San Quentin Speaks -- #SafetyIs
Below you will find a series of stories from people currently incarcerated at San Quentin sharing what safety means to them. To respond to any of the pieces, you may email your response to the Ella Baker Center at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like the author or artist to be able to reply to you directly please include your mailing address and written consent for us to share with the author/artist.
- Feeling the strength and power that friends give you through loving presence. To feel the comfort from human contact, may that be seeing a smile or hearing kind words or the warmth felt by a tight hug.
- Juan Moreno Haines
- Communities with more opportunities than obstacles.
- Rahsaan "NY" Thomas
- Awareness of an unseen hand slappin’ food and water out of your mouth, snatchin’ the carpet from under your feet, and strippin’ your clothing from your back.
- Mr. Derry Brown
- Having the ability to humanize each other… and truly come from a place of care and concern.
- Rhashiyd S. Zinnamon
Juan Moreno Haines
Safety is living in a community where every human being has access to his or her own path to happiness. Moreover, it is a right that is fundamental to the American culture.
Safety is living in a community where interference to ones right to shabbiness is shunned and compassion, empathy, and giving are highly valued.
Safety is being around people who are protective of everyone’s own choice to how his or her path to happiness looks like.
Most of all, safety is living in a community where citizens are free from all forms of violence from individuals, gangs, police, corporations, drug dealers, or Presidents.
Promise yourself to be so strong that,
Nothing can disturb your peace of mind,
to talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet,
To make all your friends feel that there is something in them,
to look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true,
To think only the best,
to work only for the best,
and to expect only the best,
to be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own,
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future,
To wear a cheerful expression at all times,
and give every living creature you meet a smile,
To give so much time to the improvements of yourself that you have no time to criticize others,
To be too large for worry,
too noble for anger
too strong for fear
and too happy to permit the presence of trouble,
to think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world,
Not in loud words, but great deeds, and winning strategies, that build Power,
become an activist like Madeleine McGrawe and Emily Harris,
To live in faith that the whole world is on your side somewhere… within… you.
For me, safety is a unicorn galloping through a meadow, playfully chasing a velociraptor. No lone wolf in sight. It's a world without bullies, where the insecure are rushed to feel secure. A world where school shooters can't exist, because we've never let them sit alone at the lunch table. We've invested in them, and they have invested in us, and as Martin showed us, we've all recognized the interrelatedness of all communities. It's a world in which the effects of trauma are treated, not criminalized. It's a world in which the idea of caging another person/animal/orientation would be ridiculous.
I could go home tomorrow, land my dream job and my dream partner, but I will never know safety until everyone is safe. Safety is a world where 535 men would never think to sit in Washington D.C. and debate what a woman can or can't do with their bodies. Or just who is a woman. It would mean equal pay, equal rights, equal resources. Education would be so much of a right that our most talented educators would flock to the least educated comers of this world. Speaking of which, safety must include a reality where no one will ever be taken away at gunpoint or have their family forcibly ripped apart because they are "undocumented.” Simply put, safety is a world without oppression. It is a world in which life is valued more than commodities.
Sadly, I see far too many velociraptors and far too few unicorns. One day though, the unicorn and velociraptor will lie down together, and we will create safety for all. Why? Because we must.
Art by Orlando
I used to think that safety was the absence of violence and hostilities. However, I have learned that I can be safe in spite of hostilities and the potential for violence. I realize that in order to experience safety I have to intentionally cultivate a sense of community. I have to choose to come out of my comfort zone in order to embrace people that may feel alienated, ostracized, or oppressed. I have to choose to be vulnerable because I know better and I’ve felt uncomfortable, alienated, and oppressed myself. It was when I did not feel welcomed in an environment that I did not invest myself in it. Safety is an embracing community and community builds safety.
Philippe “Kells” Kelly
I think about the times when crime was a necessity, I know that sounds crazy but that was the reality. Stealing food, clothes, VCRs for a sandwich desperation poverty this structure is outlandish which makes it even worse crack and military pistols getting pushed to erase any trace of legacy input. Never would consciously still partaking in the madness really helping others is a passion Imagine the world was thriving off compassion depression and panic no longer in in the psyche. All gang members come together rebuild the destruction shining bright lights in the darkness. A place where our kids can be safe really make it through the day equal opportunity for our women and the gay. Cops killing black males in the streets off indoctrines, economic prejudice concoctions stop raping women stripping them of their essence instead treat them better than their own imagination. No fatherless child or homes graffiti riddled scenes separation in relationships living on the streets take pride in responsibility make a difference in the world that yo grand kids can see. Better education for all resolve all conflicts level playing field no attachments.
Roberto A. DeTrinidad
…being able to discover and be your true self.
…bravery without being punished for it.
…having sole control of my life decisions.
…watching loved ones come and go without needing to fear for their well-being.
…being able to err, learn, and grow from it.
…freedom from pressure that tries to lead us astray.
…respect and love for another human being simply for the existence of the light inside of them.
What does the word liberation mean to you?
This year liberation means - continued support of the human race through my artwork.
What gives you hope? What keeps you going?
Hope for me in this moment demands faith, for faith - is - sustains things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.
How does your incarceration affect your family or loved ones on the outside? Have you been able to connect with them?
After serving 35 years and no hope of being with family again... Read the Full Interview Here
What Safety is to Me
Safety is knowing that if my addiction problem ever rears its ugly head again while I’m living in the free world – I will be able to make one or two phone calls to secure a bed in a residential treatment facility – regardless of whether or not I have healthcare insurance.
Twenty-one years ago I reached out for help but was turned away at every avenue. Family and friends didn’t want to take the risk of having an addict live with them (I don’t blame them), and the residential treatment facilities I contacted both had long waiting lists and required healthcare insurance.
So, I continued in my addiction, going through jobs – sadly knowing in my heart that each new job wouldn’t last long because I’d end up eventually screwing it off by not showing up. Thus, I’d start each new job with joy in my head and sadness in my heart.
Eventually I hit bottom, bringing my wife with me, committing two second degree robberies using notes – netting $130 and $200 – causing the two cashiers both fear and emotional trauma. My wife was sentenced to jail and drug rehab, while I was “struck out” and sentenced to 50 years to life.
Therefore, safety to me is knowing there is immediate, free of charge, residential drug treatment available when needed.
Public safety for me it does not have to be tangible. When being in public I am not safe do to the toxins being absorb through the skin, nose, and mouth makes it’s destination to my blood, lungs, and brain.
Public housing is usually customized for people of color and poverty. Most people you ask, what is the safest place for you? Home! Not so much, lead paint, pressurized wood, and contaminated water. These hazardous particles are going into a baby inside the womb and even outside the womb causing neurological damage and other long term effects that become a camouflage for other things a decade later (cancer, kidney). Safety to me is a way of life that everyone deserves to live a blissful healthy life.
Safety in the Neighborhood
Safety is everyone speaking and greeting one another on a daily basis in the neighborhood we live.
Safety is when your kid is able to cross into a neighbor’s yard or fence to retrieve a frisbee or any toy without fear of the neighbor placing the child at risk.
Safety is when your neighbor can report to a parent without fear of retribution when they witness a kid(s) doing something wrong.
Safety is when a minister, or elderly person can take strolls through the neighborhood without fear of being accosted.
Safety is walking your pet and assured that it nor yourself will be threatened or attacked by any pets that are unleashed.
Safety is sitting in your living room and the only trajectory that could possibly crash through your window is a kid’s baseball.
Safety is when taking your family on a scenic Sunday drive through any street, neighborhood or highway without fear of trepidation other than being watchful of children playing or pedestrian crossing streets.
Big thanks to Lisa Hunter and Ali Butler Glenesk for transcribing the stories.
To watch more about what safety means to the people inside San Quentin, click here.