Javier Jiménez, the San Quentin News (SQN) staff photographer for the last 18 months, ended his eight-year prison journey on March 16 when he became a returning citizen.
“I never thought my criminality would end—and to get a new start while being at San Quentin, it’s unbelievable,” said the returning husband and father of a son.
Jiménez credits SQN with allowing him to “get back in touch with the passion (photography) I have loved for 23 years.”
Jiménez is an example of CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz’s new mission statement:
“To facilitate the successful reintegration of the individuals in our care back to their communities equipped with the tools to be drug-free, healthy, and employable members of society by providing education, treatment, rehabilitative and restorative justice programs, all in a safe and humane environment.”
Before leaving, Jimenez talked with the San Quentin News. The self-taught photographer said, “I feel lucky and, just as important, [I] came through under pressure for the newspaper. I was in the right place at the right time. I knew [previous photographer] Eddie Herena was leaving and knew the editor-in-chief, Jesse Vasquez. I put my resumé in, and it, the resumé, only showed my ambition to better myself and the News team hired me.”
Jiminez reminisced about his favorite photo shoot. “My favorite photo shoot was my very first one—The Queens of the Stone Age. The Warden was there, I met Lieutenant Robinson, and someone said, “Here, turn on the camera.” Smiling, he said, “That’s a lot of pressure.”
The staff photographer shoots two to three hundred shots per event. Jimenez evaluated his own work, saying, “I was not good at first, but have gotten much better with more access to the camera.”
From the artistic side, Jimenez leaves words of wisdom for the next photographer(s). “You’ll get thrown in, so read about the basics and it better flow—either you have the passion to improve in any craft or occupation or you don’t. My improvement came from knowing I was working with a national newspaper that was paying me to learn—and I am getting better because I have that passion to improve.”
One of the mainstays in the SQN office, he stabilized the crew with a daily dose of humor and wisdom from “real talk.” Jiménez looked at every day he spent in the newsroom as “comical—like stand-up comedy,” and left a remembrance of each “family member” of the staff:
- Marcus “Wali” Henderson, editor-in chief, is a “laid back person who loves to write.”
- Juan Haines, senior editor, is the “smooth argumentative grandpa.”
- Kevin Sawyer, associate editor, is “meticulously organized and a great writer.”
- Joe Garcia, the Journalism Guild chairperson, he sarcastically called “the weirdest personal trainer I’ve ever met.”
- David Ditto, circulation manager, is “always looking at the positive aspects of EVERYTHING.”
- Charles Crowe, staff writer, has “an undercover sense of humor I love.”
- Heriberto Arredondo, staff writer, “will have big shoes to fill when Juan Espinosa leaves.”
- Anthony Caravalho, staff writer: “You took a lot of ‘stuff’ from us and you keep coming back—hope to do business with you on the outside.”
- Juan Espinosa, layout designer and leader of Wall City’s Spanish edition, he credits as “the most important representative of the 35-45% of incarcerated Hispanic people. “Juan is my genius brother that claims he is not a genius, but I know better.”
- Richard “Bonaru” Richardson, executive editor, is “my brother with like-minded aspirations who deserves to go home.”
Jimenez’s own aspirations are to live where he can afford to buy land, and to build a nice home for his family while keeping them safe. If he can own a photo studio or fall back on his construction talents upon his return to society, he will be satisfied going home to the family he loves.
Executive Editor Richard Richardson said the news group will depend on Jiménez’s support for photographs from outside stories the group is developing. Currently Jiménez hopes to follow his predecessor, Eddie Herena, who is working with Wall City, while he considers offers to be staff photographer for a local nonprofit called “Through The Bars.”
“To make a living out of my passion (photography) is the most enjoyable thing I was allowed to do in prison, and if I can carry it beyond the walls of San Quentin I would consider myself very fortunate,” said the SQ News photographer. “Hopefully I can continue capturing people’s attention with pictures—that is my goal.
“I remember at DVI eight years ago, I read all about the programs at San Quentin and hoped to get there.” For those aspiring to join the nation’s #1 news outlet on social reform, he added, “I think the paper allows you to hone skills while in prison, especially if you can write. I mean, where else can you be consistently published and be around people who carry weight in the justice system on a daily basis? It’s just unheard of,” said Jiménez.
Monday morning March 16 upon his release, you could have found “Javy” at the nearest taco truck before he went home to continue another passion he has not done for eight years—cooking enchiladas for his family.