San Quentin News journalist Steve Brooks has earned the 2020 “Excellence in Commentary Award” from the Northern California Society of Professional Journalists.
“I wrote ‘Violent Criminals Deserve a Second Chance Too’ to highlight how we incarcerated men and women exist as a mere abstract idea of the violence that exists in our society,” Brooks said in an interview.” We are simply ‘straw men’ that the system uses as props to continue perpetrating the need for its own existence.”
Brooks’ award-winning stories were written during the prison’s 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. During that time he submitted 10 projects to the Prison Journalism Project (PJP) prior to his becoming a staff writer for SQ News.
“‘Hidden Heroes Forgotten Inside’ was written to make the point that this system (penal) would have crumbled a long time ago without its incarcerated workforce,” said Brooks. “They call us animals and monsters, but animals and monsters don’t help (keep the system afloat); incarcerated human beings do.”
Brooks is currently co-facilitating SQ News’ weekly Journalism Guild classes led by Joe Garcia.
“Joe encouraged me to start writing for PJP. I figured it would be a good opportunity to continue honing my craft during the pandemic,” said Brooks.
Brooks graduated from the SQ Journalism Guild class in January 2020. He credits his criminal and social justice reporting and writing to the guild and as the nexus for having received the coveted SPJ award.
Garcia has chaired the San Quentin journalism class for three years.
“I like reminding everyone that their voice matters,” said Garcia. “Steve’s a real quiet dude with a cool perspective, and PJP’s been a phenomenal platform for the incarcerated community. They have given us some great opportunities.”
“It felt good winning this award because it was my own original unedited work, with the exception of Shaheen Pasha of PJP, who actually titled the pieces,” he said.
Brooks’ “Excellence in Commentary” award for PJP joins a list of awards for San Quentin journalists including:
2020 – Five “Best of the Best” awards by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, for articles published in 2020
2017 – The Silver Heart Award from the Society of Professional Journalists
2014 – The James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for producing “a newspaper of exceptionally high quality” under “exceptionally difficult circumstances.”
1968 – The Charles C. Clayton Award from the Southern Illinois University Department of Journalism
1966, 1967, 1972 and 1981 – “Best Prison Newspaper” award from the American Penal Press
SQ News staff continues to pursue its mission to report on rehabilitative efforts to “increase public safety and achieve social justice” as a bridge between incarcerated citizens and the outside community.