I hope and pray all of you and all your loved ones are in the very best of health and spirits, and as safe as can be.
I first heard of the Humans of San Quentin from Diane Kahn, an idea she wanted to make happen. I offered to help in any way I can. Miguel Sifuentes came to the library, where I was gainfully employed touting the merits and importance of literacy, and photographed me helping my friend Nasir find the meanings of and synonyms for the word “Terrorism.” Miguel Interviewed me shortly thereafter. That was my first exposure to the Humans of San Quentin, the first of a few appearances.
I started reading the stories and found myself intrigued. I had never seen such authentic stories. What I mean by that is, so often there are certain organizations seeking to satisfy their curiosity or assuage their guilt or both by granting people who are incarcerated the wonderful privilege of having their voices heard and their artwork seen. Most of the time, such organizations request these submissions then disappear, using incarcerated voices to push their own agendas. Such work is heavily edited or sparsely displayed, to say nothing of any continued correspondence. I even had one group try to force me to permanently sign over my art or else “we can’t display your work.”
This has not been the case with the humans of San Quentin. These stories are told in authentic voices relating stories of triumphs and defeats in startling detail and blatant honesty.
Now, I try to get as involved as possible, but I get very busy, and the inside team meetings happen during my creative writing class, a class I need to improve my writing. This does little to curtail my efforts to help the Humans of San Quentin spread their message of true stories told from those who tell them instead of some filter of manipulative exploitation, false generosity described as charity and opportunity, and disguised as compassion and empathy to a cause far removed from their lives.
To everyone reading anything from the Humans of San Quentin, know these true stories come from real people struggling to become better people in a space that is not really designed for such reflection, and shown by people who genuinely care about the condition of men and women in prison.
Thank you for reading our stories. I hope and pray that they make you better people as well, because, if we’re not working toward improving our quality of life, we are wasting time in our precious human lives. To the Humans of San Quentin team, inside and out, thank you for giving we the incarcerated a place to express ourselves.
Please take good care and please be safe.
I am the Human Sun of San Quentin,
Mesro Dhu Rafa’a
Peace and Blessings!