Yard event brings victims’ rights organizations together with the incarcerated
Nearly 200 San Quentin residents gathered on the Lower Yard to honor victims and survivors on the last day of Victim Awareness Week.
The event opened with SQ’s religious leaders praying for togetherness and healing.
Survivors joined the incarcerated in a “silent walk” around the Yard holding up signs and banners displaying the words “Accountability,” “No More Tears,” Stop the Violence,” Responsibility,” and “No More Harm. “
“We want to create that space for everybody to learn and reflect and bring community together,” said former SQNews Managing Editor Miguel Quezada, a cofounder of Mend Collaborative.
Other organizations at the event included Californians for Safety and Justice, Broken by Violence, and No More Tears, all of which focus on restorative justice and healing opportunities for victims and survivors of crimes.
Rebecca Weiker is the co-director and a cofounder of Mend Collaborative. She thanked both survivors and offenders for coming out and said, “We are grateful to be together to walk and to honor the people who are no longer here, whose memory we are honoring today. The way to heal is by connecting.”
San Quentin’s Chief Deputy Warden (A) Landon Bravo commented on the importance of this day as a time “to give back to the society out there that’s been impacted by crimes that occurred, and we want to make sure that we recognize them, honor them, and reflect.” Bravo asked that we show respect and consider the impact our choices have on society as a whole.
Many survivors took the stage to share their stories and the ways violence affected their lives.
Tinisch Hollins, executive director of Californians for Safety and Justice, said that her attendance reflected her wholehearted belief that healing is the way to keep communities safe and repair the harm that’s been done.
“Even if you’re not interacting with the person who harmed you or harmed your family member, [it matters] just knowing that there are people in our communities, even in this place, who are doing the work to understand the harm that they experienced or the harm that they caused. We need you, our fathers and brothers. Everything you do here matters and I want to remind you that you have connections on the outside that need you,” said Hollins.
Ebony Antoine, executive director and founder of Broken by Violence, said that we should be “focused on healing because hurt people hurt people and healing can happen here in prison … at home … anywhere.” Antoine and her children witnessed her husband’s murder in 2010.
“I am here because I am a survivor. If we focus on healing, we can leave the world a better place,” she said.
One SQ resident talked about the understanding that he received by hearing from the survivors. “It was a good thing that people came here … to understand us. I learned that I need to heal and not be so angry,” said Victor Candelario.
Lonnie Morris, formerly incarcerated at San Quentin, said he wanted to make amends with his actions.
“The reality is there’s too much pain, too much grieving, too often. We contribute to it. If we don’t come together, the pain and grief of ‘hurt people hurt people’ will continue,” he said.
Survivor Nicole Garden of Mend Collaborative talked about being on a healing journey. She asked for support from all in attendance.
“Be kind and be patient with me as I tell my story,” she said as she told of moving from Boston to escape violence, traveling with only two suitcases, her children and a dream, just to have violence reach her two years later when her daughter was killed.
“I got a call from her friend,” she said. She learned that her daughter was in a passenger seat during a drive-by. “My son took it hard because he got shot and he lived, but [his sister] got shot and she died. If I can do this and carry this pain in my heart, you can heal, too.”
Hugo Arredondo was moved by Garden’s story. “[Her experience] impacted me as a father; I don’t know how I’d be able to pick myself … and even get into public affairs to make active changes in society. She inspired me,” Arredondo said.
Laverne Taylor, a facilitator with Mend Collaborative and a former lifer, discussed her transformation from victim and victimizer to a contributing member of society.
“The day I woke up and realized that I am no longer a victim, and I have made many victims in my wake, that’s when I changed,” she said. Taylor served 26 years on a LWOP sentence.
San Quentin resident Mark Cadiz attended the event said how honored he was to hear the vulnerability of the survivors. “It is good for the women to come in here and speak about what they suffered in their lives so that we as prisoners see the trauma that we caused,” he said.
Incarcerated musicians and others spoke or read poems during the event. Artwork created by residents was on display. The Greater Good and Amigos De Ranch, both incarcerated bands, played selections honoring and commemorating survivors and victims alike. Resident Rapheal Bankston read a poem about accountability and responsibility and Kevin Sample talked about what remorse meant to him.
Community Resource Manager R. Gardea addressed those in attendance, “It’s a good day. Survivors have delivered some very strong speeches for you all. I hope you can take something from them and learn something for your own pain as well,” he said.
“This has helped them heal and to move on. They said they need you all as well to begin your process so you can get out and be better people and be part of this one day from the other side,” Gardea added.
Hollins expressed the essence of the event, “Our future depends on what happens here. We are all depending on you — your story has the power to heal. It’s not written in laws, it’s written in love.”
—Juan Haines and Edwin E. Chavez contributed to this story