Kenny Brydon: Free as a Sunbeam

If you know Kenny, now is the time to picture him leaping like an antelope down a beach at sunset, shouting “I’m Free! I’m Free!” while trailing diaphanous silk streamers from both wrists and shaking his head as if he had a long mane of thick curly hair.

And then he breaks his foot.

Kenny’s First Day of the Rest of his Life

That’s not quite how it happened, except maybe Kenny’s emotions that day might be compared to impulsive improv ballet with streamers on a beach at sunset… and the part about breaking his foot is true (apparently while doing a fancy jump-rope exercise routine, just a couple of weeks out of prison.)

Kenny was released on August 20, 2017, after 39 years of incarceration. He had been arrested in 1978 and was in several different places before arriving at San Quentin in 1993. 1978 was a long time ago. People born in 1978 could technically be grandparents.

Kenny joined the Creative Writing class in 2003, and holds the record for the longest-standing member at 14 years. In that time, he wrote and revised several novels, wrote countless short stories, and helped many other writers with his insightful critique. Kenny’s strengths as a writer, in my mind, are his strong dialogue, his ability to portray a glimmer of human feeling within characters who are emotionally shut down or simmering with anger, and his engagement of complex moral issues and characters who are not easily categorized. He’s had a number of stories published over the years, and has had a story in every edition of the Brothers in Pen series of anthologies. One of the most prestigious accomplishments was his story “Rat’s Ass” being included in the book “Prison Noir,” an anthology of prison stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. That story will also be appearing in our upcoming anthology.

I’ve seen Kenny a few times since his release, and one of the hallmarks of a Kenny conversation I’ve learned to expect is a rave review of something he’s recently eaten.

“Five Stars!”

I told him he needs to write the “Just Released From Prison After 39 Years Restaurant Review Guide.” It would go something like this:
Taco Bell: “Out of this world! Incredible flavors! Five stars!”
Subway: “Fantastic sandwiches! Unbelievable quantities of fresh meat, lettuce, tomatoes! Five stars!”
McDonalds: “French fries to die for! They’re piping hot! Five stars!”
IHOP: “Phenomenal pancakes, and unlimited syrup! Plenty of butter too! Five stars!”

I called Kenny today, to interview him for this post. Here is how that went: Continue reading

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A tragedy on the heels of joy

The immeasurable loss of Arnulfo Timoteo Garcia

Arnulfo Garcia, 2014                                                                photo by Peter Merts

Yesterday I was shocked to hear that our beloved Arnulfo Garcia was killed, along with his sister, in a car crash early in the morning near Hollister, California. All I know so far from what I could glean online is that a big rig hit them. I am shocked and from the communication I’ve had with others yesterday and today, his death is a huge earthquake affecting the lives of many. The tragic nature of the loss of Arnulfo to the world feels magnified a hundred-fold by the fact that he was released from prison only two months ago, after many years of incarceration. He was ecstatic. How often have I heard him talking about his daughter–his love for her was so enormous he could barely contain it, and I believe it motivated much of his tireless energy for improving himself and for wanting to work for the good of others. My heart breaks for her and for the whole big Garcia family, all recently and joyfully reunited. I hadn’t had a chance to see Arnulfo yet since he’d gotten out because he was so busy staying with one family member or another, seeing his daughter, reunion after reunion. And so many plans. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone with as many big plans as Arnulfo Garcia, especially not someone so likely to pull them off.

I received a text from Arnulfo just a few days after he was out of prison. It included a photo of him standing next to a car smiling, in a white shirt–not blue. The photo is a little overexposed which makes the white shirt glow with a kind of angelic aura.  It seemed to be exuding the supernatural gratitude he was feeling at how things were working out. I was so happy for him.

Arnulfo was a part of Brothers in Pen for at least six years. I can’t remember exactly when he joined. He arrived in the class with a several-inch-tall stack of paper—just a section of what he’d written on his memoir so far. At that time, I think 2010 or so, he said he’d already written 10,000 pages. 10,000 pages! He had a mesmerizing writing style. His memoir pieces were always like one endless camera shot moving across the scene, probing it for truth, insight, humor. A memoir of 10,000 pages is no doubt in need of some editing, but it was always hard to know where to cut his flow, how to pull it in, because whatever he looked at he saw. This was how I experienced Arnulfo–he looked, he saw, he engaged. Arnulfo was a leader and a lover of people, a larger-than-life personality who made things happen and brought people along with him. It seemed to me that all his plans were about making things better for somebody or group of people.

Of course, I heard about some of his conflicts too. And I joked with him about how, while editor of the San Quentin News, it happened that so many front pages of that paper featured a photo of him. But it was true that all those photos featured him as he was engaged with countless projects, plans, panel discussions, summits. He was everywhere, talking with everyone, smiling and opinionating and listening and networking and making plans.

I regret that I have only taken the time to write about his death, and did not write a celebratory post upon his release. I have not done well at recording the milestone moments relating to the Brothers in Pen, such as the recent release well worth celebrating of Kenny Brydon a few weeks ago, after 39 years, or of Aly Tamboura last year. Arnulfo’s release was an achievement of Mt. Everest-scaling proportions. To have him survive decades of dangers, toils and snares and find his way to this pinnacle of arrival, and then have him snatched away–this is not one of those “great circle of life” moments. This is a moment where death feels like the enemy. I pray for Arnulfo’s family and many loved ones that the enemy would not snatch away all the good Arnulfo was gathering, but that his blessing would continue like light refracting through the prism of those of us still here.

His dear friend Sonya Shah said in a tribute to him which I read this morning, “I often joked with him, that had circumstance been different he would have been the President of Mexico, or the President of anything good.” I think Arnulfo was the President of something good, and we all responded to his leadership and affection. I wish I had had a chance to say thank you.

UPDATE: a GoFundMe campaign has been started to raise money for funeral expenses and for his daughter: https://www.gofundme.com/arnulfo-t-garcia-memorial

Two articles have come out on Arnulfo:
http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/09/25/former-editor-of-san-quentin-news-ready-for-new-beginning-dies-in-crash-along-with-sister/

http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Arnulfo-Garcia-obituary-San-Quentin-News-12230778.php

 

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Who Are the Brothers in Pen?

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Brothers in Pen – 2005. Back row: Tharon Hill, Watani Stiner, Gary Wesley. Front row: Michael Willis, Kenny Brydon, Zoe Mullery, Ernie Laszlo. [photo: Steve Emrick]

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Brothers in Pen 2007. Top row: JulianGlenn “Luke” Padgett, Ronin Holmes. Middle row: Ernie Laszlo, Troy Williams, Richard Gilliam, Watani Stiner, Tharon Hill. Front row: Kenny Brydon, Zoe Mullery, Michael Willis.  [photo: Steve Emrick]

2008 October

Brothers in Pen 2008. Seated on left, top to bottom: Ronin Holmes, Jerry Elster, Watani Stiner, Troy Williams, Zoe Mullery. Standing, top to bottom: Michael “Harry-O” Harris, JulianGlenn “Luke” Padgett, Ernie Laszlo, Tharon Hill, Richard Gilliam, Jeff Atkins, Kenny Brydon, Michael Willis.  [photo: Peter Merts]

2008 October

Brothers in Pen 2008. Back row: Watani Stiner, Kenny Brydon, Zoe Mullery, Richard Gilliam, JulianGlenn “Luke” Padgett. Front row: Jerry Elster, Michael “Harry-O” Harris, Ronin Holmes, Ernie Laszlo, Troy Williams, Jeff Atkins, Tharon Hill, Michael Willis. [photo: Peter Merts]

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Brothers in Pen 2011. Back row: JulianGlenn “Luke” Padgett, Micheal “Yahya” Cooke, Arnulfo Garcia, Watani Stiner, Michael “Harry-O” Harris. Middle row: Keshun “Daleadamown” Tate, Andrew Gazzeny, Aly Tamboura, Troy Williams. Front row: Kenny Brydon, Zoe Mullery, Juan Haines. [photo: Peter Merts]

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Brothers in Pen 2011. Standing, L to R: JulianGlenn “Luke” Padgett, Arnulfo Garcia, Michael “Harry-O” Harris, Aly Tamboura, Andrew Gazzeny, Noble Butler, Troy Williams, Keshun “Daleadamown” Tate, Paul Stauffer. Front row: Micheal “Yahya” Cooke, Juan Haines, Kenny Brydon, Zoe Mullery, Watani Stiner.

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Brothers in Pen 2012. Back row:  Jamal Green, Kevin Sawyer, Arnulfo Garcia, Aly Tamboura, JulianGlenn “Luke” Padgett, Noble Butler. Middle row: Jeffrey little, Watani Stiner, David Taylor, Jerome Powell. Second row: Steve Emrick, Andrew Gazzeny, Kris Himmelberger, James Metters, Troy Williams, Kevin Valvardi. Front row: Laurie Brooks, Zoe Mullery, Kenny Brydon, Paul Stauffer, Kimya Humphreys. [photo: Peter Merts]

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Brothers in Pen 2013. Back row: JulianGlenn “Luke” Padgett, Andrew Gazzeny, Kevin Sawyer, Kevin Valvardi, Paul Stauffer, Emile DeWeaver, Watani Stiner, James Metters, Micheal “Yahya” Cooke, David Taylor, Jeff Little, Eric Curtis, Rahsaan Thomas, Tommy Winfrey, Noble Butler, Ron Koehler. Front row: Jamal Green, Zoe Mullery, Juan Haines, Kenny Brydon, Charles “Talib” Brooks, Aly Tamboura, Kris Himmelberger, Jerome Powell.   [photo: Peter Merts]

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Brothers in Pen 2014. Back row: JulianGlenn “Luke” Padgett, Ron Koehler, Watani Stiner, Arnulfo Garcia, James Metters, David Taylor, Juan Haines, Emile DeWeaver, Micheal “Yahya” Cooke, Eric Curtis,  J. “Cali Killa Clown” Medvin, Wayne Boatwright, Lawrence Udukobraye Pela. Middle: Juan Haines, Zoe Mullery, Kevin Sawyer, Paul Stauffer.  Front: Michael Calvin Holmes, Kevin Valvardi, Kenny Brydon, Rahsaan Thomas, Aly Tamboura, Michael Zell. [photo: Peter Merts]

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Brothers in Pen 2015. Back row: Noble Butler, Kevin Valvardi, Rahsaan Thomas, Eric Curtis, Kenny Brydon, Adnan Khan, Emile DeWeaver, Kevin Sawyer. Middle row: Lawrence Udukobraye Pela, Joe Krauter, James Metters, Paul Stauffer, J. “Cali Killa Clown” Medvin, David Taylor, Micheal “Yahya” Cooke, Wayne Boatright. Front row: Steve Emrick, Ron Koehler, Michael Calvin Holmes, Zoe Mullery, Juan Haines.  [photo: Peter Merts]

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Brothers in Pen 2016. Back row: Kevin Sawyer, Alex Briggs, Wayne Boatwright, Micheal “Yahya” Cooke, J. “Cali Killa Clown” Medvin, David Taylor, Damon Cook, Mike Larsen, Lawrence Udukobraye Pela, Rahsaan Thomas. Middle row: Michael Calvin Holmes, Zoe Mullery, Kenny Brydon, Noble Butler, Paul Stauffer, Juan Haines. Kneeling: James Bottomley, Joseph Krauter, Kevin Valvardi, James Metters, Emile DeWeaver, Michael Zell.   [photo: Peter Merts]

I have not done a good job over the years of keeping up this site. It has been brought to my attention that I have posted more about some people than others, neglected some people and occasions completely, and have been extremely haphazard in what and when I post.

One thought was to make a page of everyone who is currently in the Brothers in Pen Creative Writing Class, with each person’s bio, a photo portrait by our faithful and talented photographer friend, Peter Merts, and a link to the story read aloud in the November 2016 public reading.

That page is now complete, and you can take a look at it here–or access it from the sidebar.

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