The second annual Mourning Our Losses event drew nearly 100 residents of the SQ community. The memorial, which honored 13 lives lost since 2021, took place in the Protestant Chapel on February 24.
Mourning Our Losses is a nonprofit organization based in Texas that tracks and honors those who have died while living or working behind bars, according to the organization’s website.
Supporters of the organization and some formerly incarcerated people attended the memorial to celebrate those who have passed. Leonard Brown was back for the first time since paroling from San Quentin in 2022.
“Over my 33 years of incarceration, I saw so many brothers that did not make it along. One thing I know about prisoners is that we share a common thing about death. Most people don’t mind dying, but it’s the dying in prison that is hard. Every day we should honor one another because we never know,” said Brown.
San Quentin residents Robert Kuikahi and Bronson McDowell created portraits of the memorialized individuals. The portraits sat on chairs behind the podium.
“It was a good way to give back and honor someone that passed. I hope that I captured their liveliness in the art that I put out,” said Kuikahi who added that the portraits are a donation to the MOL organization.
Arthur Jackson, president of the MOL committee inside San Quentin opened the ceremony by calling out the names of the 13 people who passed. As Jackson called out names, attendees walked in a line to view the portraits and pay their respect. The incarcerated eight-member band called The Greater Good played “Nebsay Song” during the viewing. Jackson introduced Brown.
Brown took the stage and spoke about returning to the prison after serving 33 years behind the wall. He told a story of working in San Francisco and a choice he made to throw a dying mouse in the trash.
“I struggled the rest of the night because I felt like I discarded life,” he said.
Several SQ residents paid heartfelt tribute to the people they cared about through spoken word, poetry, storytelling, or a song. Jerry Gearin read A Death of a Friend, which was about the death of his friend Leonard Walker who passed away during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[Leonard] knew where all the old motorcycle clubs were … The Oakland A’s was his favorite baseball team, and the Oakland Raiders was his favorite football team,” said Gearin, who also spoke about their sports rivalry, which made the audience laugh.
Guitarist Robert Walthall performed a song that he wrote for his mother, whom he lost 10 years ago.
“Looking in the mirror, I can see her eyes. And every time I see my face, it makes me realize that part of her survives,” sang Walthall in the song he titled “Mom.”
The powerful lyrics continued as Michael Adams sang a song titled “Precious Lord” representing his faith in God.
“Lead me on to your light. Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home. When my life is almost done, Lord hear my cry, hear my call, precious Lord lest I fall, take my hand, precious Lord lead me home,” sang Adams.
Leaders from each denomination came out to share words of life and celebration. Muslim leader Imam Mohammad expressed how honored he is to be here. He talked about holding the hand of an incarcerated person at the hospital on a Sunday and then learning that the person had passed away on Monday. He said that he would never hear the man’s voice again.
“Even if you do not believe in God, we represent each other. Verily we are from God and to God we shall return,” said Mohammad, who closed by giving three important points of advice to anyone grieving a death.
Don’t make any major decision after someone dies.
Try speaking to the loved ones of the deceased to say what you didn’t get a chance to say when the person was here.
If possible, go to the place of burial and talk to that person’s soul.
Native American leader Hector Frank gave a powerful speech on the connection that all people have with the Great Spirit and each other. He thanked all in attendance for letting him be himself as he conducted a ritual and prayer.
Removing a lighter from his pocket, he set fire to some cinnamon in a large seashell-like bowl. With a bunch of large feathers in one hand, he fanned the smoke as he passed each portrait; a burnt offering.
“It’s not who you are or where you’re going, but what you leave behind. If you just live, then it is a waste of time. Things don’t happen by mistake. We came here in remembrance of these brothers and a sister. They’re in a holy place … Don’t pity them, pray for them,” said Frank.
— Juan Haines contributed to this story