“I don’t want to be here,” a young boy said as he toured the cellblocks in San Quentin Prison.
He was one of the 24 at-risk young men hosted March 16 by inmate members of the SQUIRES Program. The tour gave the young men from the Terrance Kelly Youth Foundation of Richmond a view of what their future could be if they made bad life choices.
The SQUIRES Program conducts tours and counseling for teens who demonstrate a propensity to engage in juvenile delinquency conduct. Participant Tiapepe Vitale, a De La Salle High School athletic star, said the visit to San Quentin was one of the best experiences of his life.
“I want to see my brother come in here (on a tour),” the 17-year-old said.
The counseling and tour are designed to shell-shock the young men into a realization that they might well one day reside here if they don’t change their ways.
SQUIRES workshops are conducted monthly and include graphic, frank language about how they will be searched and looked at all over for contraband when they come to prison. No detail is spared. Some of the parents accompany their son or child, and some are more shocked than the kids. “It’s not a positive experience,” said Bernice Zamora, mother to Trevon.
Upon being locked up in a Donner Section cell, a visitor named Omar quickly exclaimed, “I’m not a bad kid! I want to be successful.” However, his grandmother, Juanita Pagan, felt he needed more. “I want to bring him back again, so it sinks in,” she commented.
Lanny Kelly, nephew of founder Terrance Kelly, said it doesn’t take but a minute and a bad choice to wind up in prison.
The Terrance Kelly Youth Foundation was formed after Terrence’s son was gunned down two days before he was to start college.
Lanny said he started every sort of bad behavior after the cousin died. It caused him to wind up in San Quentin. “I went into a tail spin,” he lamented. “However, I finally came to the conclusion that there is just no excuse for not doing the right thing.”
After college, Lanny came back to the Richmond area for the specific purpose to take over the foundation.
“I went to Howard University in New York and intended to stay there after graduation, but I came back to change Richmond,” he said.
“I was interested to learn the backgrounds of all the people in here. It gives me a chance to learn what not to do.”
“I was doing bad things and that is the reason I’m here. But listening to you guys shows me it’s not worth being in here!”
“It’s horrible in here. I can’t shower like that. You can’t even wash your clothes every day.”
“My Mom sent me to About Face. She didn’t even tell me, she just said we were going shopping and she dropped me off there. Now I’m here. This place is terrible.”
“It’s heartbreaking. Kids in situations they shouldn’t be in. It’s hard to hear the inmates too!”
–Leslie Salazar, Rotary Club sponsor
“I like the experience. You learn your friends are not really your friends. I have a lot of guys that will tell you they are there for you, but they are not really there when things get tough.”
“I hate being here!”
“I’ve learned that it’s hard to be in here. Nobody wants to be here. The food is bad. There’s no privacy!”
“I like the program. I like the fact that we can see what can happen to you. Hearing from the people here let’s you know that if you are not careful, even you can wind up here.”
“You guys get “junk food” and live like animals.”
“I’ve got to be safe and not mess up. Those showers are nasty!”
“This teaches you to stay out of trouble. I didn’t know you can be sentenced to life for shooting out of a vehicle. The people in here messed up big time.”
“I don’t want to live in North Block and shower with that many people. I don’t want to come to prison.”
“Man! This place is messed up!”
“The showers are bad and the inmate stories make me feel sorry for them. I’ve learned to stay away from gangs.”
“That North Block is a horrible place to live. The inmates I met have changed though.”
“My daughter was goofing up both school and life. There is just no help out there for that type of bad behavior. I learned about the About Face program and it has helped a lot. This is a sobering experience and very important. I’m glad she could come here and see what this is actually like.”
–Rosa Rodriguez, Mom.
“Any little thing and they can send you to prison for a long time. It’s doesn’t scare me, but I don’t want to live in a tiny little cell. This is an attitude changer.”
“We should learn from the prisoner’s mistakes so we don’t make the same mistake. The stories are interesting and scary.”
“Juvenile Hall is easier. This is something that can change your attitude. One thing that is real important is that the inmates are just like us. That means that we can wind up here too! If we don’t change, that is.”
“You can see their privates and they can see yours.”
“An inmate’s life just repeat it’s self day after day. That’s no life.”
“I just want to thank you for opening my eyes!”
“Seeing the entrance to Condemned Row, that is really shocking. Think before you make a wrong decision or you’ll wind up somewhere you don’t want to be.”
“As the incoming Chairperson of the Rotary Club in my area, I would like to find out what I can do to support Squires more. In the words of General MacArthur, I’ll be back!”
–Susanne Karch, Rotary Club sponsor
“This is an eye opener for the kids. They can think about how they might wind up here!”
–Harold De Llave, Sponsor
“I thought all prison inmates were cold blooded killers. These inmates are just like me. The smallest thing can go bad and determine the rest of your life.”
“You might think this all fun and games, but this is serious business because once they give you a number you become a product of the state!”
“I hope the boot camp cadets learn their lesson. This gives us another chance to shape up.”
“I am a street soldier trying to help youngsters adjust to society. It is a struggle to learn the truth when you are a kid.”
–Jack Jacqua Co-founder of the Omega Boys Club
“If a person gets rehabilitated here, it takes a lot of work. It’s not something the state makes easy. It seems at times that the state is in the way more then they are positive factors.”
–Amy Skeeters, Sponsor
“What’s scary is how many humans are impacted forever by 15 second decisions.”
–Rajeeb Hossain, Sponsor
“This is a life changing experience. It’s very frightening to hear stories of life inside prison.”
“I kinda feel like God put me here. I could even meet someone from my hometown.”
“I got a whole new perspective on life.”
“The SQUIRES conducted at San Quentin state prison consist of a group of dedicated sponsors, volunteers, and inmates sharing a common goal to reach out, help, and empower at risk kids.
SQUIRES incarcerated men share their own life experiences, teaching and educating through effective communication providing the youth with the necessary tools to make healthy and wise life style choices.
The reword of an at risk youth turning their lives around are priceless ”