On October 14, San Quentin’s veteran community said goodbye to one of their members in a roll call ceremony. Michael Antrobus had passed away September 16.
A little over 30 incarcerated veterans sat in a college study hall in tight, neat rows of mismatched school desks and sparingly cushioned chairs. On a school day, the room would overflow with students doing their coursework, but every other Saturday, the Veterans Group of San Quentin, or VGSQ, uses it for their meetings.
The ceremony began with the color guard presenting the colors. Everyone remained standing as the roll call commenced.
Sergeant-at-Arms Noah Winchester called the names of all participating veterans and each named person replied with a succinct “Present.” The routine continued until Winchester called the name of Antrobus, repeating it three times.
The voices remained silent as the name echoed through the narrow room. Then Raymond Melberg, the president of VGSQ, responded.
He stated, “Michael Antrobus passed away September 16th, after his battle with mental health. His time here at the Veterans Group of San Quentin has sadly come to an end. On behalf of the VGSQ veterans, I send our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”
Antrobus served as a religious program specialist in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. An RPS performs religious functions that do not require ordination.
“He was a nice, humble guy. Very quiet,” said Lionel Morones, a veteran who knew him. “If you needed something, he was there to help you out.”
Incarcerated persons who knew Antrobus spoke of his dedication to helping others, saying that he always stood ready to offer his time and energy. One incarcerated person remarked on how Antrobus would overhear of a need and would have taken care of it by the following day.
Kevin Brinckman of the Veterans Information Project at San Quentin said the prison houses about 140 veterans of whom half of them identify as such. He added that about 60 veterans participate in programs.
One veteran at the meeting is already doing the work of helping incarcerated veterans to manage their mental health. Jim Snider started the “Got Your 6,” a group of veterans looking out for veterans.
The program’s name refers to watching one another’s six o’ clock, meaning a pilot’s wingman watching the pilot’s blind spot behind them. To Snider, this means checking in on all the veterans in his building at least twice a month. Snider said other veterans are welcome to get involved.