Is the desire to help others essential human quality? Does it exist even in prisoners within the state’s correctional system? The charitable activities of several rehabilitative programs in San Quentin prove that it does.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) allows officially authorized groups and organizations to carry-out charity fund-raisers. These events are held several times a year for the prison’s population, allowing them to purchase and sell fast food or dry goods products to help community charities.
Local (approved) food vendors sell their products to the prison group sponsoring the event. The food items are then retailed to the prison population at a slightly higher cost with profits benefiting local groups and charities.
San Quentin State Prison is home to many self-help programs, organizations and support groups that prepare prisoners to reenter society. Extended benefits to local charities, generated from these primarily self-help rehabilitation groups, are “Food Sale” fund-raisers. Money raised assists numerous charities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
One such group is the Vietnam Veteran’s Group of San Quentin. Founded April 1987, this group has raised and donated thousands of dollars during the past two decades for Veteran related purposes. The VVGSQ began donating scholarship money to the children of Veterans in 1989. The group has continued awarding scholarships since then on an annual basis.
According to Lieutenant Rudy Luna, “The Food Sale fund raiser is earmarked primarily for the children of the Veteran Scholarship Program. Since 1998, the Veterans have raised approximately $91, 304 of which $30,000 has funded the VVGSQ Scholarship Program.”
“Since I received my scholarship from you [VVGSQ] in 2009….I have attended Concordia University in Irvine C.A., where I use the laptop that I purchased with the scholarship money for 4 years,” said donation recipient Joseph Noblit. “I hope you realize how much that meant to me. You felt I had the potential to do well. I realize the effort it takes for your group to earn and raise money for scholarships. This note is a simple way for me to say thank you.”
Luna said that the VVGSQ has set the standard for donations “second to none at San Quentin.” Members of the Veteran’s group work year round, holding fund raising events such as “Operation MOMs and the Christmas Toy Program” that benefits troops deployed and children of prisoners at San Quentin.
“Dear VVGSQ, Thank you again for the scholarship. Special thanks to Lt. Rudy Luna and the inmates who selected me for the money. It has meant a lot!” said Taylor Trummel—2013 VVGSQ Scholarship winner.
Luna said scholarships are “An outstanding reward for academic excellence resulting with many Veterans’ children receiving degrees from major Universities and Communities.” He said the scholarships are “A small token of appreciation for Fellow Brothers of Arms that have made the sacrifice for our freedom. Never Forgotten.”
In the 1990s, the Vietnam Veterans Women’s Memorial at the United States national Mall in Washington D.C. was the recipient of cash donations from the incarcerated Veterans at San Quentin.
The Christmas Toy Giveaway Program, the American Cancer Society and the 9-11 American Red Cross relief fund have received donations from the VVGSQ and has donated funds to the Marin Abused Women’s Services and the San Quentin Firehouse Bike Program, which refurbishes donated bikes to be given to various non-profit organizations during holidays. VVGSQ helped Operation MOM pack over 400 packages with special hand-written notes of encouragement to the men and woman deployed around the world. In 2005, VVGSQ generated money for the American Red Cross in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“Since I received my scholarship from you [VVGSQ] in 2009….I have attended Concordia University in Irvine California”
The San Quentin Utilize Inmate Resources Experience and Studies (SQUIRES) organization has been operating since 1964. Its vision to mentor at-risk youth was put together by Death Row prisoner Ross “Patch” Keller.
In recent years, SQUIRES has donated funds to the Terrence Kelley Youth Foundation (TKYF), Bay Area Peace Keepers (after school program), Vallejo PAL (Police Activities League) for young girls, About Face Corp (equipping young men with responsibilities, discipline, and determination in military training). All extremely vital youth groups important to the prisoners and sponsors of SQUIRES.
TKYF member Tiapepe Vitale said, “I believe the most life gaining experience that I had in my life was when we took a trip to San Quentin.” Tiapepe said his time spent with the SQUIRES program changed his life forever.
“The men of SQUIRES work hard throughout the year raising money for youth who participate in the many workshops,” sponsor Lieutenant Rudy Luna told the S.Q. News, “Some groups come from as far away as Texas or Utah to gain insight and knowledge of the SQUIRES experience. The experience is priceless,” said Luna.
SQUIRES have contributed funds to Richmond High School for the girls basketball team to help with trips to tournaments. “This is to help keep these young ladies off the mean streets of Richmond,” said former RHS freshman football, boy’s volleyball and girl’s basketball coach Darryl Robinson aka “Coach D.” SQUIRES also contributed to San Francisco’s Second Annual Walk Against Rape (SFWAR) event.
The Alliance For Change group assists incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals reintegrate back into society. The group’s mission statement elucidates that it strives to create safer and just communities.
According to AFC chairman Malik Harris, donating funds to its charities “means that people who parole from San Quentin to the Bay Area will receive much needed support and supplies to navigate free society safely.”
AFC contributes so that “children who visit their fathers during the Christmas holiday season receive a joyous Christmas with presents and love for their families,” said Harris. Food Sales provide the men at San Quentin with an outlet to feel reconnected to their communities through positive actions and charity.
AFC also donates funds to the Get On The Bus program that provides an opportunity for children to interact with family members they might otherwise not see.
According to Alliance For Change members and sponsors, Food Sales allow people in society to get a chance to see that all men and women behind prison walls are not the irretrievable miscreants many are made out to be.
ALL 33 PRISONS
Prisons throughout California hold Food Sales similar to those at San Quentin.
An example is the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, California. The Prisoners Against Child Abuse (PACA) raised in excess of $100,000 for charity in a four-year period in the 1990s.
Other prisons in Soledad, Folsom, Susanville, Solano, San Diego, and all points north and south have raised funds via approved Food Sale donations.
In fact, all 33 CDCR prisons have held many types of food sales, raffles, and hobby sales to raise funds that are donated to numerous state charities.
Lt. Luna of Squires seems to sum up the motivations of all these groups by saying, “We value the time and energy that goes into coordinating fundraisers, because society’s youth is worth the effort.”
The benefits to the inmate activity groups that organize the fundraisers are many.
“They get to have first hand experience in working cooperatively for a common goal,” said Steve Emrick, Community Partnership Manager. “This experience becomes part of the rehabilitative process in which they learn ways to be positive members of the community in which they will return.”