There’s only one person at The Q that can boast the following: Intramural Basketball League (IBL) Championship three of the last six years, two as a player and one as a coach.
4 on 4 Championship Basketball League (CBL) Title winner as a player, then the following season, as a coach. Top scorer for the 40 and Over SQ Kings four of the five seasons he’s played for the team.
Even with these impressive accolades, Demond “Oola” Lewis (pronounced Ooh-La) is more than a basketball player. He’s taken part in several criminal justice forums, including the Barbershop Dialogue with Paul Chambers of KTVU, twice.
Like many athletes housed at San Quentin, Oola is more than just a person who can run, jump and shoot. He is thoughtful about life, both inside and outside of prison.
AT: What does it mean to you to have a voice when it comes to addressing the inequities in the criminal justice system with law enforcement and justice representatives that come inside The Q?
Oola: It gives me an opportunity to see the process f irsthand, especially when it comes to dealing with the magnitude of the things that one has done in the past.
AT: How has being here at The Q shaped the way you view criminal justice reform?
Oola: I’ve been given the opportunity to change in a mature way, to make decisions that are more wholesome, to communicate with a variety of people that I normally wouldn’t have a conversation. Being here is the master chain link to grow and develop in a productive way. One of the greatest feelings is to have peace come upon you.
AT: From an organizational perspective, about sports at The Q.
Oola: When I arrived, I was impressed by the level of competition. I was out of shape and getting laughed at in the beginning. I had to remind the skeptics that even though I was out of shape, I was here to win.
AT: Talk about a poignant sports moment since you’ve been here.
Oola: I got the opportunity to shake hands with Bob Myers and Kevin Durant. I’ve touched and held the Larry O’Brien trophy. That was humbling for me because I enjoy the entire spirit of San Quentin Sports.
AT: Are you a family man?
Oola: Absolutely, absolutely! I have two daughters, Dominica and Calista Lewis, and one son, Demond Jr. Even though there are circumstances that are prevailing for me and my family, I am very devoted to them and their growth.
AT: Does that mind state transfer over to how you relate to the youth here at The Q and throughout the years inside?
Oola: You can see that this is a worst case scenario for ideal family structure; however, I use this to my advantage. I use basketball — and sports in general — as a way to open myself to them, making them comfortable and relating in a constructive way. Everything I do is planned in a way.
AT: Talk about the word “respect” and how you apply it to your teammates as well as your competitors and contemporaries.
Oola: When that whistle blows, I’m getting you off of the court, period. My job is to do what I need to do, to do what is needed to win. It’s not personal, and it’s not just physical. It’s also psychological. Now, when we’re off the court, I have respect for all things and all people. That’s how I see it and I live by that code.
AT: Excluding yourself, who is the most prolific athlete that you’ve seen at The Q and why?
Oola: Oh man! That’s deep, that’s deep. The Franchise (the team that he won three championships with as a player and coach) has produced so many great players that I can’t name any one player. The Franchise is and was an athletic brotherhood. Every player who suited up for “The Greyshirts” (the nickname of The Franchise) can bask in the glory of being a part of that.
AT: Okay, we’re gonna do something a bit different at this point. We’re gonna play “First.” I’m gonna ask you some questions about the f irst thing you’re going to do after you’re released. Ready?
Oola: (Laughing) Alright, let’s go.
- First breakfast: Denny’s, Grand Slam!
- First person to call: My mother.
- First set of clothes: Jordan, head to toe.
- First hug: My kids.
- First kiss: My grandkids.
- First lunch: Bacon turkey melt!
- First place to visit: My grandmother, Julia Hawkins’, grave.
- First sporting event: If it’s football season, it’s the Niners!
- First dinner: Uh, crustacean. If I’m local, I’m taking my mom to dinner.
AT: Thank you for sitting with me. I hope our readers appreciate the cerebral nature of your answers. You have the closing statement.
Oola: It’s difficult to believe that not nourishing a thing will help it grow. Everything must be nourished to have the ability to flourish. At The Q, we’re being given the opportunity to relearn and be reeducated. We’re regaining holistic health, becoming better sentient beings, ready to return to society. The Q has been pivotal in this transformation. I thank my family for the support to push forward, in reeducating myself and also teaching others about the roles and positions of what it means to be a father, a son and a brother.
(Malik Ali contributed to this interview)