San Quentin Inmates Create Freedom Within Prison Walls

Prisoners are transforming themselves through arts, sports and education, according to volunteers.

The inmates at San Quentin State Prison are locked behind bars, but they still manage to find moments of freedom.

The prison sits on prized acreage in Marin County, with million-dollar views of the bay and quiet beaches and suburban communities nearby. Although inmates are mostly separated from the neighboring communities, they do find connections to the outside world.

Volunteer programs focused on education, the arts and sports help inmates transform their lives, according to Suraya Keating, who works with the Marin Shakespeare Company and helps get inmates involved in the theater.

"When a person who has gone to the depths of the shadow of our society can actually redeem themselves through the arts -- there's a real gift in that to inspire us to be the best we can be," said Keating, who has helped produce a number of Shakespeare's plays with San Quentin inmates.

Olympic tennis gold medalists Bob and Mike Bryan visited the prison in August for a friendly match with some star-struck fans. The inmates weren't quite at the level of the Bryan Twins, but they showed some talent and competitive spirit.

Several inmates recently took advantage of some time in the yard to run a marathon — 26.2 miles on a quarter-mile track inside prison walls. Volunteer coach Frank Ruona inspired 21 members of the prison's 1,000-Mile Club toward the finish line, as chronicled on The California Report.

Eddie Herena, 29, started running in prison and has won two prior marathons. He's doing 15 years to life for stabbing a man to death.

Herena told The California Report: "(Running) takes you away, your mind is no longer here. I'm somewhere else, I'm in a different world." Where, exactly? He laughs, "Sometimes I imagine I'm in the Olympics or something. It's pretty cool."

Some of the men keep up their training even after they're paroled. And Ruola is right there to encourage them and to help them train for races.

GAFlynn December 07, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Sounds like some very supportive activities taking place at the prison-thanks to the many dedicated volunteers.
Allyson West December 08, 2012 at 06:44 PM
A much longer, more comprehensive story is needed here! Thousands of volunteers from all over California come to work with the men at San Quentin. Programs include: California Reentry Program, Prison University Project, Insight Prison Project, Centerforce, Insight Garden Program and many, many others. There are reading, GED, parenting, yoga, gardening, religious, and every ilk of self-improvement programs, many of which were started by the prisoners themselves. It's an inspiration, the work these men are doing, and more focus should be put on them.


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