On a quiet Thursday morning of June 11, 2009, convict Jesse Reed stepped out of San Quentin and into a new life, freed on parole after 24 years in prison. In 1985 he was convicted of first-degree murder/robbery, and sentenced to 25-years-to-life.
He describes the California prison system at that time as like a smoking cauldron for gang violence.
Racial tension led to open riots and bloodshed in the cellblocks. Convicts were becoming more ruthless in the attempt to wield control over prison politics. There was no guarantee that every soul entering prison would walk out alive, or even like a man.
During the 1980s the corrections department had a “no warning shots” policy. A simple fistfight could become deadly as bullets fired from the guards would pierce the flesh, and for some convicts hot lead was not deterrence.
Early on Reed realized that the physical/material world had driven him into a life of crime and drug addiction and he called unto God for help. “I was the one who had turned away. After serving time at other prisons, I got down on my knees and asked God to intervene. He sent me to S.Q. and I made a promise to him that I would depart from evil and do good, and that I would seek peace and pursue it,” just like the Psalmist David had lived (Psalms 34:14).
He earned a vocational certificate in computer software application and an Associate of Arts degree from Patten University at S.Q.. He entered the seminary and continues to pursue his goals for a higher education. During his last years at S.Q., the Board of Parole Hearings found him suitable for parole three times, and each time the governor rejected its decision.
Reed again turned to God and the courts. His prayers were answered when Judge Larry J. Goodman ordered his release over the governor’s veto
It has been over four months since his release. His stability has not wavered in the face of an economic downturn in the Bay Area. Jobs are scarce and unemployment has affected his immediate goals.
“Nothing has frightened me out here,” he said. “I cherish and appreciate each day. There are many things that I took advantage of while inside. The Incarcerated Men Putting Away Childish Things (IMPACT) program helped when it made me realize who I am. The ‘image vs. reality’ module helped me take off the mask. In the past, false pride prevented me from reaching out to others in the community. But today, through patience and the ability to let-go and let-God, I am now connected to my family and community.”
On Aug. 16, he delivered a sermon at the Union Baptist Church in Vallejo. “I was humbled by the out-pouring of support. Everybody, including Pastor J.W. McCoy, made me feel loved and needed. I was able to sing praises to the Lord with all of my brothers and sisters on the outside!” Reed said.
Asked how the prison system can be improved, he said, “The CDCR lacks preparation programs for inmates re-entering society. A mandatory educational/vocational program should be in effect for everyone. Re-entry education should be emphasized. No prisoner should leave prison unprepared.
Treatment centers with residence status should be available. Behavior modification opportunities are essential. Simple things like a birth certificate and a Social Security card would help for a smooth transition into the community.”