In 2016 I walked into San Quentin State prison to write narration for a podcast that did not end up happening. I had never been inside a prison before, and I had preconceptions that turned out to be wrong. I expected to meet a bunch of hustlers but instead met a bunch of intellectual, pleasant, polite folk, who, except for the fact they were all dressed alike, and could not leave with me when I left, could have been anyone, anywhere. After leaving that day, I felt small and ashamed for having pre-judged people I had never thought anything much about and examined my prejudices. One of the men I met and spoke to that day, told me about a program he had founded, No More Tears SQ. I discovered I could volunteer with the program and began to.
As I began to spend more time in the prison, the men I got to know, I realized the only real concept I have of prison and the people in them came from media images. I realized that if I, fairly well-travelled, well read, and open was this off, many others must have the same impression. Most of the films and entertainment we see set in prison have two different groups of incarcerated people: the wrongfully convicted, and the psychotic serial killers. I have come to know of a third group which makes up the largest percent of the over 2 million incarcerated population in America; those who have actually done something, have changed, and are stuck in prison, many for the rest of their lives. I have learned firsthand that there are many special, gifted people incarcerated in this country. We could all learn the lessons I have gleaned from hanging around them: I have learned what it is to be patient. I have learned what it is to be hopeful. I have had the privilege of seeing how men care about and take care of each other. And they have truly impressive organizational skills. It’s not easy for two men to share a 4 ½’ by 10’ cell with a bunk bed, a toilet, and a tiny sink taking up most of the space; the men I have met are the cleanest and neatest people I know. The most important thing I have learned and continue to understand on a deeper level, the more time I spend around them, is what true accountability and genuine remorse is.