By Arnulfo T. Garcia
As we reflect upon a year’s worth of hard work, the writers of San Quentin News renew their commitment to the state’s prison population. We recognize that finding a solution to California’s reliance on mass incarceration is a mission that both our staff and readers must take seriously. The vision of the San Quentin News is to lead the way toward a better future for California’s criminal justice system.
Warden Clinton Duffy created San Quentin News in the 1940s to dispel prison gossip about prison policy. This gossip led to conflict among prisoners and the administration, as inmates were misinformed about policies that impacted their lives. He believed that an inmate-run newspaper would give incarcerated individuals a way to spread accurate information.
Since its inception, the newspaper has been shut down several times and for various reasons. But in 2008, Warden Robert Ayers, Jr. brought the paper back in order to disseminate positive information to the inmate population at San Quentin.
San Quentin News is the only prisoner published newspaper recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, and it received the Freedom of Information Award in 2014. The newspaper is distributed to 22 other prisons, making it the farthest-reaching inmate produced media source for the inmate population in the state.
San Quentin News has informed inmates across the state of California about the types of rehabilitative and professional programs available at San Quentin. As a result, there is growing demand on part of our readership that other institutions implement similar programs.
Today, San Quentin News has exceeded the expectations of Wardens Duffy and Ayers.
San Quentin News was introduced to the Obama administration at a reception celebrating public service in October. Thanks to our adviser UC Berkeley Journalism Professor William Drummond, San Quentin News has achieved significant attention among policymakers in Washington D.C.
We now have 14 staffers working daily for the newspaper and a growing class of journalism guild writers ready to contribute to our continued success. As our slogan goes, we are moving forward.
Our staff of creative and intelligent writers are reporting on incarceration, rehabilitation and reentry through the lens of their own prison experience. We bring a unique perspective to the coverage of criminal justice policy that is unmatched by any other news agency. Our coverage includes, but is not limited to, politics, arts culture, journalism, and social justice.
The past four years that I have served as editor-in-chief of San Quentin News have been incredibly formative. This duty is enough to keep me pushing forward in my personal endeavors.
I came to prison as a heroin addict. I have made the choice to change my ways and give back to our community. I have learned so much from being a voice for the voiceless.
It has also been a challenge. We must consistently strive to do better. On occasion, I’ll receive a letter from an inmate who feels we don’t do enough, and as a result of that input I look for ways to improve.
We will continue to shape the discussion and perception about those who are incarcerated. We must remove the stigma that comes with being a convicted felon. Society should no longer associate the label “convicted felon” with failure, and must recognize the value of second chances. San Quentin News staffers know it will take an enormous amount of patience, diplomacy and perseverance to meet these objectives. But, we also know that it is within our ability to take significant strides to do so.
Over the past year, San Quentin News has reached several of its milestones. However, there’s much more to accomplish in the coming year.
A major challenge to our ability to circulate the newspaper across the nation and around the world is our lack of adequate funds. We continue to receive donations on a monthly basis, but are in pursuit of alternative sources of financial support.
Recently, a major foundation has granted San Quentin News $50,000; money that will be used to produce a quality monthly publication with relevant and insightful stories affecting every prisoner in the state of California.
Soon San Quentin News will be embarking on a new project to publish a quarterly 24-page San Quentin Magazine. It is my intention to have the first publication ready for distribution by March 2016.
In its preliminary stages, the magazine will be distributed to a limited number of California prison libraries. However, by 2017, we hope to increase the number to more libraries.
It is our ultimate goal to make the newspaper accessible to every prisoner in the state of California.
We would like to give special thanks to Mr. Paul Cobb, publisher of the Post News Group for helping San Quentin News Staff become members of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Finally, I want to thank all of our journalist advisers who have worked tirelessly to improve our journalism skills. Without them, we would not be where we are today.
Happy holidays to all the incarcerated and to our financial supporters. May the new year bring you a new beginning.