"This chapter is about the importance of rehabilitative programs in prisons. These men share their personal experiences of being in prisons with and without self-help groups and educational opportunities."
- Adnan Khan, Founder of #FirstWatch.
Meet Lawrence. Lawrence spent 7 years in a maximum security prison before being transferred to San Quentin. He describes how the opposing environments affected his attitude and relationships, particularly with the one person he loves most, his mother. Could rehabilitative programming be the key to transformation? #FirstWatch
In a maximum security level 4 prison, it was very serious. You could feel the tension - there wasn’t any love, there wasn’t any affection. The only emotion that you got was anger and rage, that type of stuff. Even when you have them a handshake it wasn’t like a regular old just you know real cool handshake playful it was real serious. It was tough. It was hard. You see these dude on the yard, they stand there, they got their shoulders cocked back, they’re mean mugging the whole get down, just really just mobbing, and it's crazy because that really feeds to the whole atmosphere. Honestly, I didn’t really know how much that affected me, right, because I’m not that guy. I’m somebody who is loving, I love to show affection to those I care about. When it was time to show affection with my mom that I couldn’t do it. My mom had come to visit me in this maximum security prison for the first time since I had been incarcerated. And by this time I hadn’t seen her in about 3 years, and so when I hug her, my body is really, I’m hugging her but its like a church hug where my body is not touching her body, and it's just all arms. My mom certainly got on me and was like “What are you doing, if you don’t hug me.” The most terrifying thing about the whole ordeal was if I can’t show affection to everybody I love than who am I as a person. I certainly feel like because there weren’t any groups or programs at this facility, that it certainly contributed to me not being able to be affection. So after 7 years of being incarcerated I finally work my points down and I am able to come to San Quentin where it is completely different. The first programs I got into this guy was holding another guy like a baby. And that for me was just like “What? This is crazy.” The men were comfortable with who they are, with who they really were. They didn’t have to put on no front. They didn’t have to act like they were harder than can be, or none of that. So I’m in San Quentin, and mom comes to visit me while I’m here and there is no more nervousness, she gets there and I hug her man and really just hold on to her man I picked her up man, off her feet, swung her a little bit, just a little bit. You know, and it was beautiful man, it was really beautiful man.
Meet Lumumba. Lumumba spent 37 years in a violent maximum security prison before being transferred to San Quentin. He describes the transition as a “culture shock” sparked by educational opportunities and hope through programming. He credits these programs to saving his life. #FirstWatch
The first prison I went to was DVI in Tracy, California. That was back in 1977. It was pretty horrific, a lot of violence during that era. A lot of racial “melees” and riots during that year. It was called gladiator school. You would have to come out your cells with a belt with hard covered books wrapped around your stomach tied down with the belt. That would just mean that hopefully that knife wouldn’t penetrate. I seen a man get stabbed so hard he got lifted up in the air and flew back on the table behind him. This almost like I can’t get that out of my mind.On a level 4 maximum security prison, very few and hardly no education existed. It took me at least 37 years to finally be released from a level 4 prison to a level 2 San Quentin. When I got here it was a culture shock. It was definitely surprising to me. It reminded me of San Francisco State College. I used to run track over there through a lot of my high school era. And when I walked around here I seen a lot of individual inmates, convicts, whatever you choose to call them backpacks on their backs, books in their hands. I found myself signing up to get involved in GRIP you know it's an anger management program. GRIP basically means guiding rage into power. Basically shows you how to analyze your sensations, if you are confronted with an altercation you can feel your heart beating, your palms sweating, your shoulders tense, your muscles tensed up, and I never really analyzed that about myself until I got into GRIP. That’s just a signal telling your emotions, wait a minute, slow down, think about this because those sensations can erupt your emotions to a violent altercation if you don’t think. I felt that I was transitioning into a new man. By that I mean I did not find that criminal element that existed in me no more. I can honestly say that these programs have been my mother and my father and my grandparents. They have been a guidances bring me into the new man that I must be. So, in reality, these programs honestly saved my life.
Meet Phoeun. Phoeun thought he would die in prison after being sentenced to 35 years to life - starting his time in a maximum security prison. Due to the complete lack of programming at his prison, he recalls being in a state of mental incarceration. When he came to San Quentin, he enrolled in college courses through the Prison University Program and graduated before his family. It was the first time he had seen them in over 20 years. #FirstWatch
I started my time in a maximum security in Salinas Valley State Prison. It's a level 4 yard and it is really, really intense there. These facilities just opened and what that meant for us prisoners coming into the system is there is a lot of people vying for positions on the yard for territories, for tables, for exercising areas, and there are a lot of riots and fights that happened that I witnessed. I seen on multiple occasions guys get cut with razors. I mean I seen one not to far away from me, a guy get cut from the head all the way to his chin. Freedom was nowhere near. I was just sentenced to 35 to life and I thought that I would die in prison. That feeling is like waking up everyday just feeling really defeated. It is like getting up and feeling like the air is not even fresh. On the maximum security yard where I was at, there was no programs, I don’t remember any programs at all. San Quentin is interesting because once I came here I saw volunteers come in so it kind of piqued my mind, why do you come in here and help inmates? Growing up from my parents, my mom and my dad, they always told me the one thing that you can never go wrong with is education. So for some reason that stuck in my head, and when there was a college course here through PUP Prison University Program, I owe it to myself to just check it out. It helped free my mind. I don’t no longer have to be incarcerated mentally anymore even though I am physically and that makes a huge difference. So I went from feeling defeated to being a little bit more liberated. I been really distant from my family for a long time and in 2/15 when I graduated it was the first time I’ve seen them in over 20 years. I wanted to honor them with this certificate, with this diploma, that this is not only for me, this is for you guys too. I was a gang member, I was active. This degree showed them that I’m no longer that person. When I received my diploma I came down the steps, the stage, and gave each one of them a hug. It was a perfect way to show them that I have changed.
Meet Travis. Travis reflects on how his time spent in a maximum security prison resulted in a sense of disconnection and stagnation. When he arrived at San Quentin, he found himself surrounded by conversations of change, Shakespeare, and laughter. His wife’s pride drives him to be a better person. #FirstWatch
I began my time on a maximum security prison, very isolated time, it was scary, it was definitely scary. The culture was definitely violent, I felt like everything was solved through violence. there was limited communication between people. I feel like people expressed their wants and their needs through anger through hate. There was no support from educators, there was no support from mentors. I became closed off, I became, I felt like my personality turned inward. I’ve always been a really outgoing a really happy and joking person because I felt that I could be prey at any point in time even expressing those emotions to anybody. If I continue to sit in these institutions if I continue to be stagnant, I won’t grow. I’ll never heal. I’ll never end up being a contribution to society. I’ll never end up being able to make amends to my victim shawn. I’ll never be able to show my mother that all this fighting that she’s done for me, my grandfather, all the fighting he’s done for me that it is worth it. I finally arrived here in san Quentin, I remember I got here at night and I looked around and I see the bars and the giant buildings and it was very intimidating and I didn’t believe this was the place I heard about, I did not believe that this is a place of change because it looks like a giant dungeon. And so I go into my cell and I go to sleep and the next morning I wake up and there is all this movement, and I’m thinking where the heck is everybody going. I’m not used to it. I see guys with little backpacks on and holding school books, you know, having conversations about change and the smiles and the laughter. I saw guys sitting on the side doing Shakespeare and I thought what the heck is going on here, where am I? Am I on a college campus? but no I was here in San Quentin. I remember sitting down in a visit with my wife and just telling her hey this is what I am learning. And I saw this sense of pride in her, and I saw her smile on her face. And just seeing, hey look, my husbands changing, and it just made me want to try so much harder. And that was the beginning of a journey that has been none stop, its every single day now of programs and college and it’s definitely been an incredible journey so far.