Two former San Quentin prisoners say the key to getting out is the right attitude.
With the right attitude, prisoners can take advantage of a wealth of self-help programs to turn their lives around, said one-time police officer and former San Quentin inmate Doug Butler.
“Stay focused you can get out of this place,” said Edgar Allen, another former prisoner who appeared with Butler at a recent meeting of the San Quentin Journalism Guild.
Butler was convicted of murder in 1984. He started his prison term at Vacaville, and was subsequently transferred to Tehachapi, New Folsom, Solano, and Soledad before eventually arriving in San Quentin in 1992.
“San Quentin is a Mecca of programming,” said Butler, as he encouraged the men to get involved.
During his incarceration, Butler said he kept the District Attorney’s Office informed of the programs he was involved in. He went on to suggest that the men in blue do the same.
Butler posed the question to the room, “How do you get out?” His answer was with the right attitude.
Butler said with fortitude, perseverance and resilience, a prisoner can put their mistakes behind them and move on. “Focus on you,” said Butler.
“You are blessed from the standpoint of being here at San Quentin,” Butler added. He encouraged everyone who didn’t complete high school to get a GED equivalency diploma.
Allen, who is a church elder, began his prison term for murder in 1969 at San Quentin. Now he ministers to youth in the Alameda County Juvenile Hall.
He recalled that at his sentencing hearing he faced the death penalty because a police officer was killed during his crime. From that point he knew he was going to face adversity.
Allen said he did not let the adversity stop him from changing.
“After the trial took place, something hit me in the heart, and I knew I had to learn to read and write so I could tell the family of the victim, ‘I’m sorry.’”
Prior to this decision, Allen said, “I lived independent of God, driven by another god, the dope god.”
When growing up in the streets of Oakland, Allen said he had his own apartment at the age of 13. He said he ran a dice game to make money, but he could not read.
“I learned to read in prison.” Allen said
Now Allen considers God the source of all life. “We need you (prisoners) badly out here (in the free world). You need to be with the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit–those are your real homeboys,” said Allen.
Allen closed by saying, “You have to get strength to do right.”
–Several Journalism Guild Members contributed to this story.