San Quentin News sits down for a Q&A with Community Resource Manager (CRM) Madeline Tenney in a discussion about her new position, rehabilitation, programming, and her opinion on recidivism rates.
Tapped as San Quentin’s CRM in July of 2021, Ms. Tenney says it’s a position she takes very seriously.
SQN: Ms. Tenney, would you mind telling us about your position as San Quentin’s new CRM?
MT: My position as CRM for SQ is to facilitate the opening of programs, self-help groups and credit-earning courses such as Guiding Rage into Power (GRIP), Prison Yoga, Teaching Responsibility Utilizing Sociological Training (TRUST), No More Tears, and a variety of religious services. [Also,] yard activities like breast cancer walk-a-thons, the Golden State Warriors, and fundraisers—like the January Project and Project Avary—that promote and allow for growth and inclusion of all SQ residents.
SQN: You mentioned credit-earning programs. How are credit-earning programs implemented here at the Q?
MT: There is a process where one has to apply to become a credit-earning program. That is done through the local CRM office and then goes to the warden and on to headquarters (Sacramento) for approval. Once it is approved by headquarters, it becomes a part of the curriculum here.
There are approximately 60 credit-earning programs.
SQN: Can the men at SQ form their own prisoner run self-help group?
MT: No they can’t. In order for any prisoner run group to happen, there must be a Brown card holder or a self-help sponsor facilitating the group.
SQN: Many people in prisons throughout California have said that San Quentin is the leader in rehabilitative programming, and self-help groups. What can the population expect as far as programs with you at the helm?
MT: I don’t want to speak on things before they occur. However, I’m excited about the programs that are upcoming. What I will say is, stay tuned.
SQN: I’m certain our readers will be happy to hear that there are big things on the horizon. Does that mean that more people will have access to programs?
MT: That is the goal, yes. Pre-Covid, we have begun to focus on how to incorporate more programs. As it stands now, new times and days are being added so that more of the population can be included.
SQN: I would like to switch gears for a moment. Statistics show that recidivism rates are higher for determinate sentenced prisoners than for the indeterminate population. How would you approach reducing recidivism?
MT: Many incarcerated men and women view the administration as being the enemy. I want to change that narrative. The truth is, times have changed and the administration here at San Quentin wants to be of service to prisoners. My plan is to double down on programming and make rehabilitation the cool thing to do. Rehabilitation is the best way to improve your life, and rehabilitation makes you strive to be better. Rehabilitation makes you strive to stay out of prison.
So with that said, reducing recidivism means that I am in a position to help those willing to help themselves. To help change how they view corrections. To help people change how they view themselves.
SQN: You make it sound easy. What super power would best serve you as CRM?
MT: I would have to say cloning. That way I could be in at least five places at once, with the ability to help as many people as I can.
SQN: Why is it important for you to be in so many places at once?
MT: I love helping people. I love being a part of the best part of SQ. I get to have the challenges I like in my life, and I’m extremely proud of the teamwork we have here, from the warden to staff and volunteers. I try to be as accessible as I can, often answering questions about programming when approached.
SQN: Do you have an affirmation, quote, or saying that helps you to navigate your day?
MT: Take a breath. Think about the projects ahead of you, and take one step at a time.
SQN: I would like to double back to rehabilitation for a moment. I have been asked why there isn’t a system in place that begins rehabilitation from inception into prison until parole.
MT: The simple answer is money, space, and team effort. Right now the department and I are sort of playing Tetris. We have many pieces but not enough space. My hope—and this may not be the answer for most—is to find and promote leaders from inside to help develop such an effort.
SQN: How did you become so passionate for helping others?
MT: I have worked in CDCR for the past 14 years. I have a background in business services and in healthcare. Both of these areas helped prepare me to step in as CRM; however, it was my decade working in hospitality that taught me how to grin and “go with it,” when the pressure cooker is turned up. My passion comes from wanting to see people succeed in life. Remember, the first word in my job title is community.
SQN: Thank you for that. Switching gears, residents have opined that it is difficult to take board recommended groups because of the two-to-three year waiting lists. What, if anything, is being done to lessen wait times?
MT: That is something that I’m becoming more acutely aware of. One thing that we did was, instead of having our NA/AA programs return to one class a week, we kept them on the bi-weekly schedule and brought our occupancy back to capacity. That doubled the amount of people who could attend programs and receive credits. To add to that, there are certain board requirements that SQ does not currently offer, which I only hear about when the population shares with me. I consider this vital information because it points me in the direction we need to go.
SQN: Work schedules, in most cases, conflict with group times. What, if anything, is being done about that?
MT: Essentially, accommodations can be made if your work supervisor agrees to it.
SQN: It has been a pleasure speaking with you. Would you like to leave our readers with any last words?
MT: I would like to let everyone know that if you’re trying to get real-time information about programs, be active with your Inmate Advisory Council (IAC) members. Go to the education building and look on the bulletin board, the bulletin boards in your building for updates.
I know things sometimes feel like they are moving at a snail’s pace, but I promise we are working as fast as we can to get as many of you into programs as we can. I do believe my position is a service position, and with that in mind, my office is striving to serve the population.
Also, as we return to the “new normal,” you may be seeing new self-help sponsor faces visiting your pre-established programs. As this may surprise you, please know that these self-help sponsors are representing the community resources office and are visiting your group to check in on attendance and how the group is coming along. This population has been really great. My experience here at SQ has been really positive, and the working relationships I have formed with the community have been appreciated. Finally, I want to give a shout out to our food management department. They have been the unsung heroes of the department. I have seen them work miracles behind the scenes to provide you with special treats and the best food they can, with the tiniest budget you can imagine, so please thank them when you see them. Thank you all for your support and commitment.