Zoe Mullery has listened to thousands of stories inside San Quentin since 1999. She facilitates a weekly creative writing class for about two dozen men.
Mullery’s small frame is a big presence on the prison compound as she’s watched several men from her writing class make parole and continue writing.
“I do it because I love the power of stories. I think storytelling is what people are made of, their creation,” said Mullery as members of the Brothers in Pen held their 13th Annual Public Reading, on Feb.1.
Mullery has been volunteering at San Quentin for 21 years and says she’ll continue working with the program’s sponsor, The William James Association. She said that it satisfies her to see people leave and live better lives. It’s like a happy ending but not so much an ending, she said.
Beaming proudly while standing in the prison’s Catholic Chapel, Mullery opened the show with a warm poem titled, “Let These Words.” Then she introduced the writers who had paroled and returned: Emile Deweaver, Troy Williams, Micheal (Yahya) Cooke, Jimmy Carlin, Lawrence “Udukobraye” Pela and Joe Krauter, who read what he’d written while still incarcerated: “Glasses.”
All of the returning writers were adorned in their street clothes.
“I’m so happy that all this is happening,” said Mullery. “It takes details to pull this off and get everyone in the room together. I’ve seen some beautiful reunions.”
Pela told the men in blue, “People are jealous of what we have. They want our look and our life, our look of freedom. So guys, hurry up and do what you have to do to make it out.”
More than 70 outside guests, many their first time inside a prison, mingled with the men in blue.
“I met some interesting people,” said Lily Rachles. “I’m excited to be welcomed into this community, and I look forward to coming back.”
Rachles attended the event with her stepmother, science book writer Mary Roach. Rachles said “A Paradoxical Situation,” written by Charles Daron, was inspirational.
The editor of Prison Focus Magazine and News Paper, Kim Pollak, was also in the prison for the first time. She knows Mullery, and she asked, “Why aren’t these types of programs in every prison, and why are people with so much beautiful talent in prison in the first place? The raw truth what they share is phenomenal. It’s so unique and come from a different place.”
Emcee George “Mesro” Coles introduced each performer:
Charles Talib Brooks read, “13 Bars.” The audience remained quiet as he read about what 13 bars meant to prisoners, as told by the character, Omar. The crowd was enlightened and chuckled hearing things like, There are 13 bars on a cell door, and there are 13 steps between the tiers.Tim Bottomley gave a brief description of his crime and achievements before reading, “Cross my Heart.”
Elton Kelly read “Market Street,” which was about the perspective of a rich person to the homeless population.
Charles Daron read “A Paradoxical Situation.” The story was about his experience in the Los Angeles County Jail and an encounter with a deputy who abused prisoners with “Flash Therapy Sessions.” He said, “I was 8 years old when I started stealing, which I now regret because I can see clearly I was wrong. I now write urban novels as a form of therapy because I can relate to the characters.”
Clark Gerhartsreiter read a tale of a paranoid conspiracy theorist, “The Tyranny of Small Decisions.”
Richard Dean Morris recently paroled and Stu Ross read his story, “Dolly Caulder.” The story is about a woman who was brain dead and in a coma. Her spirit guide, Stanley, gave her the ins and outs of purgatory.
Gary Lee Roberson read “Just Win More Than You Lose.” It’s about going to court for serious charges and winning his freedom.
Joseph Krauter read “Glasses,” which is the last chapter of a novel he is writing since his release from prison.
Stu Ross read “Going Bald Doesn’t Make You Less Attractive.” The title speaks for itself.
Anonymous read “Judgment Day.” The story centers on how prisoners present themselves before the parole board and the information that parole commissioners use to decide a prisoner’s fate.
George Coles read “Mesropiece Theatre.” It depicted a mysterious fantasy filled with fictitious characters.
Michael Jace read “Unfortunate Statistic,” which describes a gruesome discovery of an African American who has been murdered and how he deals with being Black, a police officer and how that affects his family relations.
Kevin D. Sawyer read “You Were Thinking.” The second person narrative is about a person on parole who returns to society trying to adjust to society. The parolee is indifferent to it all.
Juan Haines read “Treading Habits.” The story is about how a person deals with the fact that he’s dying.
Kevin Flanagan read “Now What?” His story started like an exotic, erotic love story, but it ended up becoming a story of a man and woman just simply in love.
Michael Zell read “Go Niners!” After a moment of silence for Kobe Bryant, Zell told the story of an experience at a Niner Super Bowl.
Michael Calvin Holmes read “Waking Up Dead,” which was an odd story about death.
Paul Stauffer read “Jeffrey Wolsey,” a strange story that
contains futuristic science related to mind and body.
Osbun Walton read “I Wasn’t Ready.” It’s a compassionate story about the loss of his brother Timothy.
Rahsaan “New York” Thomas read “Change in Places.” It is a memoir story about accepting accountability for the crime that landed him in prison.
Troy Williams left the prison population with words of encouragement. “It’s always strange to walk back up in here and see the people that you know like family. Then I leave, and it hurts,” he paused then added, “We need y’all home so we can transform our community into what we want it to be.”