Prison Sports Ministry (PSM) representatives Don Smith and Bill Epling visited the Media Center at San Quentin on June 30 and had a conversation with a circle of 11 men about activities inside and outside the prison.
One of those topics was the future of outside basketball teams returning to San Quentin. Another topic involved having some type of connection with guys who make parole and for them to have other resources that will assist them with their transition back into society.
“Our focus now is to see that when guys get out they can get the resources they need,” said Epling, who’s always looking to help the guys with their spiritual quests. He said the only hangup is that the PSM program has limited access to guys when they make parole. Therefore, he and Smith came to the prison to look for answers.
“Once I get out, I want to get in touch with some guys and get some resources,” said former resident Orlando “Duck” Harris, who has since paroled. “It’s inspirational to see someone who left here and is doing well.”
Harris suggested that there should be a way to track guys once they parole and to at least find out how they are doing.
Don Smith is interested in getting some feedback from the incarcerated on what ideas really work or don’t work.
“We’re at a point where it’s to our advantage (for PSM to help parolees),” said Smith. “And yes, we can use your input for our program.”
Smith is a longtime volunteer at the prison. He and Epling have spent decades coming into The Q since starting the basketball relationship between outsiders and residents.
“My first game I played in SQ was in 1996,” said Smith. “I’ve been coming back ever since. It’s been over 20 years since I started this program. We are a faith-based program and since I love basketball and God, why not do something good with them both?”
Before COVID hit the prison a year and a half ago, the SQ Warriors and the SQ Kings would match up against outside teams put together by PSM volunteers Epling and Smith. But when COVID hit, things came to an abrupt halt. Games froze and the two things Smith loved to do were stagnated.
“It was hard being separated from my biological family, but at least I could call or text them. However, being away from my spiritual family here at the prison was equally hard,” said Smith. “You guys are a big part of my personal life.”
When PSM used to come for B-ball at The Q, the matches were competitive. Epling recalls one of the strategies his team would use to win games.
“It used to be fun to play,” Epling said. “But we used to count on the Warriors to get worn down so we could beat them. Skills were one thing, but strategy was another.” Another one of Epling’s tactics was the way he also used something he loved to do to help transform the guys and make a difference in their lives.
“For guys that are out to receive the benefits and support from you guys, (PSM) would be a big thing for guys out there to help push the program,” said resident Josh “JB” B. “Being a part of the program while in prison has impacted me in a positive way.”
He has been a part of the program since 2011.
PSM reps said that guidance and transitional housing are a few of the things that are vital to guys’ rehabilitation; PSM plans to help formerly incarcerated men with those, as well. They also said that helping the formerly incarcerated will help expand their program while at the same time help people rebuild connections with their community.