Brian Shipp’s incarceration began with him in a state of humiliation. After his arrest for kidnap and robbery, he was taken to the hospital and placed in shackles. His father, Walter, later came to visit him, and Shipp recalled seeing his eyes filled with pain.
While growing up, Shipp’s father always taught him to “work hard, be honest, have integrity, do not ever burn your bridges, and always be a man of your word in all aspects of your life,” said Shipp. But with his father looking down at him, shackled to that hospital gurney, Shipp felt as if he had failed his father in these respects.
“My dad had to get clearance to come and see me,” said Shipp. “And I could see it in his face—the pain. He couldn’t believe that I had amounted to this.”
Shipp, 55, said his father, a barber who grew up during the Great Depression, had always been a big influence in his life, but at some point, he chose to go the other way. His troubles began at age 17, when he began hanging out with the wrong crowd and not listening to his father.
“I was young, growing my hair out and getting into trouble,” said Shipp. “He would try different punishments and nothing ever worked.”
Shipp remembered one time in particular when his father brought him home after he had gotten into trouble.
“But I’ve tried to make up for the pain I’ve caused with everyone, especially my dad”
“We were inside the house and he kept on telling me ‘I’m gonna’ cut your hair, I’m gonna’ cut your hair,’ and as soon as he backed up, I took off running,” said Shipp.
Shipp stuck to his word and fled. He did not come home for a week.
“Then he heard I was next door and he came over and said, ‘You’re coming home. I’m not going to cut your hair,’” said Shipp.
Shipp returned home with his father, but the peace was short-lived. Shipp first got in trouble with the law in high school, when he was busted for possession of marijuana. It was the first of a series of mistakes that Shipp would make.
“My dad came down to the police station to pick me up. It was bad,” said Shipp.
Shipp felt as if he was a rebel without a cause—always at odds with his dad and the way that he tried to bring him up.
Shipp’s first encounter with the law was not strong enough to stop him from trying to spite his father. He still chose to go the wrong way, and several years later, he was convicted of kidnap and robbery. In 1980, he was sentenced to seven years to life—a sentence which, to this day, is still not over.
Shipp still finds it difficult to talk about how he came to prison, because of a deep regret that he still has for the choices that he made and the harm that he caused to those he loves.
“It was the worst day of my life and for all involved when I made that choice,” said Shipp. “But I’ve tried to make up for the pain I’ve caused with everyone, especially my dad.”
After sentencing, the counselor at the California Men’s Facility gave him two options: either Old Folsom or San Quentin State Prison.
“I chose San Quentin and I arrived here on Dec. 9, 1980. I started my life sentence the same day that John Lennon was killed,” Shipp said.
He entered prison with no high school diploma, but he quickly buckled down and enrolled in Bay View High School, here at San Quentin, in 1981.
“I told myself I was going to get straight A’s and show my father that I could do better and be better than what I’d done,” explained Shipp. “I graduated valedictorian of my class and gave a speech in San Quentin’s visiting room and my dad was there.”
Ship could not ever remember feeling prouder than he did on that day, not only because of his own accomplishment, but because of the pride he could see in his dad’s eyes. Growing up, Shipp’s father taught him to work hard, be honest, have integrity, not to burn your bridges, and to always be a man of your word—things Shipp finally began to feel as if he was replicating.
“I haven’t always liked what he’s said, but I’ve striven to be that man my father has always been—a man true to his word. And these are traits that I want to instill in my sons,” said Shipp.
Through the struggles of their lives, Shipp said there were many good times and many sad times. Shipp still keeps his hair long, but this is no longer a point of contention between the two of them.
“Still our relationship has grown into one that’s loving and caring and I know my dad will always have my back and that I’ll cherish for eternity. I love you pops!”