Soccer is one of the staple sports at San Quentin prison. When it is played on the Lower Yard, a dedicated group of athletes come out to display their highly-competitive brand of the sport. San Quentin’s soccer team, the Earthquakes, is the heart and soul of SQ’s soccer community, driving fans to their feet with each goal scored.
The captain of the SQ Earthquakes, Ronald Luna, decided to give me an exclusive interview. Luna, 37, sat with me on the Lower Yard in his yellow “IDAP” (Inmate Disability Assistance Program) jacket, taking a break from his work assignment and his soccer duties to talk shop.
Reclined in a cushioned chair in front of the Media Center, he sported dark shades to guard his eyes from the piercing sunrays breaking through the overcast skies. We talked about the importance of the game in general, and specifically what it means to the SQ community and the athletes involved.
Timothy Hicks: How is it going? I’m glad to be the first one you decided to give an interview to. I’m honored.
Ronald Luna: No problem. I see you around here and I like what you are doing.
TH: Thanks. Let’s get right into it. I see that you are the captain of the soccer team. Has soccer always been your go-to sport?
RL: Yeah, I played soccer my whole life, since being a kid. I would watch the grown-ups play, and I would jump in the game and get hit with the ball.
TH: Where did you grow up?
RL: I grew up in El Salvador. I grew up in poverty with no TV. I had never watched a soccer game on TV. And back then, I didn’t comprehend the game. I never played on a team until I was in high school. Then I would play pick-up games at the park.
TH: What about soccer you enjoy the most?
RL: I enjoy the most about it is the team. I like getting out there and not thinking about anything. Who you are with doesn’t matter. Just offense and defense and working as a team. It can be difficult playing with those who are not playing as a team.
TH: Team does matter. How did you become captain of the team?
RL: Before “JoJo” Robinson paroled, I was responsible for the equipment. I built a rapport with the manager of all the sports programs at the prison, Coach K. Bhatt. He and JoJo saw how good I was and they picked me up. And when JoJo paroled, I became captain and coach.
TH: That’s a huge responsibility, being coach of over twenty guys at one time. How do you manage that and what skills have you learned from it?
RL: Being a coach teaches you how to have patience. The team has 11 players (on the field), but we have a lot more people and they all have opinions. You have to know how to communicate. I also play, and I am competitive too. It helps me manage myself. At the end of every game, we debrief and communicate. I tell people not to take the game personal. We listen to each other’s concerns and feelings, and we learn from each other. We teach ourselves emotional intelligence.
TH: What does that coaching style do for the team? How do you build your team?
RL: The guys know that if you get everybody working as a team and everybody in rhythm, when we win it’s a good feeling. I set up the team with the goal-keeper first. Then the defense — a 4-4-2 formation — corner-field, mid-field and sides. I keep the strikers and the most skilled players as the forwards and closer to the goal.
TH: What does soccer do for your and your guys’ rehabilitation?
RL: In life you have to have some common ground to connect you to something, soccer is that connecter. So soccer works with my rehabilitation, mainly because you have to stay out of trouble to play on the team. It’s about bettering ourselves physically and mentally. This gives us a sense of community