On the Friday before Christmas, Silent Night played as San Quentin students, their tutors and guests made their way into a classroom filled with the holiday spirit. It was to celebrate the year’s educational successes.
Six red stockings draped the classroom’s whiteboard. Below it, Santa’s tiny sled rode a golden tinsel as if it were snow. In front of the white board, two tiny Christ- mas trees sat on a table with gifts all around them.
“The End of the Semester Celebration at Christmas may mean something different to each of us,” James Metters said. “But, coming together is something we all can do.”
Metters is one of the peer- to-peer tutors in the Academic Peer Education Program (APEP). About eight years ago, the program began to support incarcerated students pursuing a GED. Also, at the event were peer educators, Rodney Baylis, Terry Hall, Raiveon “Ray-Ray” Wooden, Derry “Brotha-D” Brown and Floyd Collins.
“I’ve never been here on a Friday night,” said Diane Kahn, one of APEP’s outside facilitators. “I get more inspiration from the work you men do inside San Quentin than from people on the outside.”
The classroom was set up with its chairs placed in a semi-circle, like a flat amphi- theater with the head of the class as the stage.
The tutors and guests joined to perform Dad Ruins the Christmas Spirit.
The skit was a spinoff from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. It’s a story about parents struggling to let their children know Santa Claus’s real identity. The skit honored parents as Santa Claus and paid tribute to the season of giving.
Metters, Brown, and Wooden played their parts while APEP volunteers Eugenia Maluf and Joanna Cornejo played supporting roles.
After the skit, Metters and Karen Yoder, another APEP volunteer, led everyone in Christmas carols, with Joy to the World getting the most gusto.
Then a Spanish band played Christmas songs, including I Want to Wish You a Merry Christmas in English and Spanish.
“I’m humbled to be here and to work with some wonderful people,” said Collins, who explained that working with ESL (English as a Second Language) allowed him to build a bond. “I speak to the guys in broken Spanish.
“I want to bring joy, even though it’s not easy to do here.”
After caroling, the students, tutors and guests played board games, mingled and talked about future educational opportunities.
“This started off as an end of the year celebration about the students and teachers get- ting together,” Baylis said. “But, after all was done, it was really about the true meaning of Christmas when we’re so far away from family. That’s why we’ve done it for the last seven years.”
The following San Francisco Bay area volunteers came to the celebration in support of the APEP tutors and students: Tammy Cabading, Joanna Cornejo, Rich Donick, Diane Kahn, Eugenia Maluf, Connie Merron, Madison Niesyn and Karen Yoder.