For giving a voice to the voiceless, Juan Haines, the San Quentin News senior editor, was honored with The Silver Heart Award by the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
“I was never after the gotcha story or the investigative piece trying to find corruption,” Haines said. “I just wanted to tell regular people’s stories because outside these walls, those are the voices that are never heard.
“I couldn’t do my job without the trust of my fellow prisoners,” Haines said in an interview. “A lot of my fellow prisoners think that we have all sorts of restrictions, but the truth is the administration treats us like any other professional journalists.
“I am astonished at how much of what we do is directly from the support of professional journalists who have spent years mentoring us in their craft. I feel that the award doesn’t just belong to me, but to everyone who makes the San Quentin News a reality.”
Haines is recognized as a man who knows how to listen and to draw out the real story without the need to sensationalize or humiliate.
Calling Haines “fearless,” journalist Nancy Mullane said, “Something in Juan says, ‘I’m a thinking incarcerated journalist, but I’m going to work through those challenges and get as close to the truth as I can.’”
Mullane has been reporting on San Quentin for a decade and is the co-founder and executive producer of the podcast Life of the Law. Mullane also serves on the board of the SPJ Northern California Chapter and helps to facilitate the satellite chapter of the SPJ San Quentin (the first of its kind in a prison), the East Bay Times reports.
In announcing the award, SPJ said that as a reporter and key editor at the San Quentin News, Haines has “encouraged other first-time journalists to use their time in prison to report on the courts, the prisons and the conditions of their incarceration.”
Accepting the award on Haines’ behalf were Watani Stiner, a former San Quentin News reporter released on parole in 2015, and Lizzie Buchen, a former news adviser for the paper. The Silver Heart Award was presented at the 2017 Excellence In Journalism Awards Dinner on Nov. 9.
Stiner read Haines’ acceptance speech to the crowd:
“Growing up with the realities and truths of my life, I made my choices and those choices brought me to prison…during more than two decades of incarceration, through a complex process of maturation, self-examination, friendship and education, I’ve changed from being a criminal with an identity crisis to a man with a sense of who I am and where I want to go. Being a journalist, and now senior editor for San Quentin News, is a big part of how I got there.”
Haines has been in prison since 1996 for multiple bank robberies, armed only with a paper bag. He expects to go before the parole board in 2021.