After serving 36 years and seven months in the California Prison system, Tommy “Shakur” Ross walks out of San Quentin as a free man.
In a well-fitted grey suit and three boxes of his prison legacy in hand, Ross walked proudly to a white van waiting for him in the Receiving and Release (R & R) driveway.
Prisoners who could see him departing from the nearby yard clapped, while workers in R &R hugged him and congratulated him for making it through the prison storms.
“I feel super excited, joyful, happy for what seems to be like the first time in my life” said Ross, a smile beaming from his face. He gave his last name and CDCR number to an officer for the last time.
“All the stress, all the disdain and resentment for prison is gone,” he said. “I’m experiencing bittersweet emotions, because I’m leaving behind a lot of people I developed strong relationships with who deserve a second chance just like I’m getting.”
Ross was greeted outside the prison gate by a huge entourage of family and friends. “I’m going to get a big grand slam breakfast,” he said.
When Ross arrived at San Quentin years ago, he was an angry, quiet, and reserved man full of machismo. But now he is easily moved to tears and other emotions and unafraid to show his vulnerability.
“When I arrived at San Quentin ,I attended restorative justice for the first time, and sitting in those circles witnessing truth and vulnerability changed me,” he said.
Ross went on to join countless self-help groups at San Quentin. He ended up becoming a facilitator and a peer literacy mentor and submerged himself into a community bent on rehabilitative success. He even worked with the SQ media center.
Ross graduated at the top of his class in 2019 from the Prison University Project, which is now known as Mt. Tamalpais College. He gave a moving valedictory speech at graduation where he described himself as a feminist.
Ross also graduated from the audio journalism program known as Un-cuffed. He said he developed the skills to create his own podcast.
“I have been offered a job to come back inside the prisons as a GRIP facilitator,” he said. “I also plan to become a part-time personal trainer and I have an idea for a podcast that talks about various forms of violence.”
Ross said that the audio journalism class helped him to develop his voice and improved his communication skills and interviewing skills. He also learned how to edit and navigate Pro Tools computer technology.
“I also plan to give back to the prison community,” he said. “I plan to participate in town halls, do public speaking at colleges and other organizations.”
Ross said that the secret to any parolee’s success is their support network.
“I have a strong support network that will be holding me accountable,” he said. “They give me confidence that I have a safety net that will be there to catch me if I stumble and fall.”
Ross plans to come back to the prison to help others do the work to get out, and to share stories of his success in the outside world.
“I’m experiencing some survivor’s guilt, going home and leaving so many behind. I realize how I impacted so many people and it has been a rewarding experience.”