Incarcerated men and community members from the local San Francisco Bay Area met in San Quentin’s Protestant Chapel on Aug. 16 to celebrate the graduation of two restorative justice programs.
The Victim Offender Education Group (VOEG pronounced “vogue”) and Next Step honored dozens of incarcerated men who completed the year- long programs, sponsored by Insight Prison Project (IPP).
“The transformation I see in so many of you is why we keep doing the work that we do,” said IPP Executive Director Leonard Rubio.
Rubio talked about the violence prevention program No More Tears, another IPP-sponsored program at San Quentin.
“It’s not about one individual, it’s about what we do together,” Rubio said, near tears with his voice breaking. “Hurt people hurt people and healed people heal people,” he continued. Rubio spent 23 years incarcerated before paroling from San Quentin in 2010.
Joyful Noise Gospel Singers opened the ceremony with several songs.
Glitches with clearances pre- vented some of the more important guests—formerly incarcerated VOEG participants—from attending. In fact, nearly half the choir, including its leader, didn’t make it to the event. The remaining members, however, recruited some community guests and renamed the choir Joyful Noise Gospel Singers plus Community.
Harmonica player Gary Harrell, an incarcerated artist and musician, rhythmically chimed in with the singing as the nearly 100 audience members kept the beat with hand clapping—two guitar players-in-blue stood stage left improvising with the upright bass player from Joyful Noise.
“As they were singing those songs, I wanted to start preaching up here,” said host Darell “Obadiah” Flowers. “VOEG has been a great experience for me. This year has been challenging,” he said. “Change and transformation has a struggle. But we are resilient. VOEG has been an intricate part of my life.”
Orlando Harris has been a VOEG peer educator for more than a decade.
“We’ve done some terrible things to get here, but they don’t define who we are,” Harris said. “If you’re serious about this work, it will change your life.”
Derrick Holloway talked about his experience attending the two-day Survivor’s Panel. The panel consists of survivors of crime who tell their stories.
“VOEG opened me up to what I’ve done,” Holloway said. “I was very scared…you know…when you’ve committed a terrible crime…when I had to share my crime is when it connected with me,” Holloway said. He is serving a life sentence for murder.
Spanish VOEG facilitator Christina Madariaga is so impressed by the program, she talks to her mother regularly about the work the men do on themselves. “Those men are so beautiful,” she tells her mother.
Romeo Bacos talked about how writing a crime impact statement and remorse letter affected him. He said the pinnacle for him was during the victim/ survivors panel.
“There is a saying, ‘You can
know about Alaska, an Eskimo
can tell you all about it.’ Our
victim/survivor panel knows
everything about pain, loss, and
extreme heartache,” Bacos said.
He said that during the lunch
break, he asked one woman on
the panel what he could do to
help her on her healing journey.
She replied, “Hold yourself
In tears, Bacos said that those three words further motivated him to continue his mission to give back to all the people he’s harmed.
“It is my vision that there will be no need for a VOEG class, until then, I will not stop,” Bacos said.
One of the original out- side facilitators for VOEG, Rochelle Edwards, told the graduates, “It’s been a great honor and journey…I hope it continues.”
Spanish band Gerry and the Tornadoes played traditional Spanish music. The last song, “Blue by You” was performed in Spanish, with the last verse sung in English.
Gerry Sanchez-Muratal- la, guitar/vocals; T. Lamas Muratalla, guitar/vocals; B. Marroquin, vocals; J. Vieyra, bass