The conversations and human connections made during his time as San Quentin’s Rec Shack manager helped Garvin “JoJo” E. Robinson transform his life.
“Interaction is very important to me,” said Robinson, 66. “It helped me with the (parole) board. I had read books on the art of speaking, but it was the actual talking to people that allowed me to be transparent. It was very influential.”
After 32 years in prison, Robinson was found suitable for parole on April 15 and was anticipating his release. “I give God the glory. I can’t wait to go spend time with my family and my wife of 38 years, who stood by me this entire time.”
Robinson had the small shack’s windows open, allowing the cool breeze to flow through the room on a nice morning in June. All sorts of sports equipment were strategically placed around for Robinson to grab when needed like an organized mess only he knew how to shuffle through.
Many residents line up at the open door to turn in their prison IDs in exchange for some equipment. During these exchanges, Robinson talks with the guys, and it’s there where he experienced personal transformative qualities and beneficial characteristics.
“I take one person at a time, and dealing with people daily taught me how to deal with them and me,” Robinson said. “They help me deal with my patience and with my temperament. I learned a lot over these 32 years I’ve been incarcerated.”
Robinson has met a lot of outside sports people who came into the prison to play against the residents, including a boxer, a few tennis players, and soccer players.
“All the sports equipment, inventory, and everything regarding sports, we are the main source for all the Blocks – North, South, and West Block mainlines,” said Robinson. He has been the man in charge as the recreational clerk for 13 years at the Rec Shack, which is the sports center for all SQ sports and recreation.
“They come to get general information, things lost on the yard, soccer balls, basketballs, and all equipment — horseshoes, boxing gloves, tennis rackets and balls — and to talk sports or play games, you name it,” said Robinson.
Robinson has completed a number of self-help programs including AA, CRI, Restorative Justice, Criminal Thinking, and ARC. He said that it’s the conversations he’s had with individuals at the Rec Shack that also helped him with his integrity and his compassion.
“It’s the service of others and the answering of the many questions I get. I credit the groups, too. I remember the first AA group I attended that inspired me. Seeing a hard tough guy get up and talk about his vulnerabilities encouraged me to wanna come back,” said Robinson.
He has been housed in North Block for 13 years. He allows his cell to be used as a show cell for the outside people to see when they come in for a tour of the prison.
“I love the questions they have when they come in — about riots or anything as small as the cell,” Robinson said. “I talked to lawyers, doctors, law enforcement, even politicians.”
When Robinson is not in his cell or in the Rec Shack, he is in the yard watching the soccer matches he loves. He grew up in Ghana, where his father’s side of the family is originally from.
“Growing up in Africa, where soccer is basically the only sport known, I learned it there and fell in love with it. I love all sports, but soccer is where my passion is.”
Robinson also enjoys Ping Pong (table tennis), but no matter what your favorite sport is, Robinson said that it’s the simple conversations you have with people that count the most while you enjoy the sport.