Ronnie Goodman, beautiful soul

I was very sad to learn that the artist Ronnie Goodman died in his homeless encampment on 16th and Capp. I met Ronnie in San Quentin where he was a fixture in the art studio. He did the covers for two of our anthologies and was beloved by many in and out of San Quentin. I was so glad when he got out and was able to enjoy painting, running, and breathing in the beauty of the city.

I didn’t know Ronnie as well as many people in Arts in Corrections at San Quentin, but I knew enough to know that he was a gentle and generous soul who walked lightly in this world, giving himself away. I’m heartbroken to hear that he died so young when he still had so much to give that the world needs. But it’s clear he touched many, many people in his 60 years on this planet.

Thank you, Ronnie.

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“Aren’t You Grateful You’re Not In Prison Anymore?”

An OG’s Perspective by Watani Stiner

This article will be featured in a forthcoming issue of the San Quentin News.

Arnulfo Garcia, Juan Haines, pre-parole Watani, and Kevin Sawyer at a Creative Writing annual reading, 2014 (photo by Peter Merts)
Watani returns to San Quentin post-parole in 2015 and is welcomed warmly (photo from Life of the Law 2015)

Watani Stiner was interviewed by his former creative writing teacher, Zoe Mullery, on July 22, 2020, regarding the outbreak of Coronavirus at San Quentin State Prison. Watani paroled from San Quentin in January 2015 after serving 26 years (5 from 1969-1974, when he escaped; 21 more from 1994-2015 after he voluntarily returned from being a fugitive in South America, in order to assist his children to be able to come to the US.)

ZOE: Watani, you were telling me that you were having a reaction to some things you have heard well-meaning family members and other people say about the situation in San Quentin. Can you tell me what you were feeling about the questions they were asking you?

WATANI: What’s going on inside San Quentin and the situation with COVID-19 that’s devastating that place—for someone who was inside for 21 straight years, that brings up a whole lot of feelings inside of me. Even though I’m out of San Quentin now, the relationships with people I grew to love and who I worked with for 21 years are very much alive. When people talk about what’s going on inside San Quentin now it’s always framed like: “Aren’t you grateful you’re not in prison anymore?” It’s not that simple. I have deep relationships that were formed over many years of incarceration. And now I’m out. And it’s as if I’m supposed to feel like I won the lottery and now I’m good, and those who are left behind are the losers, the unfortunate ones. It’s not meant to be insensitive, but there’s just a whole bunch of reactions inside of me when I hear that. Because I know the thoughts, the struggles, of those still inside, and it’s impossible for me to disconnect myself from that. It’s hard for me to say ME, it’s still WE.

Continue reading
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‘I’m being treated like I’m not a person’

I posted about the article in the Chronicle that came out on July 25 featuring Brothers in Pen writers Troy Williams and Watani Stiner. Another article also came out in the Chronicle on July 30 for which I was interviewed: “‘I’m being treated like I’m not a person’: Fear and disease inside San Quentin.” I have appreciated that the Chronicle has kept the story in the headlines and has covered it empathetically.

You can read it here.

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Juan Haines keeps reporting from inside the nightmare

Juan Moreno Haines has been a pillar in the creative writing class for more than 10 years. I linked to one of Juan’s stories in a previous post, but I think his ongoing reporting deserves a post of its own. Juan published a pre-COVID story back in February, ominously, about how when you get sick at San Quentin you end up in solitary confinement. Now he’s tested positive for COVID-19 and was placed in solitary confinement. He has continued to write and has gotten his articles and updates out via phone calls when they were still allowed, and through the mail. It seemed worthwhile to try and gather them here as part of the ongoing story of what is happening with my students and everyone else at San Quentin.

(Photo by Peter Merts, 2017)


Inside Prison Amid Coronavirus Pandemic: Incarcerated Journalist Says Millions Behind Bars at Risk (03-17-2020 on Democracy Now)




“Man Down:” Left in the Hole at San Quentin During a Coronavirus Crisis (07-07-2020 in The Appeal)


At San Quentin, a Desperate Man Goes on Hunger Strike to Protest Conditions in a COVID-19 Isolation Unit (08-10-2020 in Solitary Watch)

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Two important articles about the dire situation at San Quentin

Two students in the Creative Writing class, Rahsaan Thomas and Kevin Sawyer, just came out with big articles about the COVID nightmare they are living through.

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After 23 years at SQ, concern for so many still there suffering

Having spent 23 years (of my 39 total in prison) in the small community of San Quentin, the people with whom I did this time—and many were there the entire period—are of course a source of concern for me here and now.

I was at San Quentin during outbreaks of norovirus and chicken pox. Seeing what it was like to go through them, it was not difficult to predict the inevitable when something came along which was spread so much easier. I heard Juan Haines talking on Democracy Now about this as not a question of “if” this would happen, but “when.”

The idea of treatment and containment of this virus is not a simple matter. There are those who have no trust at all in what medical will do. I have known many individuals who served decades without seeing a doctor. After a botched colonoscopy on myself—the effects of which cause me pain to this day—many refused to undergo the same procedure, and I cannot blame them. Even after the ruling back in 2008 that the California prison medical was grossly inadequate, nothing really changed. Maybe improvements have come about in the three years since I paroled, but there is a culture of CYA (Cover Your Ass) which consumes all sorts of time and effort… That isn’t to say there are no caring and concerned staff; they are there. But they must maneuver the landmines of manipulations of the incarcerated, and staff who declare them “Inmate Lovers.”

And so the broken prison medical system ran head-on into the cataclysmic events which are defining so much of everyone’s lives. I’d like to think that out of this crisis there will be more that is good rather than bad for our society. I am not deluded that utopia is on the horizon, or for that matter Armageddon. I only hope that many who are suffering will recover, including two San Quentin sergeants who I knew as caring and compassionate.

Stay as safe as you possibly can, wherever you are.

Ken Brydon

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San Quentin’s 8:46

The chillingly slow, savagely calm, brutally calculated murder of George Floyd on video by a uniformed officer with his hands in his pockets, impervious to any cries for relief from either the man he is kneeling on or the bystanders or even a fellow officer… this murder’s eight minutes and forty-six seconds opening into infinity, on repeat, an endless, reverberating echo of hundreds, tens of thousands, millions of others subjected to the same shocking disregard for the sacredness and value of their lives— that same knee is now on the neck of people at San Quentin, where from a close but unbridgeable distance those on the outside are forced to watch helplessly, hearing their pleas for mercy, while the state seems to smirk with its hands in its pockets. The helplessness, outrage, grief and anxiety of this bystander is amplified exponentially by the thousands directly experiencing it, yet there seems to be no amount of agony that changes the outcome or influences the hearts of those whose decisions shape the situation. That is how I see the parable of George Floyd; that is the heart-crushing reality: no amount of suffering, entreaty, or appeal to God seems to stir the conscience or sympathy or sense of justice or meaningful action of those who have been entrusted with tremendous power over the lives of others.

An article came out in the Chronicle today with Watani Stiner, Troy Williams and I talking about the effect of programs being shut down in San Quentin. It’s a good topic, one of the many things to talk about in the ever-worsening Superdome catastrophe that is San Quentin in a pandemic, and I’m glad that the Chronicle has been covering the story. But it felt very weird to have this cheerful, laughing photo accompany such a painful topic. I wrote a comment for the online version of the article today:

Thanks to the Chronicle for ongoing coverage of the devastation at San Quentin. As one of the people featured in the lead photo, though, I feel an uncomfortable cognitive dissonance at our big moment of laughter next to an article about the tremendous anguish of thousands of people as if we were yucking it up while San Quentin suffers. The photographer, Brandon Ruffin, took a whole lot of photos that were serious and lent themselves to the tone of the subject, and I’m not sure what the editorial process was in choosing this particular one as the lead for this story. It makes me think about how our emotions are affected by certain juxtapositions. While it’s a photo that did capture the camaraderie of that moment, I feel moved to write this response to say to anyone affected by the situation at San Quentin that the lightheartedness of that photo does not reflect the concern, mourning, outrage and distress we were discussing, the direness of the situation of my students and their families and loved ones and all the rest of those incarcerated at San Quentin in the midst of this catastrophe. (I also feel awkward that we took our masks off for the photo… as someone who tries very hard to be diligent about pandemic safety.) My heart is heavy from morning till night over this situation, and my prayers are frequent for all those affected.  –Zoe Mullery

Please continue to advocate, pray, write letters…

“In God’s hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all humanity.” —Job 12:10

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Life… In the Coronapocalypse

In the coming days and weeks, I hope to post more articles and thoughts from former members of the class as they reflect on their lives outside and on those they left behind the walls of San Quentin, especially now during this ongoing COVID catastrophe. This first one comes from Joe Krauter, who paroled in December 2019. -ZM

“The sick have to hunger strike to be heard. Like taking yourself hostage by pointing a gun to your own head to demand fair treatment.”

Life… In The Coronapocalypse

By Joe Krauter

A lot of crap happened to me when I first got out….

My whole parole plan got demolished thanks to a devastatingly unprepared Transitional Housing system; I was forced into a program that had absolutely Zero ability to accommodate me for my mental health needs and requirements, let alone be sympathetic.

If they were sympathetic, I couldn’t tell.

Parole basically told me that I had to ‘suck it up and deal.’

The only person who seemed to give a damn at the first was my clinician issued to me by parole. I’m still grateful for her and still see her to this day.

Lots has happened since then. But I’m choosing to focus on the good that has happened to me in spite of the rough ride that I’ve had since paroling from prison.

I’ve got a good job, helping people during the Coronapocalypse; there are a lot of folks who’ve been displaced [the city’s word for hard working folks becoming homeless because they lost their jobs and therefore couldn’t pay the rent even though there was supposed to be “rent forgiveness”].

I’ve reconnected with old and very loving friends who I thought were gone forever.

And I live in a kickass house with some great people who want nothing but the best for me and try to help me in the best ways possible.

To quote one of my favorite shows, The Simpsons: “Everything’s coming up Milhouse,” meaning that things are looking seriously positive for me for the truly first time in my life. The therapies and tool box I’ve built over the years let me see the good instead of the drowning negative.

I’m even going back to school….

Yes, folks things are looking up. God help me if I lose most of the extra flub I’m carrying around the midsection I’ll think I’m dead and gone to heaven [haha].

I can even learn to cook the favorite foods my family loved to make when I was young. To Honor them, my grandmothers and others who have passed.

As I sit here in this little office at 9:56pm, listening to the sirens of the Tenderloin first responders and the Rattle-Bang-Crash of the number 38 bus zoom by over the steel plates that the city is using to repair the roads. I can’t honestly feel sad right now.

In this, The Coronapocalypse, there is hope and success. Perseverance can overcome this tragedy. The politicians were right in their mouthing of sounds in this regard.

I don’t know if We’re in this together or not…but I see individuals trying and living to overcome this crisis.

I’m inspired by my brothers and sisters in San Quentin doubling down and risking their lives to demand health and safety. The sick have to hunger strike to be heard.

Like taking yourself hostage by pointing a gun to your own head to demand fair treatment.

I owe them these words, folks. I owe them life and living life for them in this Coronapocalypse. I owe them the promises I made to them to live and “never come back.”

For them and for me I will do that.

Coming to you live from the Coronapocalypse, be well and strive folks.

—Joe Krauter

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San Quentin COVID catastrophe


Emile DeWeaver speaking at San Quentin protest on June 28, 2020.
Photo by Paul Kuroda

The current unfolding humanitarian disaster at San Quentin is, I’m sure, not something anyone is just finding out about on July 9, 2020, but just in case you don’t know the details, here is a quick recap. The COVID-19 virus was brought in late May into San Quentin via a transfer of 122 men from California Institute for Men in Chino where the outbreak was raging. Until that time, SQ had been completely COVID-free. (This transfer has been called “The worst prison health screw-up in state history” by Assemblyman Marc Levine.) Within one month, more than 1/3 or possibly 1/2 of the population tested positive, and as of today at least 7 if not more have died (accurate numbers are difficult to obtain). Also, on June 8, another transfer occurred out of SQ, bringing the virus to other prisons where there had been little or no incidence of the virus. The deadly negligence and “reckless indifference” (Judge Tigar’s phrase) of the transfers, the exploding cases of coronavirus and lack of proper care for people once they have tested positive, has created a situation at San Quentin that is an unimaginable nightmare in which people are being sent to solitary confinement for being sick, people testing negative are sharing a cell with people testing positive, people are locked down for 23 or 24 hours a day without access to phone calls or basic hygiene necessities or decent food, many of those who are sick are put in cells which have not been cleaned and don’t have electricity so that they have no means of making a cup of tea or soup or getting the news or even just watching or listening to something to pass the time. These are just a few of the naked facts of the situation inside. James King, in the press conference I watched today, said that a UCSF doctor called the situation at SQ “the Chernobyl of COVID.” James said that he considered it to be the “Hurricane Katrina of COVID,” and that San Quentin was the Louisiana Superdome, only with no cameras to show to the world what it’s like inside.

For us San Quentin Prison Arts Project teachers, it’s taken weeks to jump through all the hoops necessary to start sending packets with lessons and reading material in. So far I have been able to send in one packet. I have tried to keep close tabs on the news and I know that for sure Juan Haines and Rahsaan Thomas from the class have tested positive, and I’m sure there are more. Juan has managed to get some news out about his situation. His reports have been featured on Democracy Now and other news sources.

Because a lot of people ask me what they can do, I am starting to create a very brief resource sheet, which I will continue to update as I go along. This is a non-comprehensive list, just a few things thrown together. Please feel free to let me know of glaring omissions, or great resources that should be included.

Please keep the pressure on Newsom and others (see resource sheet) and please keep praying for the men as they endure this horrific situation. The fact that this is happening in the midst of the George Floyd protests and worldwide outrage over the inhumane treatment of people of color is an unbearable irony.

I’m going to open up this space for former students to post about the current situation. I’m hoping you’ll see some posts coming from here in the very near future.

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Pen Hustle

Brothers in Pen has been featured in a podcast!

There is a wonderful organization in Skagit County, Washington, called Underground Writing, a “literature-based creative writing program serving migrant, incarcerated, recovery, and other at-risk communities in northern Washington through literacy and personal transformation.  Underground Writing facilitates generative readings of literature spanning the tradition—from ancient texts to those written in our workshops.   Honoring the transforming power of the word, we believe that attentive reading leads to attentive writing, and that attentive writing has the power to assist in the restoration of communities, the imagination, and individual lives.”

Last March, the good folks of Underground Writing, Matt Malyon and Alvin Shim, interviewed me about Brothers in Pen. The podcast, entitled “Community Spotlight: Zoe Mullery & Brothers in Pen,” was aired on April 22, and it’s taken me exactly a month to get the word out on this blog. Fortunately, Brothers in Pen doesn’t get old, so listen at your leisure.

On the same day, I read some short excerpts from various pieces from the class, and that recording of me reading those excerpts was released as a separate audiozine. You can hear those here. The following excerpts were selected (note: these are not complete stories but excerpts from stories):

In other Underground Writing news, they invited Brothers in Pen writers to write letters of encouragement and advice to young men and women who are entering juvie, with the idea of including the letters in a kind of hope packet for them as they find themselves in a difficult place. It was a wonderful assignment and many heartfelt letters were written. When UW completes the project, I’ll share from those letters—they were beautiful.

Thanks to Matt and Alvin for creating this bridge between Brothers in Pen and Underground Writing.  I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Zoe, Matt, Alvin

Alvin Shim and Matt Malyon of Underground Writing, making Zoe squint with the radiance of their sincerity


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