When I first met Arnulfo Timoteo Garcia in 2009, he was hired to work for our print shop instructor John Wilkerson as a clerk.
However, upon discovering Arnulfo didn’t know how to turn on a computer, Wilkerson wanted to fire him. Ironically, when the print shop closed the following year, Wilkerson told Arnulfo he was the best clerk he ever had.
Sadly, Arnulfo died in a car accident with his sister, Yolanda Hernandez, a little over two months after he was released from the Santa Clara County Jail.
“There are a flood of memories from the nearly nine years I worked with him,” said San Quentin News Adviser Steve McNamara. “There were long talks as he spoke about his early days with a heroin addiction, followed by a life-changing promise, and then questions about how to deal with Carmen, his bright, assertive teenage daughter – plus much more.
“But two memories stand out, one from the start of his position as editor of the San Quentin News, and one from the tail end.”
“His predecessor as editor was Michael Harris, a legendary authority figure,” McNamara added. “We would review the state of the world and the paper on solitary walks from the newspaper office across the Lower Yard as I left my stint as an adviser. As Michael prepared to finish his state prison sentence, the question arose as to his successor.”
“One inmate hung as close as he could around Michael, expecting to get the nod. But, we agreed, he was too disorganized. There was one person who had the smarts and good nature for the job. Also, this guy got along well with all racial groups, a significant talent in prison. It was Arnulfo. Michael’s assessment was exactly right. Arnulfo rose to become an inspiring, inventive leader.
“Then came the San Quentin News Forums, a brilliant program that has brought inmates and criminal justice leaders together in exchanges of thoughts and experiences,” McNamara said. “Prosecutors from the Bay Area, New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, Houston and points in between have had their eyes opened to the realities of prison.
McNamara continued by saying “Arnulfo was that rare person who combines great ambition with humane warmth. Most people driven to accomplish much are also a pain in the butt. Arnulfo was different – he aimed high and was also warm and caring.
“The forums arose because I brought my daughter Marisa Rod-riquez, a San Francisco assistant district attorney, to San Quentin for a visit. She was astonished by the experience. Then she brought her boss, District Attorney George Gascon, in for a visit. Arnulfo seized the opportunity to create a series of Forums that can affect the criminal justice system for years to come.”
“The San Quentin News advisers picked Arnulfo for editor-in-chief, not because he was a great editor, but because he was a great diplomat,” said John C. Eagan, a retired journalist and adviser who helped rescue the newspaper from the dustbin of history in 2008.
“Arnulfo got along well with everyone – a rare trait in prison – including newspaper staff, advisers, guards, administration and volunteers. He made thing run as smoothly as possible under the very difficult environment inside a prison.
“He brought enthusiasm, integrity and vision to the newsroom, along with humor and compassion.
“If he had lived, and if I were elected president, I would pick him to be my secretary of state. I think he would have done an amazing job of overcoming the hostility between the United States and Cuba, North Korea and other hot spots around the globe.”
Arnulfo and the San Quentin News Graphic Designer, Aly Tamboura, did not like each other at first, but Arnulfo had this way of making people not only like him but love him in the most unregretful ways.
“Arnulfo had a way of making you feel special. When he was talking to you, he was talking to you,” said Roger Chavez. “He would always make time for you. He would say, ‘sit down, let me talk to you.’ He would come to the education office and spend time and talk about friends, family and life.
“He gave everyone encouragement, but he wanted you to always strive to be a better person. Getting out of prison was fine, but Arnulfo would say, ‘becoming a better person was first and foremost.’ I pray for his family and everyone who was impacted for the loss of a beautiful human being. Arnulfo was a special friend, and the loss of him and his sister Yolanda Hernandez will be felt by everyone. God needed them at this time, two special angels.”
“We were fortunate to have Arnulfo as our Editor- in-Chief for so many years,” said San Quentin News adviser Linda Xiques. “He was a natural leader, melding our multicultural staff into a competent, dedicated team. He did this with humor, absolute fairness, and firm idealism. ‘Moving Forward!’ was his byword; he was always sure the San Quentin News could be bigger, better, a stronger influence on criminal justice reform.
“He left San Quentin with a full agenda. He wanted to promote and strengthen the newspaper from the outside; he planned to work in the community to mentor young people; he wanted to push for more and better rehabilitation and reentry programs for paroling inmates. He wanted to “move forward” toward making the world better. That he had so little time to put his dreams to the test is a tragedy that will continue to haunt the many people who knew and loved him.
“He always had a smile on his face and was incredible to work with. I am certain I learned as much – if not more – from him than he did from me. I will miss him terribly.”
Arnulfo had a story to tell. He would sit for hours and write stories about his life in Half Moon Bay, Mexico and prison. We would laugh and call him Pachuco because his past lifestyle left him with the coolest walk we’ve ever seen.
“I’ve worked with Arnulfo for four years, as the layout designer, and recently departed to another organization,” said Phoeun You. “If I could say one thing to him it would be that I’m truly sorry for the bitterness and resentment I had for him when I left. I thought he was mad at me for leaving, instead he’s been nothing but kind for my transition. Arnulfo represents what it really means to let go and move forward. He’s a mentor and a friend, I’ll miss him.”
“He was a great friend and leader,” said Marcus Henderson. “He never lived his life like he was in prison. He preached to look at the big picture and to have integrity. He taught me to make my world bigger and to always build bridges.”
He always told me that he wanted his brother Nick Garcia, then an inmate, to go home. “He’s been away from our family far too long,” Arnulfo said. Time and time again he would say, “Nick and our sister love each other more than anything in the world. They just don’t realize it yet.”
Many inmates did not know his sister Yolanda Hernandez, but through Anulfo’s stories we felt like we did. He told us that she was just as funny as he was and that she loved her family a lot.
“A family man describes Arnulfo Garcia best,” said Wayne Boatwright. “What this title does not clearly convey is that he had many families and loved them all. Whether you were at the SQ News, Creative Writing, Media Center, Green Life, GRIP, SQUIRES, Spanish VOEG or any of the other organizations that he helped to either found or been a member of, you were family. Your family mourns your passing Arnulfo.”
Every day he would tell stories about his family, especially his daughter Carmen. He made everyone in the newsroom save their soda can tabs for Carmen’s college education.
He once tried to protest against something that she did by growing his beard out. He could’ve won that battle if it wasn’t for all those rebellious hairs that retreated. He couldn’t stop scratching his face.
“Mr. Arnulfo Garcia was my mentor and best friend, as he was the one who helped me get a job in the San Quentin News,” said Wesley R. Eisiminger. “While working in the newsroom we were all like a family inside the wall, and we looked after each other. Besides working in the newsroom we both had daughters, and we would take walks around the track and talk about some problems we had; we became even closer as brothers.
“I always look up to him as he was like family, and we treated each other that way. I will miss him and will always keep him in my mind and keep his saying ‘Moving Forward,’ as he made this paper what it is today. I will do my best to keep it going and make all of his plans for the future come true.”
He loved taking credit for, as he put it, “saving Watani Stiner” from his lonely days of sitting in the baseball dugout, lost as he was staring off into space.
He ate breakfast with Juan Haines, Watani, Michael Endres and Gil every day. They would sit at the same tables every morning.
When they returned to the building after breakfast he would always wait for me to stop by his cell and pick him up for work. I would sometime grab Nick’s toes as he tried to get that extra hour of sleep after his brother left for work.
Arnulfo always began his day by telling me the latest prank he pulled on Juan that morning, like slipping a hot pepper or extra Sriracha sauce in his eggs when he turned his head or filling Juan’s coffee cup to the rim until Juan couldn’t pick it up.
“It will always be an honor to represent what Arnulfo has brought out in me as a human being,” said Juan Haines. “He is an inspiration to life. I would not be the journalist that I am, if it were not for Arnulfo’s influence in my life. That being said, it’s hard to develop friendships inside prison — they are a cruel place, however, some of the kindest people reside behind bars and Arnulfo was the kindest of the kindest.
“What makes it easy for me to say that Arnulfo is my friend is that he is the most caring, thoughtful, and compassionate person I’ve ever met. His dedication to be the champion for the underdog will forever be the driving force in my life.”
Almost every day Gil would go to Arnulfo’s cell and cook him these huge burritos for lunch. If he didn’t make it back to the cell, Michael would meet him on the yard and give them to him.”
“Arnulfo, thank you for your unlimited friendship, thoughtfulness, kindness, laughter, encouraging words and generosity,” said Michael. “I am proud to say you are my friend, came to be like family, older brother to me. Thank you for being you. Your brother in Christ Jesus, Amen. With love and respect.”
“Arnulfo, you’ll be missed,” said Gil. “I hope your family comes together in this time of need. I don’t know if your family understands how much and how many people you’ve helped in here, but know that you’ll be missed and always be in our hearts. Nick be strong, always thinking of you. Chango, may you Rest in Peace.”
Many people did not just like Arnulfo, they loved him. That miracle was the guide lighting the trail that everyone ran down. Now that our path has disappeared, it’s going to be difficult to reignite his torch.
“Like everyone else, I felt shock and disbelief when I learned the news of Arnulfo’s passing,” said Kevin Sawyer. “There are few men that I’ve met in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation who left such an impact on the system’s inmates, staff and volunteers. During Arnulfo’s journey with us, he struggled until he finally got it right. And in doing so, he embodied transformation and became the face of rehabilitation; a shining example of determination and resilience.
“Arnulfo reached out beyond the walls of confinement and brought the world into a place that is too often forgotten or invisible. He was many things to the people who knew him, and he never ceased to make friends with people from all walks of life. Everyone liked him.
“In the six years that I knew Arnulfo T. Garcia, he wore many hats, and they were always changing for the better. His first hat was that of son to his parents. I met him when he wore the hat of Editor-in-Chief of San Quentin News. He was the boss; ‘Jefe’ I would sometimes call him, jokingly. Most importantly, above all other things, in the end the hat I cherished the most was friend.”
“Arnulfo was simply a great person because he was simple,” said Jesse Vasquez. “He wasn’t pretentious or overbearing. He was just structured in his thinking and behavior. Whenever I sat down to listen to what he said, it was like listening to a modern Greek ghetto philosopher because he understood human nature and our plight.
“Because he knew himself he was able to relate to everyone he encountered. He had been there, wherever ‘there’ was. I learned to interact with the real world by watching him mingle with prison staff, college professors, district attorneys, and every type of prisoner.”
“Arnulfo constantly showed me true kindness in a place I’d never have expected to find it,” said Davontae Pariani. “In the short time I knew him, he always made me feel welcomed … like I was family. I feel honored that I was able to not only meet, but also learn from such an inspirational man like Arnulfo T. Garcia.”
For someone like Arnulfo to leave us this soon in life it’s not fair, and it’s painful as Hell. I know I’m being selfish, but I don’t care, I think I deserve the right to miss my brother Arnulfo.
“Life is uncertain; fate has a way of taking our loved ones at the worst time, tears shed and solemn times ahead,” said Jonathan Chiu. “The only thing we can do is remember what Arnulfo has done to leave his mark with everyone both good and bad.
“We carry on our lives now aspiring to how Arnulfo dedicated his life to family, rehabilitation and helping others achieving their best self. Goodbye and our memories of time spent with you remain deep within us. Until we meet again.”
“They say you do not die until people stop saying your name. Arnulfo Garcia will live forever through his accomplishments,” Rahsaan Thomas said.
Charles David Henry said that, “Only those who are fit to live do not fear to die, for life and death are a part of the same great adventure.
“There are very few people that I’ve met in this universe that I can really call ‘a friend’ and I cherished and relished every moment we spent together on this planet. It was a great adventure … I will truly miss you ‘my friend.’ ”
“He never once, since I’ve known him, passed up a good healthy laugh. Even when he blew out his leg playing handball against Jorge Heredia he couldn’t help but laugh. Arnulfo said to me, ‘ask him [Jorge] who got skunked though.’”
“There are countless memories I lived along Arnulfo to talk about for days, said Jorge. “One of my favorites memories I will keep close to my heart is our mini handball tournament we held one-on-one in San Quentin’s handball court on a cold Monday morning. Arnulfo skunked me 8-to-0 seven times in a row. In a prison handball game the term skunked, is equal to say I got knocked out in a boxing match. Yes, I finally said it like it is guys.
“The relentless 60-year old Pachuco defeated me back to back without breaking a sweat. Arnulfo counterattacked everything I threw at him, low balls, high balls side to side and kill shots to the corners of the handball court. He dived, jumped and hustled every single one of my handball moves and out-do me without huffing and puffing as I was.
“Arnulfo never stopped smiling, not even when he busted his leg on his last handball kill shot to the right corner of the court. Who’s laughing now I told him? Who got skunked seven times, he replied to me with a wide smile! Arnulfo I hope we meet again when my time comes to share one more good laugh with you mi carnal.”
Arnulfo was also a great boxer, as he would remind us, while he threw a few punches in the air at our photographer Eddie Herena. “Arnulfo was a force that filled the newsroom,” said Eddie. “A force that moved people into action. A force steady moving forward.”
“The last time I saw Arnulfo I told him, “I love you Güey.” I gave him a big hug, and I never saw my best friend again”
Arnulfo told me that he dreamed of one day stopping the gang violence in California, and we talked about the various ways we can accomplish this goal. He always gave credit to the SHU kickout prisoners, saying he witnessed the growth in them and that they will be the ones to make this prison culture better.
“Arnulfo, my heart is full of sorrow at this moment, but the moments we shared together outweigh this sadness,” said Tare Beltranchuc. “I will always hold on to the good memories in the newsroom. I want you to know that you inspired me to be a better person, and for that I will always be grateful. Rest in Peace ‘Pachuco.’ ”
“Arnulfo has a unique way to persuade you to get involved in any self-help program that he believes will help you in the long run,” Marco Villa said. “He was a mentor to me and for that I will always be grateful. May God comfort your family and your loved ones.”
Arnulfo always dreamed big, bigger than anyone I have ever met. He not only taught me how to dream big, he also taught me how to chase those dreams.
“I remembered Arnulfo said, ‘It takes a team to get to the moon,’ referring to NASA’s mission to the moon,” David Le said. “It’s an analogy he liked to share to emphasize that going to the moon is a task for the gods, but humanly possible if we do it together. He is a visionary who knows that a vision is only a dream unless it is executed; he needs us as much as we need him to see that vision through. I believed it.”
“Most of us, even if we are loved and respected, are ultimately replaceable,” said Nikki Meredith. “In fact, one of the tenets of his the importance of cross-training so as guys leave the prison, there are other staff members capable of taking their jobs.
“Once in a while, however, someone comes along in our lives who is so unique in his natural abilities and his acquired skills, that he is not replaceable. Arnulfo was one of those people. Fortunately for us, one of his gifts was to inspire and that did not die with him. His legacy will live on both in and out of San Quentin. In SQ the guys will continue to improve their own lives because of his influence and at the newspaper, the staff will work hard to continue producing a publication worthy of his respect; outside prison, his goal of promoting dialog between the incarcerated and the officials who incarcerated them will expand. There is not a doubt in my mind that his dream will come true -— the exchanges he shepherded will result in a more just society, not just in California but in the country as a whole. In spite of the fact that his contributions will continue to make a difference, it’s heartbreaking that it has to be accomplished without Arnulfo’s presence -— his wisdom, his warmth and, most of all, his generosity.”
“Arnulfo didn’t wait to channel his determination and ambition into dreams and plans after release,” said Sarah Horowitz, a San Quentin News adviser. “He acted in the present to change what he could — now — for the better.”
“Arnulfo was one of those rare people you only meet a few times in your life if you’re lucky,” said Yukari Kane. “The first time I met him, I knew instinctively that he was dependable. Trustworthy. A friend. He was always making sure that everything was OK, I was OK, that we were all OK. His last words to me before he left San Quentin were, ‘You’re doing a great job. Keep doing what you’re doing.’ I know those words will stay with me and inspire me to be a better teacher, a better journalist and a better person.”
“My lasting memory of Arnulfo Garcia: His making burritos for the writers and editors in the newsroom,” said San Quentin News Adviser William Drummond. “That was the nature of his leadership. A sense of humor, a human touch and enormous generosity. I’ve known many great journalists and great editors. Arnulfo was one of the best. He did more with fewer resources than any of them, and he left a lasting legacy that will change the way Californians think about incarcerated Americans. ”
Many of Professor Drummond’s Berkeley students grew fond of Arnulfo.
“The first day I nervously walked into San Quentin Prison, I was greeted by Arnulfo’s firm handshake and a mischievous smile,” said Grace Cha. “He had pulled up a full-sized headshot of me on the computer. ‘Is this you?’ We all laughed at the picture of me in my ridiculous Hawaiian shirt that I had sent to the men as my introduction.
“This would set the tone for the rest of my interactions with Arnulfo. Endless laughter, friendly jabs, life lessons and a hunger to always do and be more. I don’t get it and I don’t think I ever will, but please keep him and the men at San Quentin News in your thoughts.
“Arnulfo was seriously driven to continue his work for the newspaper long before and after he got out 2 months ago.
“I’ll keep rocking my Hawaiian shirts for you, big guy. Rest easy.”
“Arnulfo was a role model to many and a kind and intelligent leader for San Quentin News,” Libby Rainey said. “He was also my friend. He will be dearly missed.”
“I had the pleasure of working with Arnulfo Garcia at the San Quentin Newspaper,” said Spence Whitney. “He was the Editor-In-Chief and was always energetic, friendly and really sharp. He earned the respect of all those around him. After spending years in San Quentin Prison, he was released two months ago and was eager to spend time with his family and get his life on track. To find out he died in a car crash with his sister leaves me with a heavy heart.”
“I met Arnulfo while helping out with San Quentin prison’s newspaper several years ago,” Amina Waheed said. “He was a gem -— incredibly warm, and always smiling. Heartbroken to hear he recently died in a car crash with his sister, so soon after being released from prison.”
“Trying to describe the magic that was Arnulfo Garcia is much harder than I thought,” said Susanne M. Karch. “Everything I write falls far short of the reality of the impact he had on everyone who knew him.
“As a volunteer, we are constantly told to avoid ‘over-familiarity’ in all its forms. Yet, after six years of knowing Arnulfo he wormed his way into my heart with his ever-present smile and his bouncy, loping walk that said he was on his way somewhere to go get something done! He was like a magnet, pulling people in who wanted to be part of whatever he was up to next.
“So many of the men I have met inside are shining examples of human possibilities. And yet, Arnulfo seemed somehow bigger than life.
“His dreams, his can-do attitude, his kindness, his OG ways even at his young age of 65 and so much more is what he gave us.
“I mourn alongside his brothers inside, his family and his many friends outside for the loss of someone so powerful and full of promise for the good he dreamed of doing after release. We will need to console ourselves with the knowledge that, however he did it, he has left a permanent mark on each of us.
“A good question to ask myself when faced with life’s difficulties will be ‘What would Arnulfo do?’ ”
“Arnulfo was as big-hearted, welcoming man,” said San Quentin News Adviser Jan Perry. “That didn’t stop him, though, from holding your feet to the fire if he felt your efforts fell short of his expectations. He was trying to help those who were caught up in the criminal justice system, and he wanted you to work for it just as hard as he did.”
The last time I saw Arnulfo I told him, “I love you Güey.” I gave him a big hug, and I never saw my best friend again.
From Miguel Quezada:
When I met Arnulfo Garcia I couldn’t have imagined the impact he would make on my life. In April of 2012 I walked the yard to ask other men where I could sign up for self-help programs. They each directed me to the baseball diamond dugout where Arnulfo sat waiting for the San Quentin News office to open.
That first conversation set him apart from anyone else I had known. He asked about my life, family, education, and goals. His optimism, passion, and hope for life and huge heart for giving was evident, and unmistakingly a part of who he was as a human being. Arnulfo believed in everyone as strongly as he believed in himself. That was his nature: to see and bring out the best in the people he encountered. Arnulfo’s leadership and dedication was contagious. There is no doubt that he was a man of vision and he shared it with the world. Simply put, he was a kind, generous, and good man.
Over the next five years we would form a true friendship and work as colleagues. We facilitated Guiding Rage Into Power and SQUIRES together, and were both Crisis Counselors in the Brother’s Keeper program. What he accomplished, he did selflessly and with sincerity. As a mentor, he encouraged me to become a journalist and, eventually, managing editor of San Quentin News. He never ceased to inspire my personal and professional growth and he brought me a renewed sense of purpose in life. This he did for me and everyone else, whether it was in the San Quentin News office or larger community. Because of that, Arnulfo’s spirit will continue to give in the ways we treat our families, friends, strangers, and in what we do with our lives to honor Arnulfo Garcia.
It’s the day-to-day moments of living that reveal a man’s character and what he holds in his heart. We spent many days sitting in the office with our friends conversing and laughing. Whatever the discussion, even when we joked, he brought it back to the deeper meaning of our families and dreams for the future. We developed a company motto, “Moving Forward”, that aptly describes the energy and attitude he brought to the office and to our lives. No matter the challenge we faced, we were always Moving Forward. To Arnulfo Garcia, nothing was impossible. In him, hope was indisputable. What Arnulfo never failed to talk about was his family. He was proud of his daughter, brothers, and sisters. Their pictures hung up at his office desk. We sat in the office for several years and his friends and I bore witness to the love he held for his family, friends, and life. Arnulfo was a man of faith. Tragically, he and his sister departed this world together. They are now together in God’s care.
Arnulfo, my family was glad to spend Labor Day with you. A few days after, I asked my mother how you were. She said you were “alegre de la vida” (happy with life). Brother, that’s how I will always remember you. Thank you for being my friend, mentor, and brother. Thank you for your guidance and inspiration. My family and I will never forget you. The world will miss you.
While Arnulfo’s accomplishments speak for themselves, it will be the impact he made in our lives and in the friendships he created that form his legacy. Arnulfo, I love you brother. We will carry the torch for you and always be moving forward.
From Glenn Hill:
I miss you terribly. You have been a friend, teacher, motivator in my life. I love you, Brother. Forgive me for not having the tears to show my rainbow. But one thing for sure, you know me from inside out as you are 920 where we had to be who we were in order to grow into who we are to be. As you know, sitting in fire and leaving ashes behind is what we do. Brother, you are still working on me. I never knew I had emotional problems until now. I realize I don’t know how to deal with sadness and emptiness until today. My soul hurts. I can’t look at people, talk with people, or be present. I am shut off, Brother. If you were here you would show me how to deal with it, but since you are not, I have to learn how to close my eyes and see what would tell me to do. I miss you, man, so much, sitting here at the table looking across where you would be saddens my heart. I can’t walk across the street and not think of you, ride BART and not think of you. Not even walk through these doors and not think of you. I love you.
Your brother in love and spirit,
Written after Arnulfo’s funeral on October 5, 2017. Glenn and Arnulfo were close friends and housemates for two months in their re-entry home in Hayward after Arnulfo’s release from San Quentin.