Nearly 400 men, dressed in sky blue pullover shirts and dark blue pants with “Prisoner” lettered down the right leg, stood, clapped hands and praised God in San Quentin’s Protestant Chapel. The Wednesday night event began the goodbyes for longtime peer-to-peer mentors Vaughn Miles and Ferrari Moody, as they readied themselves for the free world.
Miles and Moody are mentors for Guiding Rage Into Power, a self-help program aimed at reducing violence; Brother’s Keepers, a suicide prevention program; and Graced Out Ministries, geared toward bringing The Word to younger men.
“I’ve known Vaughn since junior high,” said Richmond native, Jamai Johnson, at the Jan. 30 event. He added, “It’s really powerful to see how God is moving in both their lives. In an environment like this and in the world, it’s hard to find genuine people like them. I’m glad they’re going home.”
The service began as it has thousands of times: “Is there anyone in the church for the first time?” Several hands shot up as ushers flocked to greet the newcomers.
Next, with heads bowed, Raul Samanigo praised the Lord in Spanish.
Miles was placed in a cushioned chair, center stage, to receive a blessing from Chaplain Mardi Ralph Jackson, who called Miles “a sleeping giant in the kingdom of God.”
Jackson went on to recognize Miles’ “authentic commitment to God. You are a giant in the kingdom of God.” She added, “I am going to miss you.”
Miles told the men that he felt blessed to go back to society.
“Whatever God puts in front of me, I have to recognize that I’m in here for murder. So, I have to respect the victim. I had to figure out what went wrong with me,” said Miles. In recognizing what went wrong, he added, “I wasn’t going to church. I wasn’t seeking the Lord.”
Miles was given a release date at his first appearance before the parole board. He encouraged the men to have faith in God and be honest to the parole commissioners.
“I am not an anomaly. If He can do it for me, He can do it for you,” Miles said, referring to having faith that a release date is possible.
Next, Moody took the podium.
“This is not a farewell message,” Moody said. “How can a man be heartbroken about leaving prison?” he asked.
Moody led the men in prayer and praised God for giving him wisdom and encouragement. He asked that God use “this broken vessel” for his will.
Moody gave a testimony about growing up in Los Angeles with a druusing mother. He shuffled back and forth between his moth- er and grandmother who introduced him to religion when he was about 12 years old. However, he said, “All I wanted was my mother,” who would leave them for boyfriends. He felt like these men were taking his mother away from him. By 14 years old, Moody said that he was on the streets.
Moody was candid about why he was in prison—he had killed his mother’s boyfriend. He said immediately after his arrest, he realized the importance of having faith in God.
After serving 16 years of a 40 year to life sentence, Moody’s sentence was commuted by former Gov. Jerry Brown.
Moody’s sermon focused on the power of redemption in the midst of a person’s deepest troubles.
“God will show up even when your affliction is a direct result in your disobedience against him,” Moody said. “That is the God that we serve, the God of redemption.
Redemption is shown through the conduct and choices that a person uses in his daily life, Moody said. “Listen to when God is speaking to you. Be fully in- tent to be obedient and recognize God’s will. Don’t turn a blind eye to God’s will.”