For some of the softball volunteers from team Dreams Awaken, it was their first time coming into prison to challenge the San Quentin Hardtimers in a competitive game. The result was a 23–1 win for the home team, but more importantly, everyone came together in camaraderie and sportsmanship.
“It was nothing but love out there on the field today. Win loss or tie, this was a win today,” said first basewoman Hannah L.
It was her first time inside any prison to play sports. She used to work as a nurse at another prison and to her, “something always didn’t feel right.” She said that she could never be herself.
It wasn’t until she quit and started contributing her recovery knowledge at a women’s prison that things started to feel different.
“I’ve been clean and sober for 13 years,” she said. “On the streets I used to hear stories of being locked up in San Quentin. It’s such a beautiful parallel to come in here and feel such freedom in a place that’s historically so oppressive.”
On the field, the visiting team had a “hard time” getting any hits past the Hardtimers’ outfield. The Dreams Awaken team’s only run scored came when shortstop Jorge Zaragoza got through the gap, driving in a runner from third to home.
“I been out of prison for 20 years now. I paroled in 2006,” Zaragoza said. “I feel blessed to come back in here like this. Life has come full-circle for me. I just got promoted in this big company. I’ve also been clean and sober for five years. Ever since I been clean and sober, my life changed dramatically.”
He shared this advice: “Sometimes it don’t seem like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but stay focused and grateful.”
Hardtimers’ catcher, Nathan Venegas, not only went 3-for-3 and got on base, he got to enjoy the experience of having some people come back into the prison and share in the game he loves.
“To see the guy who got me to turn my life around in prison get a chance to come in and play against my team is epic,” Venegas said. “To see formerly incarcerated guys who got out and have made something of themselves and are now in turn coming in to give back is something you will only see here.”
Most of the people on the field for both teams have either been involved in some sort of recovery or experienced some type of self-destruction in their past. This included second basewoman Mei Lia S. of team Dream Awaken, who has been clean and sober and out of jail for six years.
“This feels like a homecoming to come in here and play ball with you guys,” she said.
This was her first time coming into a prison as a free person. It was her fiancé John, known as “Shaggy,” who put the game together. She said that he had recently paroled after 12 years. The two are clean and sober and wanted to give back.
“That’s what it’s all about,” she said.
The pair started a transitional home, JMS Recovery Homes, where they offer support for those recently paroled.
The softball game was more than just a game for those playing, and the positive energy was palpable.
“I paroled nine years ago from High Desert Prison,” said Kelly Corkill. He has visited the prison about six times since paroling. To him, it’s always is an overwhelming feeling. “I get to come back into prison and play ball with the people I can relate to. It brings back memories every time I see old friends.”
In those nine years since paroling, Corkill has accumulated a family along with a business and property. He can now hire people who get out and need employment. He has a successful construction company, Cinecor Construction, that builds theatres.
Coach Rick Dias of the Hardtimers boasted about not striking out. However, he spoke too soon.
“I can’t believe that I struck out,” he said with exasperation after too many consecutive strikes across the plate. “I swung at a weird pitch.” The sideline erupted in laughter.
Longtime volunteer Matt Davis usually visits the prison with his team, The Outsiders, who’s record is also not so great against the Hardtimers.
“Another day, another team, another [expletive] kicking,” he said.
The day was good for Garrett Lester; it was his first time coming into the prison. Before his visit, he had heard many negative connotations about people in prison, but soon learned that reality was quite different.
“This was a good atmosphere. The people were respectful and competitive, nothing you would expect. All the negative stigma is not true. The experience will let you see that it’s not true,” Lester said.