James King and Emily Harris from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights came to visit the San Quentin News for an interview in March 2022. They came to speak on political issues and to catch up on what’s been going on with King since paroling recently.
“I work to pass laws that will make the legal system a little more equitable and balanced,” said King in the interview.
Since King paroled from SQ in December 2019, he has been continuing his fight for justice for all those who are incarcerated at the prison and across the State as a State Campaign Manager for the Ella Baker Center.
King was introduced to the Ella Baker Center over seven years ago at a symposium he orchestrated after the implementation of proposition 57 when it passed. That’s where he met the program policy director, Emily Harris. The two and the rest of their organization have been on a quest to find that balance of social equity in the prison system.
“I have been the Policy Director for the Center for over seven years,” said Harris. “And what we do is try to get laws passed with people power.”
The Ella Baker Center has been an intricate source for King ever since he connected with the organization. Educated through then the Prison University Project now known as, Tamalpias College, King took a communications course and mastered the style of speaking articulately.
King combined his prowess of communication to his passion to combat mass incarceration while he was at SQ, but when he paroled he was offered the position of campaign manager for the Ella Baker Center and that was where his combined skills had a meaningful platform to push harder for change.
“I work to address the living conditions of the incarcerated and I advocate for them. I push laws such as AB256 and SB 300 which is the fair sentencing Act,” said King.
This was Kings first time coming back into the prison since paroling. To come back and see the same people he was here with was humbling for him. Although the sky was bright and the day was beautiful, King did not miss being in prison. However, after only a short time of discharging his number, he was able to walk back into the very place that held him captive and packed inside of a small four by nine cell in the West Block building, as a free man.
King reminisced on the seven years he spent inside SQ and by his account, were not all that pleasant. But, when adding the knowledge he obtained while here the trip was not all bad. So now, King said that he believes that all incarcerated people should educate themselves and start weighing in on the policies that may impact them.
Which is particularly needed todays narrative that’s being spread media outlets about return citizens who were released from prison and committed a crime. King and Harris both agree that that narrative is a wrong stigma to use as a blanket for all the incarcerated and formally incarcerated.
“It’s a trick of a few who have a bias to take a few isolated incidents and use that as a reflection on everybody in a whole community,” said King.
King was scheduled for a parole hearing in 2033. He eventually had his hearing a decade earlier.
“I know dozens of people who have gotten out early through either different laws or from a commutation that are out doing well. And there are many more who are incarcerated that need to come home,” said King.
The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights work with over 8000 people in the CDCR who are locked up said Harris.
“Work for us is about ending mass incarceration.”