According to the inmates graduating from an environmental program at San Quentin on Oct. 19, climate change has sparked a worldwide discussion — even in prison.
Incarcerated facilitator Angel Alvarez said, “She’s an amazing instructor and human being, who’s dedicated and committed to teaching truth about climate change.”
Sevin said The Green Life evolved from a program she helped to begin in 2003, called Keeping It Real.
While attending a 2009 session of Keeping It Real, former White House Green Jobs Czar, Van Jones told the men, “If we can give a soda can a second chance, why can’t we do the same thing for people?” From that statement, Sevin seized the opportunity and The Green Life was born.
Sam Hearnes is an original founder of The Green Life. He paroled from prison in 2017 after spending more than 20 years incarcerated.
Hearnes was granted a 30-minute visit to San Quentin to give the graduates a congratulatory speech about what it means to be environmentally aware.
“It would have been better if we would learn this before coming to prison,” observed Hearnes. “Why do we have to learn it here?”
While leaving the graduation, Hearnes looked back and said, “It’s bittersweet, like leaving family.”
Eight graduates presented seven projects to share with community members who attended the ceremony.
Kahlil Dallas is a vegan. He gave a presentation on superfoods, which are fruits and vegetables that are vitamin rich. His intent was to get youngsters interested in superfoods by creating a children’s eating game that is eco-friendly.
When asked about the class Dallas said, “It’s not just a class; it’s a part of my life since I was 7 years old. I [transferred] to San Quentin because of this class.”
Tom Colt called himself a “struggling vegetarian.”
Colt made a presentation on “The Impact of Dietary Choices on the Planet.”
Billington and Andrew “Andy” Halperin talked about how plastic is polluting the waterways and methods to reduce its use.
“It’s a course worth taking,” Halperin said about The Green Life. “It teaches personal growth and helps with the choices you make.”
Bruce Bowman spoke on air pollution and the need for food diversity in West Oakland.
“I learned a better understanding how Mother Earth is threatened, assaulted and made unsustainable as a place to live,” Bowman said.
As an intermission, Anthony Thomas performed a spoken-word piece that strung together dozens of environmentally-related words and phrases.
Jeff Williams and facilitator Lenny Beyett collaborated on a colorful Aquaponics presentation.
Aquaponics combines agriculture and hydroponics.
“It is a self-contained ecosystem,” said Williams, who wants to reduce carbon in the air. Both men carry the same motto, “To make my footprint in the world a little smaller.”
Earth Island Institute, a nonprofit organization, has a vision of a clean world, said Terry Kelly, a representative. Earth Island sponsors about 80 environmental projects worldwide. Many of its projects are within the San Francisco Bay Area, including The Green Life.
Co-founder Arnulfo T. Garcia’s sister, Carmelita Vargas, attended the graduation, which was held in the San Quentin News newsroom.
It was her first time sitting in the newsroom, where her brother changed his life, ultimately becoming the Executive Editor of the San Quentin News.
“I’m inspired by how my brother inspired other guys,” said Vargas. “This is great.”
Graduate Thomas talked about the passing of his long-time friend, “I felt really inspired by Arnulfo and how he loved everyone. I truly miss him.”
As the group gathered in a healing circle, Vargas’ silent tears fell, mourning her brother. When the event resumed, they shared stories about Arnulfo.
Wanda Stewart, an elementary school teacher in Berkeley, left the graduates with a message, “Know that we love you. We know you all are here.” She added, “And we all got to save the world wherever we are.”
In closing, Sevin said, “My hope is that people who hear about The Green Life are inspired to take some wisdom from what these men have shared with me and each other. And if we can learn to be better people, we will have a better planet to live with.”
His presentation argued for meatless Mondays. He also gave reasons for people to change to a plant-based diet. He said that worldwide meat production destroys the rain forests at a rate of seven football fields per day.
A 72-year-old graduate, Donald “Wink” Billington, said, “I realized in my lifetime that we ruined this planet and recycling is the most important thing we can do to save it.”
The Green Life co-founders: Arnulfo T. Garcia, Samuel Hearnes, Troy Williams, Michael Harris, Cornelius “Dickey” Wigfall, JulianGlenn “Luke” Padgett, Kevin Tindell and Erin O’Connor. Graduates: Donald “Wink” Billington, Bruce “Brother J” Bowman, Thomas Colt, Kahlil Dallas, Wes Eisiminger, Andrew “Andy” Halperin, Anthony Thomas, Jesse Vasquez and Jeff Williams. Facilitators: Juan Haines, Jorge Heredia, Lynn Beyett, and Angel Alvarez