OUR BEHIND THE SCENE AND TRUSTED RESEARCHER STUART WAGNER
The masthead of the San Quentin News lists Stuart Wagner as one of its 13 “Advisers.” While the newspaper’s staff esteems its advisers’ advice, in Wagner’s case the title is a less than adequate description of his contribution to the publication.
The newspaper does not have internet access. To overcome this obstacle, Wagner serves as San Quentin News’ primary source of news articles from outside publications. This “source material” provides the basis for many stories the paper publishes about criminal justice, incarceration and social justice.
Wagner also serves as the newspaper’s primary researcher, fielding numerous requests from writers to investigate and report on a myriad of specific questions and topics. This research materially informs the content of the publication.
Without Wagner’s help as provider of source material and researcher, the newspaper’s staff would be relatively blind.
Wagner is a native of Bridgeport, Conn., but he has lived in the Bay Area for most of the last sixty years.
He joined the Marine Corps following high school then went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut.
He came to the Bay Area for post-graduate studies at Stanford. As he developed his doctorate dissertation, he spent a year in Bogota, Columbia.
With his early education complete, Wagner embarked on a professional life and subsequent retirement that paint the picture of a modern renaissance man.
He utilized his education to teach Latin American history and Chicano Studies at the University of Minnesota for five years. Weary of both Minnesota weather and academia, he returned to the Bay Area in 1974.
There Wagner started an electronics business, which he ran for 15 years until, in his words, he “burned out.”
What followed was a retirement filled with an almost dizzying breadth of service and activity. Wagner took art classes at College of Marin and City College of San Francisco. In the 20 years since, he has had a presence in many art exhibits locally and beyond. His three-dimensional art is on display at his website, stuartwagner.com.
Besides his service to the San Quentin News, Wagner has a history of volunteerism that includes working with Mount Tamalpais State Park, the Marin Food Bank and The Cedars of Marin.
His first contact with San Quentin prison was in 2008. He participated in an art group’s exhibition called “The Prison Project,” which took an empathetic look at prison life. Wagner visited the prison with the group, interviewed residents and observed some programming.
The visit whetted the artist’s interest in criminal justice, in the penal system and particularly in San Quentin.
“In the process, I became acutely aware of my unexplainable good luck in avoiding ‘the system’ after a couple of juvenile scrapes with the law,” said Wagner.
As a volunteer, Wagner thought that he might be hearing a renewed call to the classroom. He trained to teach in the Prison University Project, now known as Mount Tamalpais College, but ultimately did not serve in that role.
Through this experience though, a friend who also volunteered at San Quentin asked him to assist with preparations for an event she described as the Day of Peace.
There, said Wagner, “… I met some San Quentin News staff who invited me to attend a weekly meeting of staff and advisers.
“I was gob-smacked when I walked into the newsroom. I couldn’t believe my eyes; it reminded me of the bar scene in Star Wars: every iteration of race working together in harmony for a common goal — getting that paper out every month. A racial utopia in a prison! No one believed me.
“By the end of that meeting, observing the harmony and good will of the men, I was hooked.”
Wagner wore a number of hats in service to the newspaper. He researched grants, instructed staff in the use of Photoshop, raised funds, and when COVID-19 cut off access to the prison’s newsroom, began to serve as the newspaper’s researcher from outside the prison.
The newspaper’s “adviser” reports that he currently spends about 10-20 hours per month in service to the publication, depending on how extensive its research needs are.
He enjoys the work, saying, “[I] … relish every minute of it because the staff at San Quentin News is making a difference at the most basic level in advocating and in spreading the news, not only with content, but equally importantly, by example.”
The staff of the newspaper, in turn, relish every minute of Wagner’s service, and the thousands of incarcerated people that enjoy the San Quentin News benefit from his efforts each month without knowing it.