MT. TAM resource fair offers
tools for a successful reentry
Over 100 San Quentin Prison residents descended on the Catholic chapel to collect valuable information about how to prepare for reentry and how to succeed when they are freed.
It was a first-ever resource fair arranged by SQ’s Mt. Tamalpais College. Formerly and currently incarcerated worked together to offer resources for those who have little to no tools to do so for themselves. These resources can be instrumental to successfully reenter society and significantly improve their quality of life.
Around 20 volunteers staffed 10 tables loaded with reentry aids and information.
“We should start the connection with resources for incarcerated individuals prior to release,” said former resident Corey McNeil. He spoke of how his work helps bridge the incarcerated community and society.
SQ resident Kevin Sample described his reaction: “A puzzle is beautiful when connected. We are the pieces missing while in prison. When places come in to connect and give us support, I feel a sense of wholeness.”
The concepts for the fair derived from a Black Studies group offered at Mt. Tamalpais called PREVAIL. The goal was to address the school-to-prison pipeline and the prison-to-employment pipeline.
The idea came about when PREVAIL participants discussed how unemployment was a prevalent topic during the prior presidential elections. Aware that the problem starts with them, self-preservation kicked in and they wondered how they could help gather and provide information on successful reentry for themselves and those in similar situation. This became their driving force.
Doing all the footwork to make this event happen was a formerly incarcerated group of Corey McNeil, DeJon Joy, Phillipe Kelly, and Adamu Chan. They teamed up with Mt. Tamalpais representatives Kirstin Pickering and Nandita Dinesh to get the various organizations into SQ.
The visitors passed out pamphlets, business cards, and printouts of a variety for programs and services.
The main theme was reentry and the organizations presented services from financial planning, education, health and wellness training, employment assistance, housing assistance, legal services, and vocation training.
SQ resident Corey Smith said he believes if incarcerated people connect with resources, they are less likely to reoffend. “I believe if this is to be a rehabilitation center, there needs to be a focus on the transitioning opportunities available,” he said.
California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation presented vocational services for people with disabilities.
The energy at the Creating Restorative Opportunities and Programs table was dynamic as the two representatives spoke of the vision of how society needs to invest in rehabilitated people. CROP representative Jesse Foshay commented, “How can you expect people to rehabilitate and not help them acclimate into society?”
CROP representative Kit Berry spoke with enthusiasm on the organization’s focus, “We are facing a world that wants to put up barriers and we are busting them down.” Its focus is on a holistic and human-centered approach to support reentry.
Sol Mercado, a former resident at a California Woman’s facility, provided material from Planting Justice, which hires previously incarcerated. The nonprofit organization in Oakland offers parole support, therapy help with reentry, DMV connections, and self-help groups upon release.
“It is our lived experiences that help other people,” said Mercado, explaining why she gives back.
The California Lawyers for Arts table explained how it arranges internship positions up to seven years after release from prison. It provides referral services in all forms of art, writing, music, and even curating.
The Cal State East Bay table provided information on behalf of Project Rebound. It featured former resident Forrest Jones, a recent graduate. He mentioned how humbling the experience of returning to visit prison and that initially the environment brought back feelings of the restrictions he faced when at The Q. However, his eagerness to contribute and connect with the people inside superseded his unease.
He told the group that he networked as best he could with the different people that came in to help while incarcerated. Jones said many resources are available and attributed those to his success.
Other groups that attended were Bonafide, Restorative Reentry, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, Reentry Success Center, Black Men’s Wellness, Prison 2 Employment, Just Desserts, Code Tenderloin, Community Works West and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
Resident Mark Hernandez appreciate Mt. Tamalpais for opening doors and said he looks forward to more resource fairs in the future.
“This opportunity gives me hope that we can participate in anything out there with the right resources,” said Hernandez.