The Friday after Christmas, two former San Quentin residents returned to a jam-packed Catholic Chapel to mingle with old friends and perform at the Prison University Project’s (PUP) Annual Open Mic.
“Be encouraged to write your own reality in the sense that if you want freedom and liberation, you have to find it in the confines that you have and let that open the gates for you,” Antwan “Banks” Williams said after returning to San Quentin 64 days after getting out.
Williams was joined by Eric “Maserati-E” Abercrombie, who got out of prison about a month before Williams did, said, “Everything I do going forward, I do it for you. The change in my life affects you. We will spread this like wild fires. We’re changing the culture from in here.”
First Watch Producer Jesse Rose hosted the event. The program opened with Gregory “White Eagle” Coates on wood flute, Timothy Young on classical guitar, Courtney Rein on violin and accompanied by Mark Kinney on keyboard.
Brian Asey and Dre’Quinn Johnson showed a short film they produced, Teaching & Learning PUP Style. PUP students talked about the impact that an educational opportunity gave them. Teachers talked about the power of education.
Poetry, spoken word and personal essays dominated the event and the comedy routines got lots of laughs.
James Jenkins’ routine on passing gas rolled the audience the most.
“Don’t go in the cell with James,” he said about the ru- mors about himself. “He’ll gas you out.”
Raphael “Nephew” Bankston rapped about life from an incarcerated person’s perspective with Tim Young strumming his guitar as accompaniment.
It’s kind of hard to see what we see, but the sun you see is the sun I see.
I see oppression and empathy being abused.
Stu Ross read an excerpt from his novel, Going Bad Doesn’t Make Men Less Attractive.
When the barefooted Ronell “Roach” Draper took the stage, he said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. Maybe this doesn’t make sense, but I understand that’s a barbed wire fence.”
Nevertheless, the audience seemed to enjoy the humorous performance as there was generous laughter and applause as he walked off the stage.
Harold Banks read a poem, From Grape to Raisin. It’s interestingly about shifting narrative, beginning from the perspective of a child, then a mother and then a father. The poem is about the source of happiness and love and the cycle of life.
Standing with his back to the audience, Timothy “T- Bone” Hicks read “I am a Human Being.” He said that it was inspired by PUP teachers who were determined to get the students out of their cells for class.
Philippi “Kels” Kelly and Steve “Rhashiyd” Zinnamon performed a hip-hop rap that spoke truth to power from “unlikely” characters.
Andrew Grazzeny read a personal essay about his years of incarceration.
“I sleep because it is too painful to live. The sunrises and forces one more day. I find myself caught in life, like in a rip tide. I never learned to stop struggling.”
Isaiah Love read Carrots, Coffee & Eggs, an inspirational poem about self-confidence, reaching one’s potential and living one’s dreams. “It’s what I fall back on when I too in- spire to build to create,” Love said.
Wade read My Penal Reality, which described his experience in Pelican Bay Prison.
He wrote the piece more than 12 years ago as a “pretty angry” person, but “calm came over me,” he said.
Brandon Terrell gave a mo- tivational and self-confidence performance, Believe.
“If you believe deeply that there is no failure, then your belief would come true,” Terrell told the audience. He walked up and down the chapel aisle, encouraging the audience to believe in themselves and that everyone should believe in their destiny, believe that they would be successful and get out of prison.
Aaron “Showtime” Taylor performed a comedy routine that left the audience rolling in laughter as he played guitar and sang parody about being on a halal diet and eating “state bologna sandwiches.”
Andrew Wadsworth read a poem, 16 Bars, as Aaron Taylor accompanied him on guitar.
A spoken word piece, 16 Bars, addressed Wadsworth’s turbulent life that began going bad at 16 years old. He talked about becoming a dope dealer, running the streets and living a negative life. The narrative shifts to understanding what it means to be accountable for one’s actions and realizing that the meaning of life is love, not hustling, stealing and violating other people’s rights.
Anthony “Habib” Watkins read Fatherless Child. The poem was about understand- ing the power of education and literacy as well as living honor- ably and respectfully.
Richard Lathan read two poems. The first addressed the way people communicate through their actions:
Is there a way to speak with- out opening your mouth?
A young woman, who lost her life, inspired the second poem.
Gerry Sanchez Muratalla and Berny Marroquin entertained the audience with Spanish music. Muratalla’s guitar brought hand clapping and whooping with some people dancing in the aisle and a standing ovation.
Deavon Torrence read a poem, You Made It. It was about being successful and overcoming obstacles of discrimination in a racist criminal justice system.
• Raiveon “Ray Ray” Wooden read a poem about finding self-confidence while being persecuted.
• Derry “Brotha Dee” Brown’s Dancing to Praise God had the audience standing and clapping.
• George Mesro El-Cole read a fantasy piece that was extremely descriptive.
• Thanh Tran performed a hip-hop piece about moving forward in life.