Our Wedding Day, by Jimmy

Our Wedding Day, by Jimmy

Our Wedding Day

Jimmy, 38

Incarcerated: 20 years

The most beautiful dark brown eyes set in a divine Navajo face looked up at me. Her hair done in a ribbon, her dress and white blouse pressed. In her wedding dress, I saw her for the first time since she snagged me up at a powwow. I was scared, was I really good enough for this girl? I worried about whether or not I could make her happy, make her smile and laugh, and feel safe and supported. I have felt intense love and adoration for this woman since the day we met. Now, on our wedding day in Stockton Prison, my brain was melting into a sticky soup of doubt and self judgment. Then she smiled. I looked at this wonderful woman, and in those eyes I can never seem to look away from, I saw me, I saw us and I felt the deepest sense of tranquility I have only ever achieved in the hottest sweat lodges. She asked me if I was ready and I smiled and said yes.There were so many things that had gone horribly wrong leading up to October 15th 2022, our wedding day.

She agreed to marry me two years earlier. We turned in our papers to be married on June 8th of ‘21, but Covid killed our hopes, just like it almost killed me. With no visits, random phone times and almost no way of communicating, we both were scared, alone, and afraid for the other. But the prison emails and my long, consistent, weekly letter responses kept hope and our love alive. This girl, my wonderful blessing from the creator, who grew up on a reservation just north of mine, who spent the last several years waiting to marry me, and I her, patiently thinking and planning for us. She never faltered, never doubted, and kept me afloat. Without her I would have been totally lost years ago. She is my good medicine. When she said “I do” it was the most meaningful two words ever spoken to me. At night, I sit at our lodge in San Quentin and I count all the reasons why I am so in love with this wife of mine.


Reliving the Good, Bad and the Ugly with Michael

Reliving the Good, Bad and the Ugly with Michael

Reliving the Good, Bad and the Ugly

March 31, 2023

I just had one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I spent twelve hours over two days visiting two family members in the prison’s visiting room. Lace 41 years old and Liv 14 years old traveled from Portland, Oregon to see me. I have listened to Liv call out “I love you uncle Mike” over the phone for her entire life. This was the first time she and I have looked into each other’s eyes and spoken. She loves school, soccer, boys, and family. Every second of life is precious for her and us. Liv was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer just over two years ago (Rhabdomyosarcoma). We didn’t speak on it. Each time we came close she would begin fiddling with empty food wrappers on the table. Lace and I reminisced and brought familial memories to life for Liv to hear. The good, bad, and ugliness of a dysfunctional family and my eventually robbing banks. We spoke on how Hollywood romanticizes the crime of robbery from Robin Hood to George Clooney in “The Seven.” I explained that people are traumatized by these crimes. Bank robbery is not romantic or victimless. Everyone present is stripped of their civil rights and don’t know if they are going to live or die in those seconds. It was counterintuitive to paint myself in such a horrible light, but necessary for her to see me as the parole board and others do. Liv sees me reconnecting with my family, true self, and community in general. I am digging deep to restore the loving and social being I am. Being trusted enough for Lace to share her precious baby girl with me is something I will not sacrifice. I want to live the rest of my years with family in a home and not with strangers in a prison. Being hugged tightly and kissed on the cheek lightly is one of the most extraordinary experiences in my life. I am grateful to all that helped make this visit go so well.

A Grateful Uncle,


A Typical Morning

September 8, 2022

Waking up on the wrong side of the bed in prison can’t be helped. Since the beds are attached to the wall on one side, there is only one side to wake up to, and that’s in prison. But the quietest time in prison is from 11pm to 5am. Out of respect, all TVs, radios, and loud conversations cease after 10pm. I wake at 4:30am when the guard slams the locks open on our doors. Some guards put a little more snap into turning the key to ensure a bang loud enough to be heard 50 feet away. Occasionally, a guard will not be such a hater and will thoughtfully unlock it quietly. That kindness is always appreciated and welcomed. My celle rises and makes us both coffee. I often continue in lying in bed with my eyes closed. I hear him say, “Coffee’s on your shelf.” “Thank you,” I sleepily respond. Then I hear all the sounds of a person getting ready for the day. Going to the bathroom, washing his face, getting dressed, and when he’s finished, he lets me know by saying, “The floor’s all yours.” The cell is five and a half feet wide with only 22 inches of walkway, so there’s room for one of us on the floor at a time. At 5:30am the porter can be heard preparing a mop bucket that has one bad wheel to mop the tier before we are let out for chow. By that time, we are both fully dressed with spoons and forks in our pockets, ready for the walk and line to pick up our trays in the chow hall. That’s when the noise starts and doesn’t stop until 10 or 11pm.


Thanks, Steve

September 5, 2022

After eight years of ducking and dodging prison politics, I was finally in a Level Two prison–in San Quentin–and walking to my first for-credit college class. I was with another student named Steve. I explained how I had made a decision to abandon being a criminal in exchange for going to college. It was the first long-term plan I had ever made in my life. I told Steve that I thought I could earn a passing grade if I worked hard enough. He said that I should shoot for better than that. I argued that whether a doctor gets an A or a C, he’s still a doctor. He asked which doctor I would want working on me. For some time, Steve would not know how powerful that question would be. It haunted me. The fact was, I did not believe I was capable of earning an A. He motivated me to put my all into my new class and I earned an A- in intermediate algebra! Today, with only four credits to go, I’m holding a 3.51 GPA. Thank you, Steve.


What a Trip

August 28, 2022

What a trip. For over two decades I’ve listened to other prisoners describe their trips to ‘outside’ medical appointments. I often wished for a reason to be taken. Having to dress in an orange carrot suit, handcuffed to a waist chain, and shackled. This is enough for many to refuse the trip. When the opportunity finally came and I was asked if I wanted to refuse, “Hell no, let’s go!” was my response.

I came to prison at forty and am sixty-two now. I eagerly accepted the chains. Two guards were my armed escorts. The vans have cages constructed in the interior and there are two-by-four inch holes in a grate that covers the windows of a white van. It is enough to view the world from inside. As soon as we cleared the big gate, passing through the 25 foot walls, the visual world exploded. A panoramic of colors and distances not seen in so long, except on TV, captivated my whole being. I shifted my trussed up body so my face was flush to the grate, excitedly peering through one of the holes. Instead of seeing in yards, I could see for miles! The depth and dimensions of the real world are not captured on a TV screen. I could see the sunlight dancing off the water of the bay. The surface appeared to be covered in dazzling diamonds. Absolutely mesmerizing! All of the sudden a deep sense of sadness began to well up inside me. The realization of all the beauty I have been missing for so long threatened to overwhelm me. My eyes began to water. Everything blurred as I shook my head refusing to succumb. I’d waited a long time to take this trip and wanted to miss nothing.

I didn’t miss a thing. Besides all the vivid colors there were thousands of cars of every shade and shape. The same I noticed were the drivers. One lady looked over and saw me peering out of the van and smiled kindly. It felt good to be seen and warmly waved to. For years I’d been watching “Motorweek” to keep up on automotive technology. Now I was identifying all the different makes and models. Combustible, hybrid, and all electric. The freeway is like a huge moving car show. The award by far went to an Eddie Bauer Special Edition truck with everything a person would need to tackle and conquer the Badlands. Big knobby tires, lights everywhere, and protective armor along the bottom edges of the lifted body. The driver of the van made me feel like I was on a roller coaster ride. I laughed out loud from the giddiness of traveling so fast. Then I was shocked into silence by the surprising size of the windmills. I knew what Don Quixote must have felt like. Those machines are gigantuous! I’ve never seen anything that big moving.

Arriving at the hospital I walked, if that’s what it can be called in shackles, past people that either smiled warmly or kept their eyes averted nervously. I had my thumbs hooked into the waist chain like a cowboy and held my head high. Broken or not, I didn’t want to look like it. Shackles are difficult to master. I still have scabs on my achilles tendons from taking too big of a stride and the stainless steel digging into my skin.

The return trip was just as exciting with one significant difference. When I saw the prison in the distance, I was taken back by how small it is. The world I have created on the ‘inside’ has all the activity of the outside. I rise from my bed, commute to work five days a week, take night classes in college, engage in healthy activities on weekends, make new friends, and forget old ones. I do laundry, clean the house, read, watch TV, and go to sleep just to do it all again the next day. But, I do all of this within a walled area of five to ten acres. I was surprised at how big my world is in such a small space. I would eagerly go out into the outside world again. All I can say is: what a trip.

“My Mom” by Christopher

“My Mom” by Christopher

Christopher, 43
Incarcerated: 16 years

March 15, 2023

On March 2nd, I found out that my mom, Mary “Red” died. I have a hard time with emotions and how to release them, so much so I punched a wall and messed up my hand. She was the youngest of eight and crazy to boot. She’s Irish and Scottish with red hair and was a kind hearted person. I got my work ethic from her, she could out work anyone. I remember one time she brought me to her labor union job site after I got suspended, and these two fat guys were smoking and talking instead of working. So, she pushed them out of the way and started to dig the trench they were supposed to dig. I jumped in and started to work. Her boss let me work along with her and ended up paying me $8.00 an hour for the 10 hrs I put in. It’s hard to tell you how much I love my mom. I wish her a happy and carefree afterlife.

Eric’s Gallery

Eric’s Gallery


Artist Eric, 62

I’ve been in prison for nearly 35 of my 62 years on earth. Though I certainly regretted my role in the crime that took an innocent life, remorse didn’t fully begin to develop until I lost two of my own family members to gun violence in 2008.

Another significant factor in my overall rehabilitation came in 2015 when I was invited to paint murals at Avenal State Prison. I felt like I was doing what I was born to do. Painting became so therapeutic for me that I was moved to co-found a self-sustaining art group a year later in order to offer other inmates the opportunity to realize the same benefits I derived through this creative outlet.

Aspiring to produce more expressive works, my submissions to Humans of San Quentin depart somewhat from the photorealism I generally aim for. The abstract paintings “Peccani” and “Nil Desperandum” are expressions of contrition and hope, respectively. Nearly a decade ago I read an article about an abstractionist from the 1980s who found inspiration for his masterpieces by squeezing his eyes shut and observing the images captured there. Years later as I contemplated the impact of my crime while staring into middle space across the dayroom, I closed my eyes tightly against the tears that threatened there. The bright overhead lights and sunlight spilling in from the high windows burned their impressions into the dark red field of my eyelids. Influenced by this unorthodox technique, as well as “Light Red Over Dark Red” by Mark Rotuko, “Peccari” is both an abstraction of prison and an acknowledgment of my crime.

“Nil Desperandum” is not as solemn in its imagery or color scheme, but it lacks no depth in mood. Its inspiration came from a photograph by a well known Bay Area photographer, Amy Ho. About six years ago while flipping through pages of a photography magazine, I came across an ad for an art exhibit in San Francisco. A picture of “Wall Space II” was featured in the ad, and though it was no more than an inch in size, I was instantly captivated by the warm-toned image. It possessed for me both mystery and promise. Although my interpretation of Amy’s stunning photograph is rendered in cooler colors for a more ethereal effect, I hope it does not deviate too far from the emotions evoked in the original.


When did you start painting?

Evidently, I’ve been drawing since before I can remember. Literally. For far too long I had thought that my twin brother, William, and I started drawing when we were about five or six years old. This mistaken belief was dispelled when my mom came to visit in 2016. The conversation turned to a mural I had painted. My mom reached for my hand and told me an adorable story of when William and I were two and three years old. Our dad had taken her out for the evening, leaving us and our younger sister, Sheri, with the babysitter. When my mom and dad returned, the sitter met them in tears. Panicked, she pleaded, “I was with the baby, so I didn’t know what they were doing in there.” Instantly alarmed, my mom pressed the girl for answers. “You’ve got to see this for yourself,” as she led the way to our room. When she opened the door, my mom’s jaw dropped. William and I had used our crayons to draw on the walls of our bedroom. She said,”There were planes taxiing, taking off, in flight, and landing in a colorful panorama that spanned two of the walls your dad had painted earlier that day.” The cuteness of that story notwithstanding, I grew up in a dysfunctional household. Drawing became a means to escape the violence and neglect. I continued to draw throughout my life, but I felt like my work lacked emotion. I had been searching for years to find an outlet to express myself in more meaningful ways. Seven years ago, I was given the opportunity to paint murals. Although I had never painted before, I possessed an unflappable belief that I could. My very first painting was a 17’ x 81’ wide mural. It was so well received that other painting opportunities arose immediately. I began to notice self-confidence had gotten a bit of a boost from the adulation too. Coming from a broken home in disadvantaged neighborhoods, I had long struggled with low self-esteem and worthlessness. When I began to realize how transformative art had been for me, I co-founded Artistic Rehabilitative Therapy (ART), a group designed to offer incarcerated individuals the rehabilitative benefits I derived from painting. That’s when I really became mindful about what I painted. I wanted my work to represent where I am in my recovery. ART was so successful that we became self-sufficient in short order. With the invaluable support of Warden Ndoh and Dr. Hughes from Fresno State University’s criminology department, we became involved in community projects, had our work exhibited at their graduate gallery and at a year-long installation at Alcatraz Island. We also received local television news coverage. All of these accomplishments were character-building experiences for the men involved, and a reminder to me why painting is so important. 

What is art to you?

A nineteenth century American painter once observed that the purpose of art is not to teach, but to evoke an emotion. I hope the works that I present to the world today evoke emotions and express who I am today. It is liberating to be seen in my authenticity.

What made you want to share your work with Humans of San Quentin?

My answer is three-fold. First, I am pro-socially driven. Donating my artwork to worthy causes in the past have been rewarding experiences for me. I fully embrace the HoSQ ethos and was moved to offer what I could in support of their cause. Second, I have learned that the need to paint is an integral part of my rehabilitation. It helps me stay balanced and to express things that are too big for words. Like, remorse, for instance. Each of the paintings I submitted to HoSQ was accompanied by a brief explanation of the emotion that drives the piece, as well as its inspiration. But my motivation reaches further still. Recently, I was inspired by Zhenga Gershman, a Los Angeles-based artist who started a movement called “Brushes Over Bullets.” She paints portraits of people affected by war. Her current series features victims of Putin’s war in Ukraine. I was literally moved to tears by one of her paintings. It depicted a little girl crying and was aptly titled “Tears.” Notwithstanding my concern for the innocent lives lost and those who remain in peril from Russian aggression, the image of that little girl could have easily been culled from news stock of a child grieving the loss of a parent, sibling, or friend to gun violence in any American city. Gershman said she wants her viewers “to feel so much empathy that they’d rise up and do something.” She succeeded. I hope to emulate her movement in slightly different terms. I strongly believe a movement, perhaps “Canvases Over Crime,” depicting people impacted by crime, could dovetail into the victim impact pathos currently taught to offenders in prisons nationwide. I envision evoking empathy with indelible images that compel others to action, just as Gershman’s paintings moved me. If incarcerated people painted the images, they could develop empathy through the creative process. The idea is still in its embryonic stage, but I hope by sharing it on a social media platform through HoSQ, I may attract collaborators to help me see it through. Third, I have a voice of reformation that I believe can be heard through the HOSQ venue.”