Traditional Mexican music, accompanied by rhythmic hand clapping, made San Quentin’s Catholic chapel a place of festive eulogy in tribute to Arnulfo Timoteo Garcia. Two large flat-screen televisions showed the once editor-in-chief of San Quentin News relaxing on the prison’s Lower Yard during the 2017 Day of Peace celebration.
Those in attendance – inmates, volunteers, advisers and prison staff – flooded in wearing wristbands handed out by Arnulfo’s long-time friend and self-help mentor Jacques Verduin. The black bands with yellow lettering read, “I am Arnulfo Garcia.”
“Arnulfo was not my friend,” host and colleague Jorge Heredia said. “He is my friend. There is no past tense. He’s always here.”
The standing-room only audience of more than 300 people chanted, “I am Arnulfo Garcia, I am Arnulfo Garcia, I am Arnulfo Garcia.”
“…audience of more than 300 people chanted “I am Arnulfo Garcia, I am Arnulfo Garcia, I am Arnulfo Garcia.”
Arnulfo died in a car crash on Sept. 23.
As his friends and colleagues took to the stage to pay tribute to Arnulfo, the televisions showed images of him with the many people he touched.
The stories about the larger-than-life reformer were mixed with humor and a celebration of his ability to unite everyone, even now in his death, and his deep understanding of rehabilitation.
San Quentin News adviser and UC Berkeley Professor William J. Drummond referenced Arnulfo’s personality through a salient passage from The Tour, a chapter in Arnulfo’s memoir, which told the story of his transfer from Pleasant Valley State Prison to San Quentin in 2008. The Tour smartly addresses prison politics, fair treatment and transformation.
In the chapter, Arnulfo wrote of how the bus made an overnight stop. Correctional officers questioned Arnulfo about a gang affiliation before deciding where to bunk him for the night.
“Are you Sureño or Norteño?”
Arnulfo replied, “I am Christian.”
Upon hearing those words, the chapel erupted in applause. “Amen” echoed throughout.
Arnulfo impacted everyone he met. San Quentin News adviser Steve McNamara read the words of Marisa Rodriguez, pro-secutor and director of community relations for San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon. She is also McNamara’s daughter. Here is an important part:
“Arnulfo has been able to impact the lives and thoughts of a great many people working in the criminal justice system. He has directly shifted the mindset of prosecutors for many jurisdictions throughout the country, who after meeting Arnulfo want to bring members from their office into the prison. He has worked with judges, politicians, and lawyers to shed light on improving the way we approach and look at mass incarceration, rehabilitation, juvenile justice and reentry.”
Lt. Sam Robinson said Arnulfo demonstrated authentic rehabilitation. He compared Arnulfo’s ability to transform himself and be rewarded with freedom with “hitting the lottery.”
Robinson, an experienced correctional officer, knows the sentiment of inmates — dying in prison is an agonizing reality for many incarcerated men and women. Robinson said, Arnulfo, at least for a short while, had the chance to be with his family and died free.
Lt. Robinson is the prison’s public information officer and supervisor of San Quentin News.
Angelo Falcone summed up how Arnulfo built a dedicated team of journalists intent on serving their readers.
“When I doubted myself or was thinking of quitting, Arnulfo would say, ‘We need you, brother!’ and I’d keep going.”
Arnulfo was born July 27, 1952. He was 65 when he died September 23, 2017.