students displayed their talents in poetry, rap and original songs in an Open Mic event.
“Open Mic is a way to give back to our students and faculty; our students have an incredible amount of talent,” said Amy Jamgochian, chief academic officer of Mt. Tamalpais College. “The most important thing is to celebrate the holidays with our students.”
The event was Mt. Tam’s first talent showcase since the winter of 2019. COVID-19 restrictions caused cancellation of the event in the two intervening years.
College administrators required the audience to wear masks to keep attendees safe.
Residents and college staff mingled as the evening was gearing up. The faculty and students were well-acquainted due to their time together in classrooms. They greeted each other with warm Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Kwanzaa greetings.
Jamgochian extended appreciation to SQ’s warden and the prison’s administration for allowing the event to take place.
A surprise to many was the skit, “Jokes on the Line.” It was performed by hearing-impaired students Albert “Vipor” Campos Jr. and Jamie “Happy” Paredes, with the assistance of incarcerated signing interpreter Tommy Wickerd.
Campos Jr.’s joke consisted of a man trying to remove birds from a telephone wire with a shotgun blast; all the other birds flew away except the one that was deaf.
Timothy Young started with a vintage guitar solo, followed by an instrumental jam entitled “Music for the Soul,” motivating the crowd to interact.
“Are you ready to have some fun? If you want to snap your fingers, it’s alright with me. This is something I wrote when I went to Patten [now Mt. Tamalpais] College,” said Young.
“My inspiration for writing this instrumental was the separation through incarceration of myself, my family, and friends. This separation created a dark void in my life. I learned that music allowed me to cope with loneliness, heartache and pain; it lights up the dark void and unites people everywhere. I play my guitar to pass on that healing,” said Young.
Michael Mackey, one of the young performers, entertained the audience with spoken word about trials and tribulations; a piece he wrote called Sweet Dream or Nightmare.
“People go through good times and bad; what they are going through could be Sweet Dreams or Nightmare,” said Mackey.
Jerry Sanchez-Muratalla of Spanish performers Jerry and The Band sang Yo Le Di Mi Amor (I give her my love).
The audience was responsive to the group’s up-tempo. Some attendees did not speak Spanish but they clapped and cheered throughout the band’s performance.
Mt. Tam student Dennis Jefferson recited a poem he wrote called, The Situationist. “I try to find a way for redemption and atonement; poetry is a way for me to define redemption,” he said.
Next up was Mesro El Coles, with spoken word Flick to Safety, designed to bring awareness to gun violence as manifested by numerous shootings across the country.
Herman “Robert” Walthal on guitar/vocals, with Henok Rufael on violin, performed his blues song Purpose of Life. The crowd seemed to focus on his lyrics as if his song was about them.
Incarcerated Native American Grey White Eagle Coates played a song on the flute. “I wrote this last year when I lost my mother,” he said. The title of the song was Star Child.
The final act consisted of the rap group Bullet Proof Kufi performed Highly Unlikely, featuring residents Mesro El Coles, Philippe “Kells” Kelly, and Rasheed Zinnamon.
“The motivation behind the rap song High Unlikely was Kendrick Lamar’s Alright. At the time when Mike Brown was killed Cornell West was marching and he got arrested while chanting Lamar’s song. Therefore, I want people to chant my song,” said Kelly.
The prison’s media team showed a short film about how Open Mic got started. It featured Nelson “Noble” Butler, a former Patten University student.
Butler explained that in 2011 the college students asked college administrators about having a poetry slam between the summer and fall semesters. The staff agreed to sponsor an event that displayed student talent.
Butler transferred to another prison. While there he wondered if SQ was still having the poetry slam. When he returned to SQ they were calling the event Open Mic.