California’s top prison official, Ralph Diaz, says as a society our differences are a good thing, and no matter what a person’s social background is, “They bring value to the world simply by being here.”
Diaz is secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). His statement was delivered to San Quentin on the Day of Peace and Reconciliation observed in 35 prisons on Jan. 29. The event aims to support non-violent living and spiritual unity through an all-faith dialogue.
Chief Deputy Warden Brumfield greeted participants before delivering Diaz’s message inside the prison’s Protestant Chapel.
“I feel blessed to be at San Quentin; it’s a fresh breath of air. I came from a violent prison,” Brumfield said. “This is an amazing prison, and I want you all to embrace that. We need to elevate the desire for peace.”
Darryl “Champ” Hill emceed the event. He set the tone for the day asking 150 staff, volunteers and incarcerated persons to allow “this beautiful day to open minds, relax and enjoy everything each denomination has to say.”
Protestant Chaplain Mardi Ralph Jackson gave the opening prayer. She reminded the praying audience that Jesus glorifies everything in this world.
Chris Scull of the Inmate Advisory Council said, “Peace is more than a feeling. It’s actions of reconciliation.” He continued, “Mediation is a great tool to begin the process. For some it is God. When it was me getting in trouble by my parents, it was my grandmother,” he joked.
Chairman Steve Piscascio and Sergeant at Arms Tommy Wickerd of the Committee for the Day of Peace then taught the crowd the history of the event.
San Quentin created the first Day of Peace 13 years ago.
In 2006, a riot between the Mexican and Black populations occurred just before a scheduled yard event. Several volunteers were headed to the yard event when then-incarcerated (first name)Tong led them away from the riot to safety.
Frustrated, incarcerated leaders of all races came together and went to the administration. The request was to devote one day out of the year to peace and the rehabilitative programs at San Quentin.
“Now, all prisons in California participate because of our original committee,” Piscascio said.
The Rabbi (first name) Sheiffar said the Day of Peace will help us “grow together.” He then asked everyone to open their hearts to create a world more “awake and aware.” He said children of Israel should preserve the ‘righteousness of charity.
“The way to live life is service. We must act with love. Our community calls the Hebrew word for love, ‘al aba’ — which means ‘I give to you,’” said Rabbi Sheiffar.
San Quentin’s Muslim leader, Imam Fasih, reminded everyone, “God is our creator, (and) do not look up to others who have more. “
The Protestant Choir sang (TK), followed by the Catholic choir’s Christmas rendition of “Hallelujah.”
During intermission, No More Tears volunteer Eric Van Kleen noted, “This is a great way to express spirituality to all races, all walks of life.”
Dr. Dianna Kronstadt added, “This is very special for all communities. I was honored to be invited.”
Chaplain Hector Frank of Indian Services followed. The nationally renowned spiritual leader, who walked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Julio Cesar Chavez, talked about a 1,000-year-old prophecy he learned at age 14. (He is now 76).
Chaplain Frank spoke about:
• Prophets he sat with who had known Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull
• Seven generations back to a prayer that included the heaven’s brightest star — the North Star, “was red because…the red road is a spiritual path to peace.”
• The seven original tribes
• The four original colors of men—Red, Black, White and Yellow—depicting all races
• We are older than the Aztecs, Mayans, Olmecs
• We are Temax — People of Peace
• The road to peace did not happen. “We died for it.”
• 150 original medicine people; only two are left
• 1976 was the first sweat lodge in California prisons after the protest at Alcatraz
• He helped establish all sweat lodges in California’s prisons.
“Honor each other’s indifferences, because we all pray — we just use different languages,” said Chaplain Frank.
Incarcerated keynote speaker Michael Adams gave thanks to Lt. (first name) Carlton for the opportunity to represent all incarcerated around the state. The Catholic choirs’ singer quoted St. Francis of Assisi, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. Men and women in blue…make peace within so the enemy does not win. Let peace on earth begin with us today.”
The Strobe Ensemble performed a piece from Mozart called, “The Oboe Quartet,” in honor of his 276 birthday. They then performed a song called “Water Colors.” The song was designed to visualize colors from Grass Valley’s ponds, and rivers.
Father George Williams spoke about responsibility, accountability forgiveness and self-forgiveness.
“When Christians pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for justice and mercy. These are the ingredients for forgiveness,” said Father Williams, who has been serving San Quentin for 17 years.
“We need justice for our offenders and victims, and yes we need places for punishment and for reconciliation/forgiveness; yet, the hardest thing to do is forgive ourselves,” said Father Williams. Reminding the incarcerated and volunteers how blessed they are to be at San Quentin, he asked, “Do all of you know how lucky we are?”
The father asked everyone to pray with more introspection, including:
• “Acknowledging San Quentin is proof of rehabilitation because of education, spiritual and volunteer mentors who come as peacemakers.”
• “When we harm others, we must be punished… we should not seek vengeance nor should our punishers…punishment should have clear purpose.”
• Jesus showed disappointment but rejected punishment, revenge and retaliation — by keeping love in spirit.
• Like Jesus, we must return to society whole and heartfelt.
• See Matthew 25 — Jesus, on death row, still asked for mercy and forgiveness for all at the time of his execution.
Leaders from the Buddhist community followed. Incarcerated person (first name) Roach said, “If you love that person so much, even the person that harmed you, I think we can take away from the trend of pain and suffering that we experience every day. Be willing to love.”
Ceremonies ended with prayer from Father Williams. The ceremony continued to in the Catholic Chapel with a harp recital by Christine Tullis.
Tullis, who performed six solos, told the remaining audience she has been playing for 30 years and the harp is “known to be a healing instrument since ancient times.”
This first CDCR sponsored Day of Peace promoted healing throughout the world. Lt. (first name) Carlton hopes the inspirational message will spread outside of San Quentin and that “the Day of Peace could resonate everywhere.”
–Staff Writer Kerry Rudd contributed to this story