
“And our thing is to get in between it,” Jason said. “And so, as I say, getting in between it is standing on street corners. It’s risking our lives. … We stand on street corners just to give them something, give them some knowledge, the wisdom of the day. Anytime we see them out. Maybe some resonate. Sometimes we say something, we drive away and they don’t take heed, and they’re dead.”
Both Jason and Vaughn understand what it takes to build a healthy community. “We take these youngsters out to see things that they can aspire to be. Things that they don’t see in their neighborhood. And a lot of times just to relax,” said Jason.
However, both also understand that change doesn’t happen in one day. “… take your life seriously man. Take full advantage of that education. Take full advantage of the people that are pouring into you, the programs,” Vaughn stresses. “Be serious about the man that you want to become. Not for the board, not for no female, not for nobody, but because you want to be a good person man.”
Having the strength to be accountable and help build the same community you’ve damaged is the definition of making amends. Jason and Vaughn are both true hidden gems that lead by example.
Vaughn said “Do whatever you doing from the purest heart and within the best intentions man, and you will be fine. I don’t care if you are struggling in a certain area; you’re not as smart as somebody in a certain area. Be pure-hearted and have the best of intentions and you’re going to get far.”