On March 11, 2023, No More Tears held a graduation ceremony for 39 San Quentin residents in the Addiction Recovery Center building on the Lower Yard.
The ceremony celebrated those who completed the 12- week No More Tears workshop, a self-help program that teaches participants how to communicate without using violence.
The workshop consists of a series of sessions that enables participants to identify violence in all forms, manage their anger, overcome personal triggers, and resolve conflicts in a non-confrontational manner.
No More Tears Executive Director Mick Gardner opened the ceremony with an invocation. “God be with us as we celebrate,” he prayed.
Perry Simpson, a resident facilitator, hosted the event with assistance from co-host Imanhi Cheeks, a volunteer intern.
The hosts introduced graduate Rodney Baylis. Baylis read the No More Tears mission statement: “To curb violence and detrimental behaviors within targeted communities by utilizing the special knowledge and experience of former perpetrators of violence and crime. These former perpetrators hold themselves accountable to bring solutions to communities where they once had contributed to the problems.”
Formerly incarcerated Lonnie Morris, founder and president of No More Tears, explained the meaning of perseverance.
“In order to persevere you must preserve, which means to take something into position with the intention to later utilize it. If you walk out of this room and go back to what you were doing prior to No More Tears, you have wasted your time and our time,” said Morris.
Reginald Thorpe, a program facilitator, then read the group’s house rules. In short, the house rules were, “No foul language, no ethnic slurs, no cussin’, no fussin’, and no mussin.’”
“I cannot help but to mention Lonnie; he gave us an opportunity to address our guilt and shame. He never gave up on us,” said Thorpe.
Next, Simpson introduced San Quentin resident and program facilitator Mel Warren, who led the audience through a chant signifying commitment.
“Committed to stopping the violence; I am committed to stopping the tears,” the crowd chanted.
“No More Tears helped me become the man I want to be. It got me through some tough times,” said Warren.
Violinist Rufael Henok entertained with a solo performance. “It’s amazing when we change from a fixed mindset to a mindset of growth,” Henok said.
Cheeks told the graduating class, “I am glad to be here. I am amazed how you pass on knowledge. You are a brother to each other, keeping each other accountable. I am proud of you all.”
The hosts introduced special guest Timothy Young. He played a guitar instrumental titled Music for Your Soul. The crowd snapped their fingers and tapped their feet as Young entertained.
Some of the participants talked about what the group meant to them.
Marcus Casillas: “Allowing my past actions that caused pain to others be a lesson for me today so that can I move forward in a positive and healthier way, treating others how I want my family to be treated.”
Shakim Harrod Jr.: “No More Tears basically brought me to understand the things that I was doing and why I was doing them.”
Phillip Kennedy: “If you want to have a proper attitude in healing yourself, you should take No More Tears and learn to understand and grow.”
Staff and volunteers praised the graduating class, highlighting their accomplishments.
It is unique to challenge traditional ideas about what it looks like to be a man, said Mia Ritzenberg-Crary, deputy director of No More Tears. “Men now have the opportunity to process their anger and support each other without the pressure of wearing a mask,” she said.
Volunteer Linda Heiderer said, “I’ve seen so much strength in you gentlemen. A strong man builds his strength by building his muscles. A strong man builds his character. A strong man sheds his tears, and a strong man shows up for No More Tears.”
Keynote speaker Cori Thomas, chair of the No More Tears board, gave the incarcerated men insight about perseverance through a story about her grandparents.
Thomas said her grandparents were the descendants of slaves. They had a dream to build a school in Africa, which would also help them escape prejudice in the United States. Their employers wanted them to go to Africa as missionaries but denied their request to build a school there.
They decided to use their own money to build the school, making their dreams a reality. The Lott Carey Mission School is there to this day, in Liberia in West Africa. A sign at the school’s entrance reads, “Dignity, Perseverance, and Education, Est. 1908.”
“When you wake each morning, think of me and my grandparents who traveled to Africa and built a school. By taking No More Tears, you make the world a safer place,” Thomas said.
Executive Director Gardner and Rafeal Bankston, a resident facilitator, presented each graduate with a certificate.
“It is a tradition to honor our graduates with a certificate. We are a family, and for those who are graduating, we have a healing circle every third Saturday of the month, so you are invited,” said Gardner.
Several graduates received special recognition, including Steven Sanchez and Anthony Guzman, who paroled during the workshop. Samuel Jones and Bradley Ware received special recognition for their “outstanding improvement.”
Matthew Ham and Efrain Vallarta are hearing-impaired graduates acknowledged for their “outstanding participation.” Graduates Baylis, Nicolas Johnson, and Steven Warren also received special recognition.
Staff, volunteers, and resident facilitators lined up to greet the graduates, giving out fist bumps and kind words. The event ended with a social time accompanied by refreshments.