Do you remember your very first day at college? Where were you? What were your goals? Your expectations? Your biggest worry at the moment?
I attended college orientation at San Quentin last night. I was there to interview prisoners who are just starting their AA degrees with The Prison University Project, a program that enables student-prisoners to obtain accredited AA degrees through classes taught on-site by volunteer professors from local Bay Area universities and colleges. Many of the students haven't been in school for decades. Most have remedial-level reading and writing schools. Some have obtained multiple *non-accredited* AA degrees via correspondence programs that never meet in-person and that use scantron quizzes to advance students through their program. And none of the students had been in a classroom for many, many years.
It was fascinating to get a small, brief window into the internal and external lives those behind bars lead. The students were asked to introduce themselves and name a film or book that has stuck with them. The list was pretty stellar: Amadeus, The Color Purple, Lord of the Rings, Roots, Decoded (by Jay-Z) and Talladega Nights, are just a few. One man listed both Scarface and The Bible. But the book rec I'm going to follow-up on right away was for The Magician's Tale, a thriller about an SF photographer with a severe form of color-blindness who can only go out at night.
It was an interesting and inspiring evening. Hope to share some of these mens' voices and stories later this year.
*The pic is of a cousin (my grandpa's cousin) George Redmond. George, his brother, and their dad all spent time at San Quentin.