In addition, I have another grandson, who I talk to on the phone, so he knows me. He calls me Blue Grandpa because he says every time he sees me I have on blue.
Receiving the invitation from Humans of San Quentin makes me feel human. This is not to say that I didn’t feel human before, but it makes me feel good to know that we on the inside are thought of.
I work for San Quentin Television (SQTV), and I’m also the executive director of the San Quentin Prison Report, which is an award-winning video and radio program that highlights the transformative work of the men inside SQ. I went from doing short-form storytelling to more of a documentary style, and I have a few in the works currently One is Growing Up Behind Bars, a dive into the lives and rehabilitative journeys of juvenile offenders serving life (learn more at growingupbehindbars.com). I’m also working on a story about Watson Allison, who spent 31 years on death row and in the middle of quarantine received a date and went home. I’m also a part of other San Quentin groups including Day of Peace, Mental Wellness, and the SQ Basketball Program. Mostly I am a filmmaker trying to change the prison narrative.
Language is important to me, and I am passionate about changing the language of incarcerated people. As vice president of our chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), I’m working to change how mainstream media labels incarcerated people and I ask that people not use words like inmate or prisoner. We believe it is more humanizing to call people by their names or just collectively refer to them as “people.” I’m not an inmate or a prisoner. I am a person who happens to be incarcerated. We’re incarcerated people and returning citizens. Changing the language could change our narrative.
As I sit here in 2020, looking at the pictures of me seeing my grandson for the first time, I think about 2019 and the first time I saw my granddaughter Dakota. I see my family once a year through a program called Get on The Bus, a program that connects kids with their incarcerated parents. Since 2012, it’s been my only outlet for visitation with my family.
I was so nervous and excited while I waited to see my grandbabies. To pass the time, I tried to keep busy while I hung with the SQ Basketball Program. Finally, I heard my name being called, and I couldn’t get to the visiting room fast enough. My daughter gave me a huge hug, reached down to the baby seat and handed me my granddaughter. We took a few pictures and my daughter watched me the whole time while I ate and played with Dakota. For those two hours, I felt on top of the world, and when they concluded I was at a loss. I cried while I walked back to the yard, but I couldn’t wait to show off my pictures.
Earlier this year, I was finally graduating with an AA degree from Mt. Tamalpais College, the on-site college program here at SQ. I invited my family, my kids and grandkids; I had my heart set on seeing my loved ones. In addition, I have another grandson, who I talk to on the phone, so he knows me. He calls me Blue Grandpa because he says every time he sees me I have on blue. However, COVID-19 prevented me from celebrating my graduation in their joyful presence.
I worked so hard to finally be able to graduate and COVID-19 took that away, like it took so many things from other people. Receiving so many pictures from my family and not being able to see them this year really solidified that I am overly ready to go home after 22 years of missing out on their lives.
I’m thankful to have my kids and grandkids in my life. I’m also thankful to have my fiancée Lisa, who keeps me grounded and strong and tells me when I’m right or wrong. If there’s one piece of advice I could give people out there in society it would be that when you find yourself feeling like things are not going your way or life is too hard to deal with, just think about me. I would change places with you any day of the week. Try waking up in a cage as big as your closet everyday, yet still being able to keep your head up and stay positive through these unprecedented times.