Drugs, gangs, school, parents, girls, peer pressure, and bullying are typical of the subjects discussed at meetings of the San Quentin SQUIRES. The program works with many outside organizations such as the Los Angeles Police Department, The Omega Boys Club, Rotary Clubs, the San Francisco Public Defenders Office, T & T House of Champions, and the Terrance Kelly Youth Foundation.
The outside partners bring young men and occasionally girls into San Quentin for a “day in prison.” The day in prison program was started by a San Quentin inmate years ago as a way to connect his own son to reality. The outside partners bring youngsters in as way to show them what can happen to wrongdoers when they break the law.
SQUIRES counselors meet the kids early on Saturday morning and guide them through a day of discussion, deliberation, and visual impact about the fate of troublemakers. They talk about matters that may be troubling them. Working in groups of eight to 10, the youngsters work in a circle group session for counseling. In the discussions, they explore issues affecting their lives. Every young visitor is drawn into the discussion and solutions.
With input from all members of the group, no topic is left out. The young men get a “drop your drawers and bend over” type intake orientation at R & R, with a bag lunch with a baloney or peanut butter sandwich included.
Next, they get a tour of the prison, including a talk at the Death Row entrance door. By the end of the tour, which includes being locked up in a cell, the kids know they don’t want to end up living here.
On Oct. 12, the Terrance Kelly Youth Foundation (TKYF) brought 25 kids into SQUIRES program. TKYF was formed nine years ago because of a young Terrance Kelly being murdered in gang violence. To deal with his grief, Landrin Kelly, Terrance’s father, said he formed the foundation with the aim of encouraging young people to make better choices.
Today, TKYF is run by Landrin and his wife Mary. Mary said the program started as an after school activity program. The foundation offers “homework assistance programs, violence prevention programs, a computer lab, and a creative art class” says Mary. “We also have a culinary program so we can teach them to make a quick meal for themselves.” Offering life skills, including a high achievers program, the foundation aims to help young men and women have a safe future by staying out of violent situations. We want them to be “more conscious of life and the consequences of their decisions,” said Mary.
Hector Garcia, a group leader at TKYF, says he really loves working with the young men and women. It’s “just a God given gift, being able to work with the community in this way,” says Garcia.
Another partner, the Novato Rotary Club regularly sponsors kids and has hired a professional counselor to work with them soon after their San Quentin visit. Larry Levy, a long time Rotarian, has been sponsoring young men going into the prison for many years. Levy said his objective is to create a SQUIRES program at other California Prisons so that youth counselors, social workers, and parents throughout the state can access the prison experience as an additional tool.
Another outside partner, Terry Pace of the T & T House of Champions in Oakland, operates a group home focusing on safety, structure, life skills, and love.
Pace says the home teaches youngsters to start doing things that change their lives. She believes that “the kids come to San Quentin with a hard shell and the SQUIRES counselors get them to open up.” Terry says the men start a “process of feeling.” For some it’s the first time.
Jack Omega of the Omega Boys Club also supports SQUIRES. Omega has been working with troubled youngsters in the San Francisco area for over 33 years. He works with the San Francisco Public Defenders Office and the court system to provide a safe and stable program for those who come in contact with the legal system.
Marynella Woods, a social worker at the public defender’s office, says, “Jack is the Mother Theresa of kids saviors.” Woods says it’s amazing how many people around the U.S. know Jack. “We were walking around the train station in Philadelphia the other day and someone cried out, “Hey Jack!”
Referring to the inmate, Woods said, “The men in this room are better counselors than anyone outside.” She says Jack has been bringing young men into San Quentin for 16 years, and it’s always a great experience to see how the youngsters open up when talking with the men of San Quentin.
Woods said there’s a need to talk about feelings. So, if the inmates talk about their feelings, then why wouldn’t the kids? As inmate counselor, Tommy Winfrey tells the men in his group “keep it real!”
According to Hector Garcia, the SQUIRES program is one of the best ways to impact youngsters. One Rotarian, Susan Karch, puts it succinctly; she likes the SQUIRES program because it teaches young people to do just what one of her favorite writers, Ernest Holmes teaches: “Change your thinking, change your life.”