San Quentin’s seventh annual Health Fair brought out approximately 80 health care professionals from throughout the Bay Area,according to Laura Bowman Salzsieder, San Quentin’s Community Partnership Manager On April 30 inmates, event sponsors and staff packed San Quentin’s lower yard to attend the event, which was sponsored by San Quentin T.R.U.S.T., National Trust for the Development of African Americans, Center Force, Black Nurses Assoc.and UCSF and Alameda County Public Health Department Urban Male Health Initiative.
T.R.US.T. is an acronym for Teaching Responsibilities Utilizing Sociological Training. The noon presentation speakers were Warden (A) Vincent Cullen; Noel Valdivia, President of T.R.U.S.T.; Deacon Earl Jacobs of Healthy Oakland Urban Male Health Center and Mike Gibson, a juvenile justice specialist. The crowd was also given insightful information by spoken word artist Timothy Reeves.
“The mission of San Quentin Trust is to motivate, educate, prepare and assist men in prison for release to their communities,” said Valdivia, “This program actively and responsibly builds bridges from inside San Quentin to the outside communities, which is crucial to facilitate successful re-socialization of our graduates back into their communities. Michael Shaw and Doctor Arnold Chavez of the Urban Male Health Initiative sponsored and provided technical support for the program. Shaw said that he has family incarcerated in Flint, Michigan and that California is woefully lacking in any efficient form of true rehabilitation. He said this state should want to do a better job of training incarcerated men and women with viable trades to ensure public safety. “A large portion of the men who go to prison and return to our communities don’t need police,” Shaw said. “We need our black men to be released into our communities to take care of their families to be role models”.
This fair brought with it many wellness providers including chiropractors, hearing and eye testing nurses, anger management specialists, yoga teachers, counselors in parenting and fatherhood, and dental educators. “Trust is an essential element for rebuilding our communities,” said Darnell Hill, the Vice Chairman of T.R.U.S.T. “Because we’re doing the time we are the individuals who possess the tools our communities are in dire need of. We were the problems but now we’re the solutions,” a beneficiary of the Health Fair said. “That while we are living here we have no control of our basic meals,” said Malik Harris, but the doctors and the nurses taught me that I could have control over my own health even in this environment. They gave me information on how to keep my cholesterol balanced and how to keep my blood pressure in check. I really appreciated all of their advice.”
Throughout the day individuals that were interviewed said repeatedly that they were amazed at the large turnout and the concerned interest and care of the outside professionals that came in to San Quentin to do all of this for the inmates.
Michael Harris, outside coordinator and member of the executive body of T.R.U.S.T.offered these thoughts: “We’re all excited about how many people came out and supported and participated in this Health Fair, from the outside community volunteers to the administration and most importantly San Quentin’s general population, both North Block and H-Unit. This was a great opportunity for us to share and network by engaging the community in this manner based on our sociological training.”
Asked how re-socialization affects successful re-entry, Harris replied, “Good question. Based on my experience of being incarcerated for over 22 years I have observed a certain type of detachment that takes place when a person does not have an opportunity to engage the outside community for large spaces of time. In some cases people become more disconnected and display even greater anti-social behavior. Any time the two worlds can meet, where the outside community and the prison community come together for a mutual celebration of human concern, the odds of public safety are elevated.”
As the event came to a close men kept lining up to get their eyes checked or their spines adjusted. “Most men who come to prison have never gone to a chiropractor on the streets or had their blood pressure checked before their incarceration,” said Dr. Chavez. “I like knowing that I can be a part of something bigger than I am and help people feel a little better at least for a day.”