San Quentin employee Raphaele Casale has been presented The Jefferson Award for Public Service for her behind the scenes community work.
Casale is an office technician who works in the San Quentin warden’s office.
She also runs the prison’s music program and is one of the staff sponsors for the SQUIRES (San Quentin Utilization of Inmate Resources Experiences and Studies) program that allows inmates to mentor at-risk youth. “I love kids,” she commented.
Allen Martin from KPIX channel 5 interviewed Casale for a news broadcast in September.
“I get to work with a lot of wonderful people,” said Casale. “I was blessed to be assigned to two differ- ent groups. I want to make the groups better.” She said there’s therapeutic value in both programs.
Casale also provides support to staff in other parts of the prison, to volunteers, and to inmates who work in the prison’s media center. To many, she’s one of San Quentin’s unsung heroes, or in her case “Shero.”
As a sponsor, Casale is recognized by many inside and outside of the prison for the work she does beyond the scope of her day job.
“How can you put money on things that change someone’s life?” said Casale. “How could I not support that?”
Casale said inmates who work with youth in the SQUIRES program become aware of why they made a choice to commit crime and get to know themselves better. She said the kids open up to the men.
By talking to the kids “they (inmates) get a snapshot of their life,” said Casale. The men feel good about being able to help the kids. “It’s really healing. It’s a win-win for both.”
“There are people here at San Quentin who work traditional prison jobs … She is one of those people who looks beyond the eight hours and gives more of herself”
“Just one person can make an absolute difference in their (the kids) life,” said Casale. “Many of them have experienced being beaten or worse.” Because many inmates have suffered the same type of early childhood trauma, “when these kids come in, they’re talking to men who already know them.”
“There are people here at San Quentin who work traditional prison jobs,” said Lt. Sam Robinson, the prison’s public information officer. “She is one of those people who looks
beyond the eight hours and gives more of herself.”
Robinson said Casale, affectionately known as Raphie, “brings all the energy to these programs that she brings to the warden’s office.”
Brian Asey, the inmate who nominated Casale for the award, said, “She’s a very unique person. I can only imagine what it’s like being in her shoes. I know that she does a lot around here.”
Asey said during a recording of a Youth Offender Program (YOP) audio mix, he observed Casale leave on a Friday night and re- turn on a Saturday morning for another project.
He said he wanted her to know that what she does is appreciated by the inmates at San Quentin.
Inmate David Jassy, who produced a mix tape for some of the YOP inmates, said to have Casale come from the warden’s office and sit with them gets them enthused, and her support means everything. “When they see that she likes what they’re doing, it adds to their confidence,” he said.
Casale explained that the YOPs, like those who participate in SQUIRES, have to be honest with themselves and vulnerable. No negative content, derogatory or abusive language is allowed in recordings. “It takes a lot of bravery,” she said. “A lot of people don’t have that or the humility.”
The SQUIRES youth program takes place on Saturdays, so Casale wasn’t able to demonstrate her hands-on approach with the kids. The KPIX news crew was able to follow her to the loft above the prison’s Arts in Corrections building. There they observed a typical rehearsal with the hip hop band Contagious, where Jassy and the band performed three original songs.
“It’s been really important to be able to build that program,” said Casale. She said there’s a lot of stress in prison and music can re- lease the stress. “It opens your mind up to some things you’ve never thought of.”
Casale started working at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as an offsite medical scheduler and was later hired to work in the war- den’s office. She’s worked at San Quentin for 11 years.
“Being a self-help sponsor, I do get paid for it, but that’s not all of it,” said Casale. “I’m becoming a better person, too. I’m learning about myself. If I were to get another job, I would always come back as a volunteer.”
By Kevin D. Sawyer Associate Editor
The Jefferson award is given annually by local television staion KPIX.
Helaine “Lainy” Melnitzer
By teaching the incarcerated men of San Quentin high-end culinary skills, Lainy Melnitzer and Lisa Dombroski earned the Jefferson Award for Public Service on Aug. 28.
The program they founded, Quentin Cooks, will help the men find gainful employment upon their release. “Our receiving the Jefferson Award is more a testament to the grassroots nature of this program,” said Dombroski, “I feel we, as volunteers, get as much out of the program as our students. While we are solely volunteers, it is the men we serve that continue to make our program successful.”
Dombroski developed a true appreciation for food while traveling through Patagonia in South America. She realized that at each mealtime, conversations, stories and community were all centered on the food.
Later she was inspired to bring her love for the culi- nary arts to those who are often overlooked and underserved.
Teaming up with Melnitzer, who was already volunteering at San Quentin with a group that connects inmates with the local community and a reentry program, they decided to start the Quentin Cooks program.
“My vision for Quentin Cooks is that there will be a continuous flow of graduates from the program that we are able to place in meaningful employment,” said Melnitzer, “I feel that the program is so good due the Chefs Huw and Adelaar who teach the class.”
“It’s so humanizing to be in the Quentin Cooks class. They really treat us like we have the ability to succeed,” said Nathaniel Reichert, a current participant in the program, “I’ve always loved good food, but I never knew I could make good food. Being a part of this class is helping me realize my potential.”
The 12-week class meets on Wednesday mornings for five hours.
Throughout the class, the men democratically decide the dishes that they will make. Chili, curries and homemade cheeses are just a few of the dishes that the student cooks learn to make.
The Chef’s Warehouse donates dry goods and equipment for the program, while VegiWorks donates all of the produce and meat.
The class culminates in a graduation banquet, during which the incarcerated cooks prepare a several course meal for visitors from the Bay Area culinary community.
“I go into all of this believing that one person can help the world. If you’ve helped one person, you’ve helped the planet,” said Melnitzer, “You never know the extent of the ripples from a pebble that you throw in the pond.”
By Aron Kumar Roy Staff Writer