Motivational speaker Bob Goff returned to San Quentin’s Chapel B in July with his annual message of inspiration for the prison’s residents. It was his first visit to the facility in almost 17 months.
Goff’s appearances were becoming an annual tradition at San Quentin until they were interrupted by the 14-month COVID-19 lockdown. He last visited the prison in February. 2020, less than three weeks before the virus outbreak caused all such events to be canceled.
The upbeat and humorous speaker was accompanied by colleagues Dae Erikson and Jody Luke. He usually comes to San Quentin with a larger contingent, but some of his regular companions were not able to attend the event this year. They asked Bob, Dae, and Jody to relay their greetings and well wishes to the men of San Quentin.
Several themes emerged during the event. Goff talked about the irony of finding virtue in the least likely places. He explained that encounters with those who are hungry, or thirsty, or in prison, are akin to encounters with Jesus. For him and his entourage, therefore, visits to San Quentin are very meaningful.
Goff advised his listeners to “think about what you want and why you want it.” He shared a humorous personal story about his efforts to obtain “a date,” which began in junior high school and continued beyond his college years before concluding successfully. He told the story to provide an example of pursuing goals persistently.
With another anecdote, he encouraged his audience to consider “what’s already adjacent to me?” To illustrate, he related a tale about buying land to use for a retreat center. When those plans were thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic, he utilized adjacent land as an equestrian center to generate funds to help finance the original land purchase.
Jody Luke talked to the men about an idea she called “defiant joy.” She described this joy as one not just felt but chosen. She went on to warn that fear is the thief of joy. “I want you to know that you are valued,” she said. “I hope that you’re not ruled by fear, but by a defiant joy.”
Dae Erikson described the encouragement she feels when she sees what incarcerated men accomplish under difficult circumstances. “You do so much with what you have and the space you’ve been given,” she said.
San Quentin resident Rafael Bankston followed the guest speakers with an inspirational message titled “Destination Dream Big.” He had seen the words “Dream Big” on a sign at San Quentin’s baseball field and was inspired to write his piece. He exhorted the men in the chapel to set goals and to focus on them persistently, reinforcing the message delivered earlier by Goff.
Following Bankston’s talk, the audience formed into three circles to discuss “what is working, what is not working, and what character trait is being developed as a result.” The circles were facilitated by Bob, Dae, and Jody.
In the discussion of “what is not working,” several of the men mentioned that they are struggling with a lack of personal contact with family as a result of current restrictions on visiting. Not surprisingly, perseverance was the most commonly reported character trait that is being developed under these conditions.
At the end of the evening, certificates were presented to graduates of a Bob Goff workshop held prior to the lockdown. Notably, many of the men whose names were called to receive the certificates were not present because they had been paroled since the lockdown began.
Earlier in the day, the Goff group spent time with San Quentin’s FIRSTWATCH production team, preparing a mini-documentary to be titled “Lost Dreamers.” The plan is that the film will air on a major network during the Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays this year.
This will be one of the first such projects by an incarcerated film crew. Still, photos taken during the shoot are already receiving favorable comments on social media, a member of the crew reported.
The event was shorter than originally planned because the visitors had to catch a flight for their return trip to San Diego. Accordingly, there was no time for post-event conversations that usually follow the group’s visits. Goff closed the meeting with a prayer and promised that when he next returns to San Quentin, he will bring a magician to entertain the residents.
Whenever Goff visits San Quentin, he evokes warm responses from the men in blue. When asked about his impression of Goff, resident and event attendee Jessie Rose said, “When I get his age, I hope and pray I’m enjoying life like he is. His energy is super-positive, just infectious.”