Brothers In Pen Reunion – October 5

Come on out to the first reunion of some of the Brothers In Pen who are out and free. It will be at Alley Cat Books in San Francisco, 3036 24th St. (close to the 24th St. BART station) and will entail readings, snacks, hobnobbing, and general literariness. Some copies of our latest anthology, Pens Up, Don’t Shoot, will be available.

Please come!


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Pens Up, Don’t Shoot

Cover imageThe title of the latest anthology in the “Brothers in Pen” series, Pens Up, Don’t Shoot, arose from the phrase protestors rallied around after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014. So much has happened since then. This book’s first stories began to be compiled in 2015… but due to its editor’s molasses-like qualities, it was not finished until now.


Now it is finished! It’s all done! It’s out in the world! And you can purchase it:
I still want to create an e-book format, but haven’t done that yet; however, it is available in paperback ($20) and hardcover ($27). All the proceeds go to support our program through the William James Association, who makes it all possible.

Our good friend, comedy writer Mike Larsen, wrote a lovely foreword for us, and San Quentin artist Omid Mokri provided the artwork that I think makes a really strong cover image.

Please read it, pass this post along to announce its arrival, and if and when you have feedback, reviews, questions, or interesting thoughts about the stories, please post them as a comment here, or send it along to brothersinpen ••at•• gmail ••dot•• com. Writers love to get feedback.

From the back cover:
Brothers in Pen is the collective name of the writers in an ongoing creative writing workshop at San Quentin State Prison. This book contains selections of fiction in many genres: memoir, creative non-fiction, and some mutant hybrids… the common denominator being story. This is the ninth anthology produced by this class; as with Scheherazade of the Arabian Nights, the stories keep coming and keep enthralling.

Ursula Le Guin said, “As you read a book word by word and page by page, you participate in its creation, just as a cellist playing a Bach suite participates, note by note, in the creation, the coming-to-be, the existence, of the music. And, as you read and re-read, the book of course participates in the creation of you, your thoughts and feelings, the size and temper of your soul.”

The Brothers in Pen invite you to participate in this book.

Table of contents:
Wayne Boatwright: A Deplorables Tale
Kenneth R. Brydon: Rat’s Ass
Noble T. Butler: Comfort Food and Story for Mama
Jose G. Camacho: The Boulevard Show
George “Mesro” Coles-El: The Warning
Micheal “Yahya” Cooke: Extortion, Inc.
Eric “Turk” Curtis: Coming Home
Emile DeWeaver: Dying in the Dark
Arnulfo Garcia: The Tour
Juan Haines: Breakfast with Arnulfo
Michael Calvin Holmes: The Session
Adnan Khan: Saturday Morning
Joseph Krauter: I Never See Her Face
Justin Medvin I Created a Monster; Definition Defined;
    Occupational Hazard; The Best High; Caloric Consequences;
    Humane Circumstances
James Metters: The Quick Way to Fall
Richie Morris: The Scoundrels
JulianGlenn “Luke” Padgett: The Live Room
Lawrence Udukobraye Pela: My Momma’s Baby
Stu Ross: Space Oddity
Kevin D. Sawyer: Power Distribution
Paul Stauffer: Down by the River
Aly Tamboura: The Trying Game
David Taylor: The Reassurance of Love
Rahsaan Thomas: After Life
Kevin Valvardi: New Brooklyn Lake
Michael Zell: The Protection Policy
Anonymous Public Figure: Born to Hunt
Zoe Mullery: The Easy Chair
A Pictorial History of Brothers in Pen

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Brothers Out of the Pen

I haven’t done a good job of keeping up with all the Brothers in Pen who’ve gotten out of prison and are out ornamenting the world with their sincerity (to paraphrase Jack Kerouac).

In addition to Kenny, who I posted about below, others who’ve gotten out in recent history are Yahya Cooke, Jose Camacho, Justin Medvin, Aly Tamboura… who am I forgetting? It’s been almost 2 years since Aly got out, in October 2016, and apparently I never wrote anything about that. There has been lots written about him elsewhere; here is an article written when he left San Quentin, or check out this podcast featuring Aly. He is currently very busy with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative working as a Manager of Technology & Program Delivery—utilizing the training he got at San Quentin learning to code. When he can, he puts in time scuba diving. It’s been great to see him blazing that big Aly smile out in the big world. He’s been wildly busy doing wildly interesting things.

(It seems I never posted anything about the wonderful event last August on Alcatraz–Here is a photo from that event, which featured Troy Williams and his daughter Torri Williams, and Watani Stiner and his son Larry Stiner Jr., a spoken word artist. The event was called “Connection Lost: Families Unraveled by Prison” and featured artwork by San Quentin artists. Aly was also there and added his voice to the event. Peter Merts, as always, took beautiful photos, which can be seen here.)

Aly Troy Watani Zoe

Aly Tamboura, Troy Williams, Watani Stiner, and Zoe Mullery at the “Connection Lost: Families Unraveled by Prison” event on Alcatraz, August 26, 2017. Photo by Peter Merts

Jose Camacho

Jose Camacho

Jose Camacho also got out in 2016 and he is now very glad to be able to be a caretaker for his mom.

Justin “Clown” Medvin was released in 2016 as well–and last I heard was doing well, and was itching for the anthology to come out. Which it has. I’ll post news and a photo when I get one.

Yahya has been out since October 2017; nearly a year. I spoke with him today and asked him for a little news. Here’s what I got:

“I’m currently a production specialist machinist for George Martin Company in Emeryville. We make stackers for corrugated container businesses. We sell machinery to companies that make the containers. I love it. It doesn’t give me much time to pursue my hobbies, like writing, but I’ve been able to buy things like a laptop and printer. Living near Lake Merritt, in a pretty house on top of the hill. Still not married, still no children! I’ve been working with David Cohen from Patten helping guys who are getting released, getting them care packages and phones and connected to resources. But mostly my life’s just been about work.

Yahya (1)

Yahya Cooke, looking happy and free

“My job progressions have led to better and more enriching positions. The people I’ve met along the way and the amount of helpfulness—there are opportunities all over the place for people in just coming out of prison. I didn’t have to wait to get started when I got out. The disciplines I established in prison, Patten College and the writing class… those disciplines crossbreed and set you up well for living a good solid life out here.

“Where I’m at now–I’m still getting job offers, even though I don’t need them. I’m content. I’m ten minutes from work. Bought me a 2012 Infiniti. And that improved my credit rating and scores, which I need to do. I’ve been trying to learn the fundamentals that others like you have been dealing with in normal life–you’ve dealt with life on life’s terms, I’ve dealt with life on prison terms. You don’t really think past the next day. Now I’m thinking about overall goals. Something like the so-called American Dream.

“I’d like to get back to working on the short stories, and improve on the memoir. The story’s not over! I’m excited about the next chapters that are yet to be written.”


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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:

Two articles have come out on Arnulfo:


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Who Are the Brothers in Pen?


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]


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]


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]


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.


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]


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]


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]


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]


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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment