Eight years ago, a race riot on the Lower Yard of San Quentin State Prison prompted a multiracial group of men, most serving life sentences, to form the Day of Peace committee.
The men said the Day of Peace was established to show inmates that there are ways to reject violence and support peace.
“Open dialogue, violence prevention workshops and the annual Day of Peace celebration serve as alternatives to violence and thus stem the tide of violence by saturating prisons as well as society with peace,” according to committee chairman Chris Schumacher.
The committee members say they support “voices of reason in times of crisis and helping others find their voice through a commitment to peace.”
Aug. 2 served as the seventh annual Day of Peace.
“Even though this event has been postponed several times, we couldn’t have picked a better day,” said Associate Warden Kelly Mitchell. “I’m glad so many of you have come out in support of the Day of Peace.”
More than 500 inmates along with nearly 150 Bay Area community members, San Quentin prison volunteers and prison staffers mingled while discussing ways to improve rehabilitative services and violence prevention programs at San Quentin.
“Peace is unsustainable if there are no institutions that promote and support nonviolence,” said Sergeant-at-Arms Edgar Salazar.
The Richmond Project is one of the many violence prevention programs. It is a group of men from different areas working collectively to improve the very communities that they took part in destroying, according to its mission statement. It encourages members to understand that they have a stake in their communities and their communities have a stake in them.
“I visited the Richmond Project just two weeks ago. It is so good to see the men transforming themselves and learning from each other,” Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin told the Day of Peace participants. “In our society, so many people have been alienated from their core values. So when I go and see men participating in the Richmond Project, I am so inspired. Things that are happening in this prison have so much value.”
Walkenhorst’s, a California prison vendor, donated 2,500 snack bags to the Day of Peace participants.
Josh Walkenhorst, son of the owner, said that last year the company sponsored a program that on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day brings together children with their incarcerated parents. After that experience he said, “I want to do more to support families. We are a family-own business. This event has a family atmosphere.”
Natalie Tovar, customer relationship manager for Walkenhorst’s, talked to inmates about how to improve services to inmates who buy their products.
“I personally read every comment card,” Tovar told the men. “I can’t respond to each one, but I read all of them.”
More than 35 artists, including Bay Area community members and volunteers, participated in a sidewalk-painting contest sponsored by Arts-in-Corrections and directed by inmate Christopher Christensen.
“Last year we didn’t know how much interest we had in the contest, so we only made six boxes for artists to draw,” Christensen said. “But, so many people showed up last year that we ended up with 36 boxes. We left the art on the ground and it lasted about a week before it washed away,” He added, “I love art and I love just seeing the people interacting with the people from the streets.”
Pat Mahoney appraised each sidewalk artist’s work and selected the best depictions of peace.
“I chose these pieces because they say something about the subject matter; they’re creative and well-rendered,” Mahoney said.
“Peace is like a love cloud. It’s when you feel something from the air, the sun and the water. The colors say everything is good. That’s where I paint from,” said first place artist Miguel Saldana, 47.
Second place went to Reginald Azbill, 31, third place winner was Omid Mokri, 50, and an honorable mention went to Chung Kao, 53.
Several bands entertained the audience, including a Hawaiian drumming group called Heiwa Taiko. “Heiwa Taiko means peace drums in Japanese,” said the lead drummer.
She said last year one of their drummers traveled to Japan, was hit by car and died. “He composed the piece we played,” she said. “The song has a lot of energy. He had quite a reputation with us.”
Lemar “Maverick” Harrison and Antwan “Banks” Williams entertained the audience with hip-hop and rap. The Jo Jo Diamond Band performed classic rock and the blues. The Native Hawaiian Dance Group performed a traditional dance. The inmate band, Contagious, performed two hip-hop songs to close the show.
Inmate Self-help Groups at Day of Peace:
Kid Cat: Creating Awareness Together The program aims to inspire humanity through education, mentorship and restorative practices. The group believes all youth are guided through nurturing, compassion and educational opportunities to grow and flourish into caring and productive members of their communities.
Veterans Healing Veterans From The Inside Out The program aims to bring incarcerated and free veterans together for mutual support and healing from PTSD and moral injury. Members follow a curriculum of peer-to-peer group support based on principles of narration therapy, trauma-sensitive yoga and meditation and facilitator training. These practices foster the self-awareness and behavioral change that allow returning veterans — whether from combat or prison — to make successful transitions back into society.
California Reentry Program The program brings career advice, employment, education, housing, substance abuse treatment, child support and other help particularly needed by offenders returning to their communities.
Native Hawaiian Religious Group The group aims to build and maintain community and make its brothers’ problems their problems in order to solve them together. The group also aims to develop its community in order to restore its people to greatness through traditional song, dance, story telling and oral history.
The Last Mile The program is a model for in-prison education, preparing incarcerated individuals for professional life through a six-month program that blends entrepreneurship education with personal and professional development.
Hope for Strikers The program consists of inmates serving a minimum of 25 years to life and teaches its curriculum based on the 12-step program so that the person can gain an understanding into the individual trauma, damage and lifestyle choices that may have affected the individual in their development as a young person. Hope for Strikers aims to search out and give support to the healing of those emotionally and physically harmed people who turned to self-medication as a means to solve problems.
Freeman Capital The program aims to teach inmates financial literacy by creating a mock investment portfolio.
Christian Creative Writing Group This group produces short stories while using Biblical references.
ROOTS (Restoring Our Original True Selves) This program’s goal is to help the API (Asian Pacific Islander) and other minorities connect with their cultural roots. Connecting minorities to their roots will help them become leaders of their society whether inside or out.
TRUST (Teaching Responsibility Using Sociological Training) This program teaches inmates ways to change anti-social behavior and become socially responsible citizens.
Other self-help groups at the Day of Peace: San Quentin CARES, No More Tears, San Quentin Restorative Justice, Project LA and Criminals and Gangmembers Anonymous.