SAN QUENTIN TRADITION PERSONIFIES POSITIVE CHANGE, NEARS HOLIDAY STATUS
The San Quentin community hosted its annual Day of Peace on July 1. Peace, love, and unity permeated the air as residents, staff, program volunteers and community members gathered to enjoy the sun, music and camaraderie.
The event commenced with the SQ Color Guard flag-presentation ceremony followed by resident “White Eagle” sharing prayers to bless the grounds.
Resident Arthur Jackson said the event shows that “there is a possibility of having a toxic-free environment without hostility and violence.” He noted that the spirit of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to transform rehabilitation in the state was on full display at the event.
Volunteer Suzanne Babayan of the California Reentry Institute shared the same sentiments, saying that she enjoyed “seeing the men making a living amends for peace. It’s a beautiful thing San Quentin is doing.”
As soon as the Lower Yard opened in the morning, residents walked briskly from their housing units to get in line for a free goodie bag provided by Walkenhorst’s. Each bag contained cookies, a bag of chips, mini-sausages, a candy bar, and a Day of Peace bracelet.
While some waited in line, others enjoyed artwork on display or the tables with information about some of The Q’s numerous self-help groups. The program volunteers greeted everyone with a welcoming smile and eagerly shared information about their respective programs.
“I personally enjoyed the live music and the acrylic paintings,” said resident Chad Miller, “because I love art shows on the streets and I’m appreciative of it all.”
Elsewhere, other yard activities continued as normal, including the SQ Warriors basketball team, who lost a nail biter in overtime to the outside Team Green.
As the large crowd gathered around the stage, resident Tommy Wickerd gave the audience a brief history of the event.
“I want to share with you why we started the Day of Peace. In 2006, a racial riot kicked off right here on this Lower Yard. A group of men from all backgrounds pulled this together right here — mostly lifers — and the majority of them are paroled today,” Wickerd said to cheers. “We are committed to stopping the senseless violence that’s plaguing our prison system and communities. I’m proud of all of you for showing up today!”
Warden Ron Broomfield took a moment to share some words of encouragement with the audience. “This day means a lot; we are at a point in history where we can set down our differences. We are one community here together, representing all our programs and groups,” he said.
For many recently arrived SQ residents, the magnitude of the festivities took them by surprise.
Charlie Davila felt honored to be part of this unique community event. Incarcerated for over 20 years, Davila said he had never experienced an event in any other prison where people of all backgrounds could come together in common fellowship with respect and humanity.
“I think it’s really nice that people can come together, it creates a sense of camaraderie and community,” said Sibin Mathews, another new arrival. “I like San Quentin because of all of the programs and all of the talented people — ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
The event was all-inclusive with no one left behind, including SQ’s deaf community. They were able to communicate and participate through the assistance of their hearing-impaired interpreter, Deanna Sardo, who was happy to see everyone come together as one.
The event featured a variety of musical performances. Artist Discreet got heads and feet moving to his rhymes and a few people even danced to the beat.
Christian rapper Emilio brought the gospel alive through the lyrics of his songs reflecting on sin and transformation. Between songs, he prayed and shared words of wisdom. “I think it’s important for the [incarcerated] community to hear that they are not forgotten,” Emilio said.
Cultural diversity was on full display when the Haka dance group of Asian Pacific Islanders shared their roots by dancing and singing island-style.
Longtime volunteer, Adelaida “Auntie Adel” Serafino, sang “Tanari’i.” The traditional song refers to the Ulu-pala-kua valley where the ancient Hawaiian “paniolos” would go to the top of the mountain, gather breadfruit, and put them in their backs. The climb was so arduous that by the time they returned to the valley the breadfruit was ripe, she said.
Members of SQ’s Spanish-speaking community also participated in the performance, including the band Quinta Tira, whose name refers to the fact all members live on the fifth tier of their building. They played the rock song, Oye mi Amor (Hey my Love), by Mana in Spanish.
In the midst of it all, other residents took part in the Pat Mahoney Memorial Sidewalk Art Contest. Residents and community members worked together on various scenes, characters or icons reflecting love, unity and peace.
Many of the program volunteers and community members came away impressed after attending their first Day of Peace event.
Sheila Jones, 5-year volunteer for CRP, said it was amazing “just to see all of the different organizations that are here to help everyone. … It’s a great turnout. Feels like you’re out at the park with music and people sharing conversation; it’s a beautiful thing.”
“It is good to put a face with the names and hear their stories,” said Vannessa Collins, cofounder of Awareness Into Domestic Abuse. “AIDA is working on translating our courses and providing resources in Spanish. Being able to communicate in Spanish with them is our vision.”
Volunteer Cherie McNaulty observed that the “Day of Peace is a melting pot of many different people coming together in one accord for one day.”
Lance Bohn, the new ISUDT director, was not sure what to expect beforehand but came away impressed with the good vibes. “It is nice to bring people from the community in here to work with the incarcerated; it is a progressive concept,” he said, noting that the event is a good opportunity to provide outreach for resources.
“The idea of peace is filtering through the institution to everybody,” said Mick Gardner, the executive director of No More Tears. He said No More Tears is working on Spanish versions of its program.
The Irish-themed band Sean Daly & The Shams took to the stage as the event began to simmer down.
“I have no words to say; I am blow away,” Daly said between songs. “When I first came in here, it was so emotional I couldn’t talk for maybe two or three hours.”
Many residents came away with a sense of hope. Norman “Bugs” Johnson said he didn’t realize the amount of self-help programs available at The Q. “The event was awesome. I have never experienced anything like this,” he said.