With hundreds of outside volunteers entering San Quentin--everyday--to help inmates rehabilitate themselves, some have asked, "Isn't it dangerous? Isn't it risky? The truth might surprise you.
Let's start with the basics. One way the risk of danger in a California prison can be assessed is by its security level. There are 5: Levels 1 thru 4 and Maximum Security. But WHERE is it most dangerous at San Quentin?
Maximum security cell housing at San Quentin is reserved for those who have been sentenced to death and for those in administrative segregation (aka: the Hole). Inmates sentenced to Life WITHOUT the Possibility of Parole are housed on level 4 prison yards for the rest of their lives. (There are NO level 4 inmates on the mainline at San Quentin) Inmates sentenced to Determinate terms--with set release dates--may start out on level 4 or 3 and if they behave, can go down to a level 1 or 2. However, those who have been sentenced to an Indeterminate prison term--Life WITH the Possibility of Parole--can go down no further than level 2.
Generally, volunteers will primarily work with mainline inmates at San Quentin. Volunteers will not have contact with those in maximum security, Reception Center, or in Protective Custody. The mainline inmates at San Quentin are all serving Determinate or Indeterminate prison terms. So what are the security levels at San Quentin. "
San Quentin has a level 1 mainline (H-Unit) and a level 2 mainline (North Block, West Block and Donner Section). It has California's only "Condemned Row" for those sentenced to death, and has a multi-level "Reception Center" where newly-arrived inmates from county jail are classified, processed and bused out to any one of California's 33 prison institutions. San Quentin also has a multi-level section for inmates in P.C. (Protective Custody or "Special Program") and a disciplinary section--administrative segregation--for inmates who have committed "serious rule violations". So WHEN can it be dangerous and to WHOM?
Simply put, at any time, prison can become a dangerous place, but mostly to the inmates. Why? There are some inmates on the mainline with violent tendencies. They can't be reasoned with or bargained with and they feel no shame, remorse, or pity. These men truly believe that violence and intimidation are the only options to obtain what they want and they will not stop or change for nothing or no one. Fortunately, most of those violent inmates don't stay at San Quentin for very long. They usually get into trouble and get shipped out to a level 3 or 4 prison. Some of the most violent inmates can also end up in a maximum security unit called the SHU (pronounced like shoe). Security Housing Units are located in high security prisons like Pelican Bay, Corcoran, or High Desert. But violent inmates can also have a hard time in prison because of the specially trained prison guards that work up in the prison towers that surround the institution.
Men serving time are issued blue-colored clothing and brown work boots or black cloth shoes. So inmates are walking targets for the Correctional Officers that work up in the towers. Prison guards tha work up there are specially trained to shoot at inmates with long range rifles in specific circumstances. For instance, if an inmate attempts to escape, officers are allowed to shoot and kill the inmate to prevent it. If an inmate assaults a prison guard, staff member, administrator, or outside volunteer, he risks getting shot to death on sight. Moreover, if an inmate uses any type of weapon or "shank" during a fight or riot he may be shot at by the tower officers. Simply put, inmates who engage in violent behavior can be shot to death.
Fortunately, San Quentin's mainline is level 1 and 2. The most common form of violence on the mainline is the occasional fistfight or "mutual combat" between a couple of inmates. Fights like these usually stem from heated arguments. More serious forms of violence at San Quentin generally occur in the Reception Center, so the mainline is relatively safe. Additionally, the quality and quantity of rehabilitation programs available at San Quentin become incentives for men to behave, so if more prisons had programs like San Quentin, violence would definitely decrease. The San Quentin TRUST is one of the many programs available to help men who want and need to address issues like anger, abuse, and violence prevention. It is critical to assist the men who want, seek, and need help so that violence no longer becomes an option for them. It's a serious problem in our society that cannot be cured with incarceration alone.
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In 1994, Californian's voted 3 strikes into law to keep violent and repeat offenders, like the man who kidnapped, raped, and murdered Polly Klaus, off of the streets indefinitely. However what most voters didn't realize was that the current 3 strikes law allows for a LIFE sentence for the conviction of any 3rd felony, even ones that are non-violent, non-serious. As a result, there are now over 3,000 men and women in California state prisons serving Life sentences for non-violent/non-serious felonies...
In addition, according to the current 3 strikes law, non-violent/non-serious 3rd strikers must serve 25 years before being eligible for parole, whereas first and second degree murderers are eligible for parole after serving only half of their sentences* Take me for example; my 3rd strike is possession of a firearm, a non-violent/non-serious felony, and I am serving more time than people who have actually used a firearm to kill someone. Does this seem right to you? California is alone in this regard. In fact, all of the other 25 states that have passed 3 strike laws, none sentence people to Life in prison unless the 3rd strike is a violent or serious felony. Proponents of 3 strikes will tell you that the law is only used on the worst violent repeat offenders, but the truth is, 43% of those convicted of 3rd strikes are serving life sentences for non-violent/non-serious offenses...
Proponents of 3 strikes also assert that the current 3 strikes law is responsible for a reduction in violent crime which in turn translates into savings for the state. The truth is, recent studies show the current 3 strikes law has not had any effect on violent crime rates in California** and is in fact adding an unnecessary fiscal strain to California's existing budget crisis...
Now, with college tuition fees at an all time high, schools closing at an alarming rate, and police forces being scaled back due to lack of funding, ask yourself, "Are life sentences for non-violent/non-serious 3rd strikers the most efficient way to use California's limited resources?"
I have utilized my time in prison as an opportunity to seek out help and learn how to develop insight into who I was, why I committed the crimes that I have committed, as well as understand the impact that those crimes have had on my victims, their families, and their community. Because of the help I've received and effort I've put forth, I am no longer the self centered, irresponsible, criminal minded 25 year old I was in 1994. Today, I am a focused, compassionate man that truly cares about the lives of others. In 2011, I earned my Associates of Arts degree from Patten University at San Quentin and through programs like The Last Mile, Breaking Barriers, Project REACH, Centerforce, The San Quentin TRUST, and No More Tears, I have also been blessed with the opportunity to contribute to the very community that has given me so much.
As a result of all these opportunities, and my dedication to leaning the most from each of these experiences, I now have several job offers, a relapse prevention plan, transitional housing, a violence prevention plan, and a full support system to assist me at being successful when I am released. July 9th, 2012 marked my 18th year of incarcerations a non-violent, non-serious 3rd striker. I am ready to take everything I've learned from my prison experience and translate it into successful parole...
-Chisfino Keyatta Leal
(Trustfellow Leal forms part of the Executive Committee of the San Quentin TRUST and is a founding member of The Last Mile. More of his thoughts and wisdom can be found on the Dailylove.com and on TheLastMile.org. The complete transcript of the above can be found on Quora.com)
*Prior to 1998, the minimum base terms on life sentences--with the possibility of parole--could be reduced to 85% or to 50% depending on the year the defendant was sentenced. Today, a life sentence with the possibility of parole mandates that 100% of the minimum base term be served.
**Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, "Striking Out: California's '3 Strikes And You're Out' Law Has Not Reduced Violent Crime, A 2011 update," April 2011.
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A man wakes up at 5am. He makes his bed and goes to the sink to brush his teeth. He turns on the TV and listens to the morning news. He combs his hair, put on deodorant, gets dressed, and glances at a photograph of his children.
He rushes to have breakfast. He doesn't want to be late for work. He burns his tongue with the hot coffee--it wakes him up even more. He wolfs down some cold waffles, grabs his lunch, and rushes off to work. He walks to work every morning. Even on foot, he stops and yields to an ambulance that speeds on by.
He walks through the employee entrance at the planet, punches his time card, and goes to his work area. Manual labor. He works hard because those who haven't are being laid off. He has no other source of income. He doesn't make enough money to help his family. His wages are garnished because he owes money to the government. He cannot take a vacation or travel. He doesn't even have a phone. The "American Dream" may never happen for him. He doesn't have a credit card, but he does have a library card. He works a full day. As he leaves at the end of his shift, he looks forward to a shower and some dinner.
The shower feels good on his back. As he rinses off, he feels hungry. He gets out, dries off, and gets ready for dinner. As he eats, he remembers that he has to attend an AA meeting that evening. He is also anxious about the decision he recently made to go to college. He had been going to night school to study for the GED test. It took a couple of years, but he passed it. He's in his late 40's.
His back aches. He used the toilet and combs his salt and pepper hair. Before he leaves to the AA meeting, he briefly turns on the TV to check the score. His TV is old and does not work very well. He cannot afford a flat screen digital TV. His team is playing, but he has to go to the meeting. If he starts going to college next month, he'll miss a major game.
He arrives on time. After the meeting, he thinks of his mother. He also misses his kids. He strikes up a conversation with some old friends. They've got their problems too. He says goodbye and leaves. He decides that before he goes to bed, he will call his elderly mother. He wonders what he will say to her. He wishes he can help her with some money. His wife left him over 15 years ago and his adult children have long forgotten about him and moved on. He does not want to get depressed, so he thinks about going to college for the first time. His first course might be an arithmetic class. He'll tell his mother about the college decision.
He dials her number and her phone rings. She picks up the receiver and hears the familiar recording: "You have a collect call from an inmate at a California Correctional Facility in San Quentin, CA. To accept, dial 1." She presses the 1 button. "Your call is being connected." "Hi son!" she says. "Hi ma!", he shoots back. "What have you been up to?" she asks. "Not much," he replies, "but guess what? I'm starting college next month."
(This is what a typical day might look like for a programming inmate on the mainline at San Quentin State Prison. Several prisoners work in full-time positions at the Prison Industry Authority (PIA) plant that manufactures furniture for prisons and other state government. The average inmate pay is about 50 cents an hour. San Quentin also has an on-site hospital and firehouse with ambulances that occasionally drive by on a small road on the edge of the lower yard area.
San Quentin's mainline is a level two facility that has over 60 outside volunteer programs---like AA, Anger Management, and Violence Prevention--to help men rehabilitate themselves at little or no state expense. San Quentin is also home to the only professional staffed, on-site college program--with volunteer graduate students and college professors from Bay Area universities--at no public expense. (visit www.prisonuniversityproject.org
) No other state prison in California has the quantity and quality of programs available at San Quentin. No other prison allows this level of rehabilitation. The Warden, the administration, and the correctional staff at San Quentin should definitely be commended for their support. Because of California's "Tough on Crime" legislation of the 80's and 90's, many men languish in prison well into their 40's and 50's--for the lapses of judgment they had in their 20's---at taxpayer expense.)
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The San Quentin TRUST is proud to introduce to the world, Mr. Nghiep Ke Lam, better known as Ke Lam. Ke is pronounced like "key". Ke took and passed the GED and then earned his Associates of Arts degree. He subsequently received specialized training in, and is qualified as, a Rape Crisis Counselor. He has participated in workshops dealing with anger management and practices Yoga. He has extensive vocational training in the plumbing and sheet metal trades.
This 35-year-old health nut, who was named athlete of the year by San Quentin News, has been involved in several groups in addition to TRUST.....VEOG (Victim Offender Education Group), Next Step, SQUIRES (San Quentin Utilizing Inmate Resources, Experience and Studies.), IMPACT (Incarcerated Men Putting Away Childish Things), Non-Violent Communication, Katargo, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Richmond Project, ARC (Addiction Recovery Counseling), CRI (California Re-Entry Institute), Brothers Keepers, Centerforce, and Yoga. He is also one of the founding members of Kid CAT (Creating Awareness Together)
During his 18 years of rehabilitation, he aquired and developed skills in landscaping, child & elder care, carpentry, auto body, event organizing, janitorial or custodian, physical therapy, and in housekeeping. Wow!
The San Quentin TRUST is fortunate to have him as a Trustfellow!
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Untapped resource is in-depth profiles of strengths and talents of the Trustfellows.
Trust the facts. In 2000, there were approximately 1.4 million people incarcerated in the United States. In 2009, that number increased to 1.6 million. 87.1% were in state prisons and 12.9% were in federal prisons. There were 502 prisoners per 100,000 U. S. residents. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Justice.
Trust the numbers. In California, there were 171,275 at the end of 2009. It costs California tax payers between $39k and $75k to house each inmate in any one of the state's 33 prison institutions.
Trust the truth. The amount of tax dollars spent to keep ONE state prison inmate locked up is around the same amount needed to pay for the salary of one public school teacher. One prison inmate. One public school teacher.
One prisoner. One teacher. Each teacher can teach 25 to 30 kids during a school year, and that doesn't count all of the volunteer hours teachers put in for children in other areas like sports, music, or tutoring.
The cost to incarcerate two inmates in state prison can pay for the salary and benefits for one firefighter or police officer. Two inmates. One firefighter. Two inmates. One police officer.
Trust the reality. San Quentin state prison houses almost 5,000 inmates. How much tax money is being diverted from education to the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation? How many teachers have been laid off in California? How many schools have been closed down? How many firefighters have been laid off? How many firehouses have been closed? How many police officers have been laid off?
Trust your judgment. Former Governor Arnold Schwartzeneggar added the word "rehabilitation" to the prison system's name. If inmates are being rehabilitated at taxpayer expense, has the rate of recidivism among inmates sentenced to determinate terms gone down?
Trust the history. Inmates sentenced to death and those with sentences of Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) will most likely spend the rest of their lives in prison. But there are those who are sentenced to indeterminate terms. If taxpayers dollars are being utilized to rehabilitate those sentenced to Life with the Possibility of Parole, has the number of parole dates for those inmates increased? Moreover, every commissioner that sits on the Board of Parole Hearings in California earns a six figure salary on the taxpayers tab.
Californians are compelled to pay for retributive justice through incarceration while also paying to reduce recidivism through rehabilitation. Furthermore, taxpayers must accept the redirections of funds that result in teacher lay-offs and public school closures.
Trust what is. Find out what is going on.
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The San Quentin TRUST is proud to introduce to the world, Mr. Michael Tyler. Michael too and passed the GED and went to college to earn his Associate of Arts degree. He is currently working on earning his Bachelors of Science degree. He has been trained to work in sheet metal, office services, as a machinist, and on how to operate forklift. This young man is also an experienced facilitator for the San Quentin TRUST.
During his 16 years of rehabilitation, this 33 year old bachelor took advantage of groups to educate himself while helping others with their recovery goals. In addition to being Chairperson of the Education Committee for the San Quentin TRUST, he has engaged himself in many groups throughout the years.
He has participated in groups like VOEG (Victim Offender Education Group), Next Step, SQUIRES (San Quentin Utilizing of Inmate Resources, Experiences, and Studies), IMPACT (Incarcerated Men Putting Away Childish Things), REAL Choices, Non-Violent Communication, Katargeo, Creating a Positive Attitude, Alcoholics Anonymous, ARC (Addiction Recovery Counseling), No More Tears, and is a founding member of Kid CAT (Creating Awareness Together). The
San Quentin TRUST is fortunate to have this energetic dynamo as a Trustfellow.
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To better understand recidivism, more information on how people are sentenced should be shared. There are four types of prison sentences in California; determinate, indeterminate, LWOP, and death.
A determinate sentence has a definite date for mandatory release on parole. An indeterminate sentence has a date granted and set by the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH), so release from prison is discretionary. Indeterminate sentences are also known as Term-to-Life or Life WITH the possibility for parole, e.g. 7 to life, 15 to life, 25 to life, etc. A prison sentence of Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) does not have a release date. A sentence of Death does not have a release date.
A person sentenced to LWOP or Death will most likely die in prison custody and will not be released on parole. People with LWOP sentences must serve the remainder of their lives in a high security "level 4" prison institution and those sentenced to death are housed in a maximum security unit at San Quentin called Condemned Row. LWOP and Death sentences are usually ordered by court for convictions of 1st degree murder with "special circumstances" that make it especially heinous like rape, murder, child murder, or lying in wait.
Based on the above, recidivism can only involve individuals who have served determinate or indeterminate prison terms, but when it come to being released "early", it's not about good behavior, but about not engaging in misconduct.
In California, a determinate or indeterminate prison sentence first involves incarceration and then mandatory period of years on parole upon release from prison. The period of parole that California law requires depend on the type of sentence. Determinate sentences call for a parole period of 1 to 5 years. Indeterminate sentences call for a parole period of 5 years to life, depending on the severity of the condition.
A person sentenced to a determinate prison term is incarcerated for a set amount of years and then must be released on parole. If a prisoner does NOT engage in misconduct while in prison he or she may serve 85% of the prison sentence for a violent offense, and 50% or "half time" for a non-violent offense. Depending on the type of crime, any one of several enumerated "sentence enhancements" and determinate sentences can be as low as 1 year and as high as 100 years.
When a prisoner receives misconduct counseling or warning (known as 128's), or write-ups for serious misconduct (known as 115's), a prisoner forfeits the 15% or 50% of the full prison sentence he or she wouldn't have had to serve. So individuals who engage in misconduct while in prison can serve up to 100% of a determinate sentence.
Finally, a person sentenced to an indeterminate sentence, like 7 to life, 15 to life, or 25 to life, must first serve a minimum term before appearing before the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH). The minimum is usually the number in the prison sentence, i.e. for 7 to life, 15 to life, and 25 to life, 7, 15, and 25 are considered the minimum terms respectively. At a "sustainability hearing" before the BPH, the prisoner might be granted a parole date if he or she is able to demonstrate and convince 2 Board commissioners, who are mostly retired law enforcement officers appointed by the governor, that he or she is not currently dangerous. After the BPH reviews the inmate's Central File (C-File), the court record, a psychological evaluation, letters of opposition from the victims, the arresting police agency, and the prosecuting attorney, they review the letters in support of parole from employers, family, and friends of the inmate. If a date is set, it is sent to Sacramento for review and that can take up to 60 days. The parole date can be rescinded during that time. This can take an additional 90 days and the governor has the power to rescind parole date.
When it comes to recidivism, the rate for individuals who have served indeterminate sentences is about 1%. Those who have served determinate sentences make up the other 99%. Individuals who have served determinate terms do not have to appear before the BPH to be released on parole. But if they violate the terms of their parole or commit new offences, they must appear before the BPH in "revocation hearings". This is how your tax dollars are being spent and redirected, something for all taxpayers to think about.
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We want to respectfully share our views along with the facts. We want to express ourselves while taking the truth and our reality into consideration, with no offense to anyone.
To trust others is to have a firm belief, reliance, or confidence in thier honesty, reliability, or integrity. Those considered good are suitable for many purposes and are effective, efficient, or beneficial in producing favorable results.
We invite you to connect with the good in us. We all have goodness to share. What would you need to know in order to facilitate healing and achieve closure? What do you want to know to help achieve restoration and understanding? What can we do to help our collective humanity bring restorative justice into our communities? Please let us know.
We are aware of our lapses of judgement and of the ignorance, immaturity, or even emotional illnesses that led to our separation from our families and from all of you. We would never ask you to agree with or ignore our past errors, but would like to ask you to trust the collective good that exists in all of us. We encourage you to help is develop our sense of responsibility and accountability by giving us the benefit of the doubt. We are asking for a chance to tell the truth and to create trust. TRUST is good. The benefit of the doubt that you willingly provide to us allows our commone and collective good to nurture our hearts---and yours.
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We want to share the good we have, the love we have, and the trust we have with all of you.
The San Quentin TRUST is proud to introduce to the world, Mr Chrisfino Kenyatta Leal. In 2011 Kenyatta earned his Associates of Arts degree from Patten University, graduating top in his class as valedictorian! He is currently working as a Peer Health Educator for Centerforce and is a facilitator for both the Breaking Barriers class and No More Tears group. In fact he has provided Peer Health Education and training to more than 1,000 men at San Quentin and has facilitated the Breaking Barriers class for more than 500 men! Incredible!
Moreover, he is a graduate and founding member of the Last Mile business training program. This incredibly talented 43-year-old not only completed the TRUST curriculum, Project Management Training, and Facilitator Training, he now forms part of the Executive Body of the T.R.U.S.T as the Outside Coordinator! Wow!
Kenyatta has been in rehabilitation for 18 years and has amazing accomplishments to his credit. In addition to T.R.U.S.T., Centerforce and the Last Mile, he has been trained as a firefighter, has participated in the Insight Prison Project's VOEG (Victim Offender Education Group), Non Violent Communication, Project REACH (Reach for Education, Achievement, and Change with Help), Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, C.R.I. (California Reentry Institute) and Yoga. Furthermore, he completed the Graduate Seminar in Criminal Justice, a collaboration between Stanford University Law School and Patten University, in both 2011 and 2012.
From being a literacy tutor for Project REACH, to his participation in four Kairos retreats, this man has more than demonstrated his potential for success. He is reliable, a team player, and maintains a high level of integrity. The San Quentin TRUST is proud to have him as a Trustfellow and on its Executive Committee.
1. Billy Allen: "Dropping out of school is a big mistake. Education is important."
2. Angelo Falconi-Alvarez: "A high school diploma or GED is the foundation of the structure needed for success. Without a strong foundation, a structure can easily collapse."
3. James Cavitt: "Don't give up on yourself."
4. Dexter Coleman: "All the successful people in life graduated from high school and have gone on to be successful in what they do. Those who drop out struggle and can end up in penitentiaries."
5. Nate Collins: "Education is key. You never really know how important education is until later in life. Stay in school no matter how hard it is. That tenacity and drive that keeps you in school will help you in life along with the education acquired."
6. Larry Histon: " Education is the key to success and life. Honor God's word in your life."
7. Ke Lam: "The potential that you have right now will be greater if you stay in school."
8. Kenyatta Leal: "I dropped out of high school and look where it landed me. Dropping out is not the answer. In life it's important that you finish what you start. The decisions you make now will affect your future--big time."
9. Randy Maluenda: "Stick it out. It's going to be worth something later. It's the foundation to learn more advanced things."
10. Darnell Hill: "Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it. If you make the choice to give up on yourself, how can you have a future when you are already giving up on today."
11. Philip Senegal: "In order to become that person you desire, you must grow in every aspect of life. With education comes more responsibility."
12. Valeray Richardson: "Education is the key to life. It will open doors for you. In order to succed in life one must have an education."
13. James Houston: "You'll never reach your full potential if you choose not to invest in your greatest asset--yourself--through a high school education."
14. Rober Frye: "One thing that nobody can ever take away from you is your education. Education is the key to success."
15. Rodney Scott: "Don't do that. It's the most important thing you can do to make sound decisions. You need knowledge. Go to school and educate yourself."
16. John Neblett: "It's a mistake, based on my personal experience. You've got to be 100% certain of this choice. If you're not 100% it's probably a mistake for you."
17. Michael Tyler: "I'd suggest that you take the time to think about the decision you're about to make. Realize that it's a decision that will affect the rest of your life. If you need help with this, don't be afraid of ask."