On October 29, San Quentin hosted a Halloween celebration in the visiting room. Families and loved ones were treated to a festive atmosphere with live music and spooky decorations.
Orange and black streamers decorated pillars, tombstones hung on the windows, and “ghosts” made from balloons and plastic garbage bags helped create the Halloween theme. Children visiting their family members were able to wear costumes for the event.
“These kinds of events remind me of … what it’s gonna be like when I reenter society. This prepares me for that,” said resident Vernon Evans. “San Quentin has these kinds of programs, and my hope is that this spreads to other prisons.”
Evans’ wife, Nhi, recognizes the changes her husband has made since transferring to San Quentin, thanks in part to its numerous volunteer-led programs. The impact of these kinds of events is not lost on her.
“He has worked on himself before coming here,” she said. “But I think this prison has provided a sense of comfort that helps [residents] feel closer to their family. That sense of safety allows them to grow.”
True to the new tradition in the visiting room, Acting Warden Oak Smith and his wife Michelle set up their familiar popcorn and cotton candy machines. The couple served the yummy treats during visiting hours. Their daughter Reagan came to share her artistic skills through face painting, sitting at a table next to her parents and painting designs to the delight of the visiting children.
Michelle Smith shared how her tradition of serving popcorn and cotton candy began, describing how after serving both treats at a church function, she decided to get machines of her own. It was Michelle’s idea to bring them to the SQ visiting room.
“We had family-sized machines and thought we could come in here to make 200 bags,” she said. “We ended up needing to get larger machines to serve enough. Hopefully, [other wardens] see what we offer here at San Quentin and are encouraged to try it at their institution. When you get involved in more than you have to do, it makes it about more than just a nine-to-five. You get something from serving others.”=
The Smiths are currently putting together a team to help plan and facilitate similar events. Acting Warden Smith said he hopes other staff are inspired to join in.
Resident Brandon Colbert and his wife Felicia enjoyed their first San Quentin-style festive holiday visit.
“I’m in awe of this,” Felicia said. “I saw a smile on my husband’s face when he saw the cotton candy machine.… I have spent a lot of holidays behind these walls spending time with my husband, but this is by far the most amazing holiday I’ve got to spend with my husband.”
Colbert spoke about the importance of such events. “You got some people that be in prison for decades and don’t have visits. So by CDCR making an effort to bring in free bus rides and events like this that help families connect, [it] help[s] us lower that tough exterior that we build in prison. These sorts of events let us experience something different.”
Colbert added, “I never thought I’d see a warden serving popcorn to us. This is something everyone should be a part of. This makes my heart lighter.”
Colbert’s wife shared her appreciation to those who made the event possible. “Thank you for putting these together for our loved ones, giving them a sense of being home. I’ve seen a lot of faces light up today. Thank you for providing this opportunity.”
While leaving the prison, visiting children were given goodie bags of candy, an early trick-or-treat in the spirit of Halloween.