Chairman's Chatter

Orlando Harris

T.R.U.S.T. Fellow since 2012

Chairman of the T.R.U.S.T.

Hello, My name is Orlando Harris, and I would like to share a few thoughts about how rehabilitation is transforming prison culture and the lives of many men.

 

Prison Culture:

“Say Homie where you from? You bang? Yo people kick it over there.”
“Say folks, I need to see your paperwork. “

(Definitions: Homie = friend, Bang = gang bang, paperwork = explaining what crime you’re in prison for.)

 

These were some of the questions I faced as a young man as I was assimilated into the prison culture. However, a shift has begun. Educators, legislators, judges, prosecutors and correctional leaders are now beginning to recognize the benefits of rehabilitative programs. Inmates arriving at San Quentin see that those questions are no longer the norm, they are quite different.

Today’s conversation sounds more like this:

“Say Bra, how far did you get in school? Do you want to get a high school diploma? You know they got a bunch of self-help programs here. They even offer a college degree.”

 

I can honestly say that prison culture has changed dramatically from when I was integrated into this culture. Although, naysayers will argue that it’s because of the lower custody level institutions - where inmate politics are not as prevalent - and I will concede there is some validity to this argument. However, the shift towards rehabilitation is changing prison culture. Men are developing an emotional intelligence, are learning how their crimes have impacted their victims, their victims families, their communities and themselves.

One group that is contributing to this transformation toward change is the San Quentin T.R.U.S.T. (Teaching Responsibility Through Sociological Training). Our curriculum is focused towards helping men turn liabilities into assets. Through self-exploration and self–reflection, men are challenged to question their beliefs, their choices and their lives. The San Quentin T.R.U.S.T. believes that History + Culture = Values, which shapes behavior: the cultural equation. Because of this connection, we are able to effectively help men change their lives.

Fellow Reflections

 

TRUST Fellows are Members who provide leadership

to the group for four hours each week:  

Chairing committees

 Organizing events 

Facilitating Workshops and Small Groups.

 

The following statements are taken from personal profiles, written

by the Fellows, based upon the following 5 questions:

What brought you to T.R.U.S.T? 

"A desire to join a well organized program and the community promoted by the men"

"It provided the little push I needed to wake up and embark on my journey"

"Camaraderie between brothers helping to open their eyes to their true self worth"

"I was looking for a way to give back to my community. I wanted to learn to bridge the gap

  between those of us in prison and the outside community."

"Workshops"

"An opportunity for change"

Why do you stay a Member of T.R.U.S.T.?

"My  passion is to be a better man than I was when I first came to prison."

"It is a community whose greatest contribution is to share our knowledge with others

and to reveal to others the richness of their own experiences."

"It allows us to view ourselves through a different lens, which fosters

trust, integrity, accountability and change."

"I stay with T.R.U.S.T. because I know there are men here in San Quentin who are lost

and looking for answers. Being in T.R.U.S.T. allows me the opportunity to enable

these men to reach potentials they may never have thought were obtainable."

"The sense of purpose the men of T.R.U.S.T. embody is something I have always longed for,

and it feels good to help where I can."

"The class helped me learn so much about myself, the way I think and

how these thoughts affect my behavior."

What has T.R.U.S.T meant to you? 

"T.R.U.S.T. holds a special place in my heart because its members helped me process

character flaws and distorted personal behavior patterns into pro social assets."

"I saw becoming a T.R.U.S.T. Fellow as a challenge I needed to take on. I had never been in a

position of leadership, and it was uncharted territory for me."

 

"It has given me a positive and proactive outlet for me to atone for my crimes and for me to

give honor and dignity to the memory of my victims and their surviving family members.

It's an extremely difficult road but I chose to walk the path."

"Thanks to T.R.U.S.T., my current image of myself is that of a sober, responsible and

conscientious individual who wants to do the right thing in his relationship 

with God, his community and himself."

 

"T.R.U.S.T. means value and a sense of restoration back to my true self.

It means I am now able to give, instead of take."

"T.R.U.S.T. for me is an opportunity to purge my negative belief system and

replace my old way of thinking with some new values and beliefs 

that will translate into positive behavior."

"T.R.U.S.T. has meant the complete transformation of character that it continues to

reinforce. Giving instead of taking, building as opposed to tearing down

and a sense of accountability and responsibility which all of the men strive to uphold."

What is the most important thing you have gained being a part of T.R.U.S.T? 

"Self worth and self confidence: I had none of that before coming to the T.R.U.S.T."

 

"It has taught me to open myself up to my fellow human beings, and to be selfless in my daily journey."

 

"It is gratifying to witness participants take their first steps in their journey of self-discovery and

self-improvement. The joy I get from seeing signs of hope in their eyes is priceless."

 

"My daily walk is that which helps, listens, practices patience and shows humility.

I didn’t become a criminal overnight and, so, being a man of integrity and accountability

now is replacing my previously flawed traits. This drives me to be a little better each day."

 

"I have gained awareness that my broken past is not my resident, and I should not allow it to

take refuge in my existence. I must always love and respect myself, as well as others.

Most importantly, I must be that lighthouse for others who are lost

in the raging waters of circumstance."

"Being reinvented is all about not being afraid to show who you really are. It is gratifying

to witness participants take their first steps in their journey of self-discovery and

self-improvement. The joy I get from seeing signs of hope in their eyes is priceless."

"The most important thing I have gained from being a member of T.R.U.S.T. 

is the feeling that I have made a small difference in the world. I have

found that I enjoy helping people, just as much as I like being helped,

to find a better way in life. Being a part of T.R.U.S.T. has given me an outlet for all

the guilt and shame I fell for the crime I committed. Also, it is a way to

channel that energy into something positive that helps my community,   

even though I am not actually out there yet."

What else would you like to share about yourself?

"The thing I would most like to share is that even though I am in prison and deserve to be so,

I am still a man who feels, who laughs and who cries. I am acutely aware that my victims don't

have the opportunity to do those very same things because of my actions and the fact that

I took a life. That's why I carry him with me, and in me, every day, everywhere I go, and

everything I do. I keep my victims foremost in my heart and mind, and I work tirelessly to help

the men in here become better, law abiding people. So, when they do get out of prison,

they truly do change from liabilities to society into assets to their communities.

If I can help keep other families from suffering through the pain and grief that I caused

to my victims, even if it is only one, then all the pain, sweat and tears are worth it."

"For too long, I caused nothing but pain and suffering to many people.

Aware that I am still a work in progress, I strive to do better so I can become better.

I am committed to live the rest of my life honoring all those I have harmed,

and I look forward to making a difference in this world; this time for the good."

"I have already started my lifelong and never ending quest for redemption with an

attitude of gratitude for God's mercy and help in my life.

He has forgiven the evil person I was. Remembering what works and does not

is important. I realize that unless I live my life to make the world a better place,

I'm not truly free. For that chance I am truly grateful. Life is to be lived.

That's what it's about. The End."

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