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:




About Brothers In Pen

Brothers in Pen is the collective name of the Wednesday Night Creative Writing Class at San Quentin State Prison facilitated by Zoe Mullery.
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One Response to A tragedy on the heels of joy

  1. John Wedgwood Golden says:

    I had one encounter with Arnulfo ! Back in my Q time 1970’s I never would have referred to Arnulfo by his first name ! Only his last name ! For I was a Correctional Officer in San Quentin long before Arnulfo’s Q time ! Yet he saw to it that my Photography book Once Upon A Time At San Quentin was reviewed by San Quentin News ! For an Inmate to reach out to an Officer says much about this man ! Since there will all ways be a barrier between these two classes of people ! The last word I received from Arnulfo pertained to the book ! Did I want him to send it back to me or not ? Here was a Man who had all ready spent 17 years in Q giving ” ME ” a choice ! I told him to keep the book in memory of all the people both Staff and Inmates that San Quentin screwed over !

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