Rebecca Haskell, an outside facilitator working with Veterans Healing Veterans (VHV), has impacted San Quentin’s incarcerated veteran community like few have before her.
Haskell’s exuberant and immersive style of leadership training enabled SQ’s dedicated core of veteran facilitators to reach new levels of interactive communication— an essential skill to promote genuine healing.
“Rebecca helped create a healthy environment where we could build a tremendous bond within our group,” said Reginald Cooper, a VHV facilitator who trained with Haskell for over two years. “Because of her, we were all able to better help our vets open up and speak about traumas that earlier had caused them to shut down.
“A major factor has been lost to VHV.”
Haskell chose to step away for personal reasons—internal VHV issues she’d rather not comment on—but she highly values her time within SQ and is set on volunteering at the prison in some other capacity.
“I’m really excited to explore other opportunities to get involved in the San Quentin community,” she said. “I could write a novel about what I’ve learned since I first started coming in here.
“Being around these guys validated and reinforced my own personal philosophy that anyone can be a great leader or facilitator if given the support and opportunity.
“And that the amount of heart and soul people put into their work is a direct payoff—it directly then impacts the people they’re working with.”
Haskell used her extensive educational background and outside community connections to bring in guests who could offer SQ veterans specific insight into specialized fields—such as the neurobiology of trauma, public speaking, music therapy, movement therapy, meditation, moral injury and, especially, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Former Marine Brian Corder arrived at SQ in 2018, and experienced the benefits of Haskell’s VHV work right away. “Rebecca has one of those personalities that im- mediately promotes positive interactions and cooperative involvement,” said Corder. “She knows what she’s doing—and you could really see that with the quality of professionals she brought in to help us.”
Haskell brands herself as a Social Justice and Education Consultant. “My client base tends to be centered around prison programming and education,” she said. “VHV had their own curriculum put together, and they had questions on how to make it better—make it more user friendly for their participants to navigate.
“I tried to establish a safe place where we could learn new facilitation techniques, new ways of trauma healing, new ways of presenting yourself as a leader in the group.”
Veterans Group of San Quentin Chairman Carl Raybon, USMC, made great personal progress in working through his own trauma and he gives Haskell props for all the improvements she’s contributed to VHV.
“Rebecca’s a person of extremely impeccable character, just a wonderful person altogether,” said Raybon. “She’s always receptive to whatever another person has to share, and she uses her skill set to personalize every conversation—which made me feel like I’ve known her forever.
“She’s a taskmaster, a real energizer bunny. She makes things go as planned. No matter what obstacles came up, Rebecca stayed on task and got the job done.”
Corder recently drafted a proposal for state senate consideration which aims to implement prison reforms for incarcerated vets. Through Haskell’s tenacious contact efforts, Corder’s proposal made it into the hands of advocates who can move it further along the legislative process.
“Rebecca helped point me in the right direction. She has this gift for getting people together in a way that benefits all parties involved, where everyone wins,” said Corder. “It’s very unfortunate—the way she was removed from the program. It’s not due to anything she’s done on her end.
“That’s what sucks—it’s something out of our control, but it directly affects this current cycle of vets.”
“It’s not going to be the same without her,” agreed Cooper. “As a facilitator, she helped me build skills to be better able to listen and empathize—to notice the different emotional changes we go through.
“It was a real blessing to have her volunteer her time to VHV. Anything she contributes to San Quentin is a blessing. We need more people like her.”
Haskell pointed to everyday lessons in humility and kindness as her biggest takeaways from being inside SQ.
“We all need to do a better job of listening to each other and asking questions—giving people the benefit of the doubt,” she said. “We are all carrying around our entire lives with us all of the time, but if only we can try to remember to be more generous toward each other.”
She continues to hold strong opinions about prison reform and social justice advocacy.
“Every person in the United States—just like jury duty—should be encouraged to volunteer inside a prison,” offered Haskell. “I’ve spoken on this so much that it’s like a broken record for me.
“But if each person spent one day in prison a year, maybe we’d treat people differently.
“Prisons are designed to be out of sight—out of mind. But when you ‘otherize’ people, you forget about their humanity.”
James Dunbar, incarcerated clerk for the Veterans Information Project, has been serving his fellow vets at SQ since 2015. He’s seen his share of outside volunteers come and go.
“I know Rebecca more through her reputation amongst the other vets than through personally working with her myself,” said Dun- bar. “But when I heard she was discontinuing her role within VHV, I felt for our guys. It’s a great loss.”
Raybon expressed his optimism at seeing Haskell back at SQ soon. “She’s some- one you can really trust and that’ll make you go the extra mile to relate to what she’s saying, what she’s trying to teach you,” he said. “Hopefully, VHV’s loss will be- come a huge gain for other programs here.”