Mental health was the topic of a recent panel discussion of sports figures inside and outside of San Quentin State Prison.
Panelists included former major league baseball player Drew Robinson, San Francisco Giants Director of Mental Health Dr. Shana A., and Clinical Psychologist Dr. Emily P. The audience included San Quentin A’s players and coaches.
The guests were able to reach deep inside the A’s players with their professional knowledge, experience and personal testimonies.
“I know the feeling of no hope and the feeling of not wanting to be here,” Robinson said at the Oct. 17 event in the Catholic Chapel. “I have experienced those things. I survived 20 hours after I attempted suicide by gunshot.”
Robinson played for the Texas Rangers from 2010 to 2018, the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019 and the SF Giants in 2020 and 2021. He is now a mental health advocate.
Robinson boldly displayed his wound with no eye patch to cover it. Dr. Shana A. and Dr. Emily P. proudly stood by his side in
solidarity and full support.
“Risk is really hard to predict,” said Dr. Shana A. She said that Robinson’s case was one of the most extreme cases she has had to face since working for the team. However, him being willing to talk about his situation helps her spread the message of suicide prevention and his story does a lot to help others.
The three were flanked by outside coaches of the SQ A’s, Capt. Steve Rhineheart and Mike Kremer. SQ Warden Ron Broomfield, Lt. Sam Robinson (now Capt. Robinson), and Lt. Berry were also in the pews with the 20-plus SQ A’s players.
Dr. Shana A. and Dr. Emily P. are in-house psychologists for the Giants, unique positions they have enjoyed for part of the more than 15 years they have been practicing mental health care. They were inspired to spread their expertise to the incarcerated after meeting formerly incarcerated SQ A’s shortstop Brandon Riddle-Terrell. The mental health team arrived with invaluable knowledge that sparked emotional responses from the players.
“So much is a social connection. Having a teammate stay with the team during practices and other team events can keep them in the right state of mind to continue on,” said Dr. Emily P.
After briefly mentioning how the support of family, friends and childhood traumas could possibly change the trajectory of a tragedy, Dr. Shana A.’s message hit the personal emotions of the players and the coaches.
“I got some amazing teammates,” said SQ A’s Captain Anthony Denard, “and inside and outside coaches. Being out on that field with them has built me up and helped me so much that I would not trade it in for anything.”
Denard had the opportunity to be drafted into professional baseball and he took responsibility for allowing himself to make decisions that prevented him from continuing to play the game he loves on a professional level.
During the forum, Denard’s teammates expressed how they too have experienced childhood traumas that altered their life. Carrington Russelle talked about how his 17-year-old son suffered an injury while playing sports and contemplated quitting just as Denard did.
“My mom told me you don’t quit something you start,” said Denard. “I felt hopeless in my heart, because when I cried for help, when I needed it, that cry for help went unheard. What does one do when that cry goes unheard?” The tears flowed as Denard described his upbringing and struggles. “My ignorance and stupidity snatched a good opportunity from my life.”
Once Denard finishing relating his experience, his teammates showed their support for him with hugs and empathy.
Teammate Kolby Southwood shared a clip of his childhood upbringing. “I had a head injury as a kid and it was hard to connect with other kids,” said Southwood. “But, through sports, it helps me find a way to connect with other kids. When you are on a team, the expectations could be a challenge though.”
The three panelists engaged the crowd while administering their professional expertise and advice wisely. “You have to remember to be grounded off the field, too. Because the body holds on to trauma and it shows up in life. So, hold on to staying grounded,” Dr. Shana A. said. “Be thankful for the small things.”
Dr. Emily P. advised the men to be grateful for something, even if it’s just breathing.
SQ A’s head coach Richard Williams spoke with heartfelt emotion. The forum struck a chord of remembrance for him. He has been the team’s in-house therapist for the entire time that he has been the coach. He understands their emotional needs and he takes pleasure in being their mentor.
“I talk to the players and help get them through their issues,” Coach Williams said. “I listen and let them know that I am here for them.” He thanked the guests for coming and sharing their knowledge with the players and said that therapy in sports was long overdue and especially needed for the general population. “It’s not only needed for those in blue, but it’s also needed for the staff as well. Stress and anxiety is everywhere.”
Warden Broomfield asked the guests, “Are there any other tools that the guys can take away?”
“Meditation works,” suggested Robinson. “Managing expectations and show some love to yourself.” Robinson’s black T-shirt read “Strength isn’t always physical.”
Dr. Shana A. said to read a cognitive workbook and she suggested using the power of the breath and to take control of the parts of your body. “Control the strong parts and the wounded parts,” she said. Emily P. agreed.
Coach K. Bhatt is the recreation manager of the prison. He thanked the guests and the guys. “I commend all of you guys,” said Bhatt. “I have watched all of you guys support one another.” He said that it is good that the Giants care about their team’s mental health and it is a great benefit for the players to have an in-house therapist like that. “It’s a great idea for a team to have that service. Because men hide their emotions.”
“It is inspiring to see others open up. And it’s OK to be able to search for help and not allow your machismo to overpower you,” said Oscar Acosta, pitcher of the SQ A’s.
— Bostyon Johnson contributed to this story.