Do you remember those guys from high school who used to play “Dungeons & Dragons” for hours and hours on end? Well, they grew up. You can see them everyday on television in “The Big Bang Theory,” or… you can watch them on the yard and in the housing units here at San Quentin. They are called “H.E.R.O.E.S.”
“We don’t want guys in this group that can’t follow rules”
Heroes Enabled through Role-playing & Organized Enrichment of Society. Yes, the Gamers are here at San Quentin and they take their role-playing seriously. Their group motto is an easy and inspiring statement:
“Leaving behind life as society’s villains, we endeavor to play the role of heroes and learn to employ the heroic ideal for the benefit of our communities.”
The Gamers reflect the broad spectrum of San Quentin’s population and indeed, the American ideal – which is full integration. There are no barriers such as, “race, color, creed, national origin, ancestry, sex, marital status, disability, religious or political affiliation, age, or sexual orientation….” Any inmate who is a part of the general population at San Quentin can apply for membership into H.E.R.O.E.S.
Dungeon Master Christopher Bell said, “Not all of our members have English as their first language, so we have interpreters to help with the guys that speak Spanish, Cambodian, Vietnamese and one guy that speaks Arabic but his English needs a lot of work. We found one of the Muslims who speak Arabic – he learned while he’s been incarcerated – and he translates for that guy and tells us the things that our member wants to clarify.”
The Gamers get together as often as they can and usually spend several days a week “role-playing.” Their mission: Chris Christensen explained it thusly, “Having gained insight, we as prisoners realize we can never undo the harm we’ve caused others in our own society. Nevertheless, we the members of San Quentin HEROES feel that through role-playing we can turn otherwise idle time into opportunities to change our mindsets and grow as mature, law abiding citizens.”
The group’s rules state that members must maintain a reputation of integrity. Members also must commit to the group’s scheduled activities and have a release date of more than 90 days.
Game aids for the group include cubed dice that are, pyramidal, rhomboid and polyhedral shaped, with some die 20-sided. These aren’t the type of dice used for gambling. Each die has a specific use, based on the characters and the realm created for the game. The uses range from combat levels to skill checks, to knowledge skills, diplomacy and perception. There also are miniature figurines, game templates, miniature expansion packs, membership and campaign cards; H.E.R.O.E.S. hats, pins and shirts. According to their by-laws, only the active members can, wear or possess these RPGA (Role-Playing Gamers Association), DCI (parent company of RPGA) and H.E.R.O.E.S game aids.
Violating H.E.R.O.E.S. by-laws or getting disciplinary write-ups can get a group member suspended or even terminated.
“We don’t want guys in this group that can’t follow rules,” said group Scribe George Coles-El. “Everybody has to follow the rules, and that includes men who are moving forward to change their mind state to one that will enhance and be a benefit to our communities while in here and upon release. You can’t be a benefit to society if you can’t follow rules, it’s just that simple.”
Games include Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeons & Dragons Campaign, D&D: Living Grey Hawk, Star Wars LIVING FORCE, Call of Cthulhu, Eborron, and Rifts.
Characters vary from game to game, and are as exotic as the games themselves. It’s almost like watching a “Lord of The Rings” movie played out right on the yard. The have Rangers, Rogues, Paladins, Wizards… Hobbits, Elves, etc.
One staff member working inside West Block is very enthusiastic about the Gamers and has offered to be their sponsor. “I think it’s great. These guys have found a way to work on themselves while being incarcerated,” he said. “They’re doing something that’s actually therapeutic for them and they aren’t the ones that are causing problems in the housing units nor on the yard. Excellent examples on how to program.”
Not everyone is happy about this group being at San Quentin. During weekly meetings in the gym, they sometimes can get complaints about how many desks are being used by the Gamers. However, in fairness, because of the size of their group, the 4-seat table simply couldn’t accommodate them. On average, there are 8 to 12 players per session.
At least one staff member has referred to them as “Worshippers of Satan” and has vowed to get them banished from San Quentin. In response, the group’s Scribe M. Coles-El stated “That’s a prime example of why there is a separation of Church and State in the United States.
To all these avid Gamers, I can only say “Peace… and may The Force be with you, always.”
More information about RPGA can be found by writing to the following: Wizards of the Coast, Inc. P.O. Box 707 Rento, WA 98057-0707.