WILLIAM JAMES ASSOCIATION EVENT IN SQ CHAPEL PROMOTES CREATIVITY AND WRITING SKILLS
Seventeen San Quentin Prison residents shared their vulnerabilities, experiences and personal life trials at the 14th annual Public Reading event.
“Creative writing allows me the freedom to travel beyond my physical barriers,” writer Jim Bottomley said after reading his piece.
The writers wrote to produce their own narratives. Their honesty, vulnerability and authenticity moved the crowd to a sense of connection with the authors on July 7, 2023.
Since 1999, Zoe Mullery has taught the student writers how to express themselves on paper. Her generosity in sharing her knowledge and experience with the art of writing touched current and former members of the class, which is sponsored by the William James Association’s Prison Arts Project.
She spoke about how SQ has been influential to her and said that the view civilization has of incarcerated individuals is in stark contrast to the work she sees inside the classroom.
“A society should be judged by how it treats its criminals,” said Mullery.
In attendance were SQ’s Community Resource Manager Lt. Robert Gardea, Public Information Officer Lt. G. Berry, Senior Librarian Gabriel Loiederman and 100 supporters from inside and outside the facility.
Outside guests included several formerly incarcerated writers who were in the creative writing class during their SQ incarceration. Among them were Henry Edward Frank, Joe Krauter, Felix Lucero, John Neblett, Watani Stiner, Michael “Yahya” Cooke and Troy Williams.
Williams was a part of the Journalism Guild and Brothers in Pen during his 13 years behind the wall. During his time of incarceration, he focused on stories about incarceration.
“I want to say to all the men in blue, especially all the youngsters: Stay with it. I want to encourage y’all to keep it up. As I walk through my freedom, know that I think about y’all. We need y’all in the communities, with y’all’s families,” he said.
The first eight residential writers were Mesro Coles-El, Paul Stauffer, Lee (reading
for Steve Drown), Elton Kelley, Marcus Eugene, Kevin D. Sawyer, Raheem Ballard and Todd Winkler.
They designed their reading creatively to this group prompt: “A 767 passenger plane with some notorious incarcerated people aboard are on their way to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to spend the rest of their sentence. A sudden volcanic eruption from an uncharted island causes the plane to crash on the island.”
Their stories symbolized manifestations of hidden truths and the power dynamics between prison guards and prisoners.
At intermission, guests and writers enjoyed snacks like mini cinnamon rolls and drank coffee with biscotti as they mingled.
The remaining nine writers were Joshua Strange, Michael Zell, C.K. “Clark” Gerhartsreiter, James Bottomley, Osbun Walton, Kelton O’Connor, Bruce Davis, Stu Ross and Juan Moreno Haines. They spoke about truth, reconciliation, life struggles and love.
Cooke said, “I joined the creative writing class to develop these skills. These gentlemen encouraged me to get this stuff on paper. It was a 48-year exploration of the criminal justice system. I feel the genuine sincerity that these men feel because I was once there.”
—Staff Writer Michael Callahan contributed to this story.