The San Quentin education program is expanding after severe budget cuts in recent years. Leading the changes is Tony Beebe, acting principal of the prison’s Robert Burton Adult School.
“The statistics are very clear,” said Beebe. “If you get an education while in prison, recidivism rates drop.”
When people argue against educating, the incarcerated and the benefits that can come from it, Beebe speaks from experience.
“My argument is: educating the incarcerated works. The question is: what’s the price we are willing to pay for failing to do it?” he said. “For me personally, that price is too high.”
In 2004, Beebe began working at San Quentin. Subsequently, he transferred to California Medical Facility for about two years, returning to San Quentin in 2012. “I was the vice principal at CMF and it was really excellent,” he said. “It was one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had.”
Discussing educational history, Beebe said education was denied to African-Americans but it was forced on Native Americans. “I’m from the Tsalagi (Cherokee Indian) nation, as my mother, my grandmother and all of my great-grandmothers,” he explains. “Children were taken from their tribes and beaten if they didn’t learn the language, but that has not affected my outlook on correctional education.”
“If you get an education while in prison, recidivism rates drop”
A graduate of Sacramento State University, Beebe received a degree in education administration. He said his style of leadership is to adjust to the situation and assume everyone is professional and doing what is expected of him or her.
“My hand is expected to be on the wheel and in some cases my influence will be applied to get the desired outcome,” he said. “My tendency is not to hinder people. If you’re doing a great job, you’ll not hear from me.”
“We do have two new vocational instructors, Mr. Ronald Romo and Mr. Dante Callegari,” said Beebe. “Mr. Romo is our electronics teacher. Mr. Callegari is the building maintenance instructor.”
“We are approved for 12 computers to be delivered and installed,” he said. The computers were bought with federal funds; and will be used to assist prisoners seeking GEDs (high school equivalencies), and college degrees.
Beebe said he expects the separate computer literacy program will be open in August. “It will be serving about 70 percent of eligible inmates,” Beebe said.