Remembering two powerhouse San Quentin News editors
ARNULFO T. GARCIA
1951 – 2017
By Marcus Henderson
Editor in Chief
The passing of former San Quentin News Editor in Chief Arnulfo “Timoteo” Garcia, in late September 2017, was a day that the lights dimmed for the San Quentin News. It was one of those “Where were you at?” moments, like when a celebrity or an icon dies. I walked into the newsroom early that morning and was greeted with sadness. “Arnulfo has died” said former SQNews Executive Editor Richard “Bonaru” Richardson. I responded, “Are you playing?” Disbelief filled the newsroom. Our leader was dead only 62 days after his release. Arnulfo and his sister Yolanda Hernandez were killed in a tragic car accident. They were on their way to look at property that would serve as a site for a potential SQNews reentry center. Arnulfo died working to benefit the newspaper.
Arnulfo was a special figure in prison, impacting administrators, volunteers and his fellow incarcerated family. His motto “moving forward,” has become a marching order for future generations of SQNews. Another motto he used, “It’s for us to lose,” echoed advice provided to SQNews staff by retired SQ Warden Robert Ayers Jr. at the time he resurrected the newspaper in 2008.
“If anyone wants to know why I restarted the San Quentin News, look no further than the late Arnulfo Garcia,” the warden told SQNews in October 2017. “Arnulfo got infected [by success] through his work with the San Quentin News. His legacy is that he spread that infection not only to men at San Quentin but to others beyond San Quentin. So, I think that is the underlying reason why I restarted the San Quentin News: To present an opportunity for Arnulfo and others like him to taste success, become infected by success and use it as a springboard to break the cycle,” Ayers concluded.
Arnulfo rose to become an inspiring and inventive leader in the newsroom.
“I remembered Arnulfo said, ‘It takes a team to get to the moon,’ referring to NASA’s
NASA’s mission to the moon,” said David Le, former SQNews circulation manager. “It’s an analogy he liked to share to emphasize that going to the moon is a task for the gods, but humanly possible if we do it together. He is a visionary who knows that a vision is only a dream unless it is executed; he needs us as much as we need him to see that vision through. I believed it.”
Grace Cha, a Berkeley student newsroom volunteer, reflected, “The first day I nervously walked into San Quentin Prison, I was greeted by Arnulfo’s firm handshake and a mischievous smile. He had pulled up a full-sized headshot of me on the computer. ‘Is this you?’ We all laughed at the picture of me in my ridiculous Hawaiian shirt that I had sent to the men as my introduction.”
“This would set the tone for the rest of my interactions with Arnulfo. Endless laughter, friendly jabs, life lessons and a hunger to always do and be more,” Cha added.
Under Arnulfo’s leadership and passion for restorative justice, SQNews started hosting forums with former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who is currently the Los Angeles DA. SQNews also hosted a visit by Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen and his staff. SQNews has since hosted 14 forums with teachers, public defenders, and Alameda’s head Public Defender Brendon Woods, in addition to sports symposiums and recently, a San Francisco Police Department Forum.
“The San Quentin News Forums [is] a brilliant program that has brought inmates and criminal justice leaders together in exchanges of thoughts and experiences,” said Steve McNamara, SQNews adviser. “Arnulfo was that rare person who combines great ambition with humane warmth. Most people driven to accomplish much are also a pain in the butt. Arnulfo was different— he aimed high and was also warm and caring.”
Jesse Vasquez, former Editor in Chief, added, “Arnulfo was simply a great person because he was simple. He wasn’t pretentious or overbearing. He was just structured in his thinking and behavior. Whenever I sat down to listen to what he said, it was like listening to a modern Greek ghetto philosopher because he understood human nature and our plight.”
Arnulfo always began his day with a prank. He would fill SQNews Senior Editor Juan Haines’ coffee cup to the rim until Juan couldn’t pick it up. “It will always be an honor to represent what Arnulfo has brought out in me as a human being,” said Haines. “He is an inspiration to life. I would not be the journalist that I am if it were not for Arnulfo’s influence in my life.”
“Bonaru” Richardson may have been one of the people closest to Arnulfo, his mentor. “Many people did not just like Arnulfo, they loved him,” said Richardson. “That miracle was the guide lighting the trail that everyone ran down. Now that our path has disappeared, it’s going to be difficult to reignite his torch.”
Arnulfo was a great friend and leader. He never lived his life like he was in prison. He preached to look at the big picture and to have integrity. He taught me to make my world bigger and to always build bridges. His light still shines in us and the Garcia family. We are still “moving forward.”
ELMO CHATTMAN, JR
1957 – 2021
By Kevin D. Sawyer
Elmo Chattman, Jr., was incarcerated for 33 years. While at San Quentin, Elmo was a published poet, short story writer, and served as a reporter, then editor, of the San Quentin News. In 1989, he earned a B.A. in journalism from Antioch University, becoming one of the first three inmates to earn an undergraduate degree while incarcerated in San Quentin State Prison.
Former San Quentin News editor Elmo Chattman Jr., 63, is remembered by the newspaper’s staff in the new era of prison journalism. He was born on October 10,1957 and passed away on January 11, 2021.
Chattman was one of the last editors for the inmate-run publication before it ceased operation in the 1980s. SQNews staff received word of Chattman’s passing after the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak that placed San Quentin on a 416-day lockdown. Since then, two more lockdowns have hindered newsgathering efforts about his life.
“When we got the information—I got a phone call from the sheriff and they put the coroner on the phone who told me he passed away,” said Tom Lapinski, a San Quentin News volunteer. He said he was told Chattman died sitting on a bench in George Rocky Park in Marin City, California. It’s a park Chattman helped design.
Chattman was incarcerated 33 years inside the California state prison system. He spent more than a decade at California State Prison Solano. While at San Quentin, Chattman was a published poet, short story writer, reporter and editor for San Quentin News.
“This guy was loved by everyone,” said Lapinski. “Everyone said he was the best guy in the world.” He said Chattman’s former Solano prison cellmate, Ricky Hill, lived about 100 yards away from him.
In 1989, Chattman earned a B.A. degree in creative writing and journalism from Antioch University, becoming one of three of the first inmates to earn an undergraduate degree while incarcerated in San Quentin’s then 137- year history, according to news reports that include a July 14, 1989 issue of San Quentin News.
“In a short commencement Wednesday attended by some 40 relatives and friends, degrees were awarded to prison inmates Elmo Chattman, 31, Dennis Jones, 45, and Lonnie Morris, 38,” the Associated Press (AP) reported on June 15, 1989.
The San Francisco Examiner, Marin Independent Journal, and Press Democrat also published stories about Chattman, Morris and Jones earning their degrees.
“These are the greatest students I’ve ever had in my life,” said Roger Freeburg, a professor at Antioch University in San Francisco, the AP reported. “They just did something extraordinary, these three. I just can’t believe they did it.”
According to the AP, Chattman wrote a 65- page thesis on capital punishment while serving time in administrative segregation (The Hole). “There’s a lot of solitude in there,” Chattman told a reporter, adding that the isolation probably improved the quality of his essay.
After Chattman paroled, he worked as project manager and secretary for Through the Bars Foundation, established by Lapinski. “He was the secretary, he was my project manager,” said Lapinski.
Lapinski met Chattman at San Quentin around 1982. “I was peripherally aware that he was working for San Quentin News,” said Lapinski. The two eventually worked together at the now defunct Freedom Foundation. “I caught up with him around 2015,” said Lapinski. “I stopped working with the Freedom Foundation and started my own foundation.” He said Chattman worked for him from 2017 until his passing.
Judith Tannenbaum taught a poetry class that Chattman attended. She wrote, “The last night I met with my students, Elmo (Chattman), who had been in our class since the very first session, said, ‘Now I’m going to give you an assignment: Write about these past four years from your point of view; tell your story; let us know what you learned.’”
Tannenbaum’s response to Chattman’s assignment is the book Disguised as a Poem: My Years Teaching Poetry at San Quentin.
In the book’s acknowledgement, Tannenbaum wrote: “To Elmo Chattman, who was there during every stage of this particular journey, from the years shared at Quentin to celebrating the fact of this book. Elmo read each word I wrote, made sure I got prison right, and offered for my title the title of one of his own poems (“Disguised as a Poem”). His intelligence and fierce honesty inform this book and my life. To the book Elmo will write when he’s finally free.”
“(Chattman’s) wife wants to write a book about him,” said Lapinski. “I have all his stuff. He kept everything, just like me.”
Lapinski had Chattman’s ashes. “We decided to go to one of the piers that went out to the water, over 500 yards off the coast,” said Lapinski. “When we got the opportunity to do the ashes, Sam (Lloyd) got in touch with some ex-felons who knew Chattman. He’s got everyone’s name who was at Solano.”
—The author first met Chattman at CSP Solano in 2000 where the two served nine and a half years together. Rest in Power, Elmo.