Snap Judgment, United Shades of America, and Open Engagement

So much going on all the time … even if I were good at this it would be hard to keep up.

Our own Watani Stiner is telling stories on the air this week. The nationally syndicated radio show Snap Judgment features Watani this week, telling stories about his early days in San Quentin, being interviewed by Truman Capote, his escape, and more. Check out “For Love and Revolution” here.

He is also on Pop-up Magazine’s new feature, Phone Stories. For a limited time (not sure how long), you can call this number: 415-529-6057, and you’ll hear Watani tell you a 2-minute story about his escape. Eventually it’ll be archived on the site.

The next excitement is Episode 2 of W. Kamau Bell’s new show, United Shades of America, featuring a number of San Quentin Creative Writing Class members.



Yesterday at the Open Engagement arts conference at the Oakland Museum, Troy Williams and Watani Stiner, along with other former Arts in Corrections artists Isiah Daniels, Henry Frank, and Dennis Crookes, spoke about their experiences in the arts program at San Quentin. It was one of those moments where it’s just so obvious how important it is, and it feels really good to be a part of it. I was very grateful I got to be there and hear their insights and inspiration.

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Prison Renaissance is Born! (reborn?)


photo by Peter Merts

There is a new movement afoot–or perhaps the movement is not new, but now named. Two Brothers in Pen, Emile DeWeaver and Rahsaan Thomas, have co-founded Prison Renaissance. Let me give it to you in their own words, from their new website,

What is Prison Renaissance?

The Renaissance of the 1400s brought the rebirth of reason in Europe, and the 1920s saw the rebirth of African-American art & literature in the Harlem Renaissance and its echoes.

Prison Renaissance began with a group of incarcerated artists who experienced a rebirth of their human values. Artistic expression changed the way they see themselves. Art and education will allow them to help change how other incarcerated people see themselves — as citizens and community builders instead of outsiders and burdens. We hope that a return to civic duty among incarcerated-Americans will change how the public views its incarcerated population — the largest in the world.

Our Mission & Goals

To use the art and community to create a culture of transformation to end cycles of incarceration

To reduce prison populations

To inspire civic responsibility in incarcerated people, as a step toward rehabilitation and reintegration into society

To use art as a vehicle to create proximity between the general public and incarcerated people

To use art as a vehicle to transform the lives of incarcerated people


Co-founder/Editor: Emile DeWeaver
Co-founder: Rahsaan Thomas
Administrator/Editor: Camille Griep

These two eloquent writers are giving shape to an energy that is already on the move. Please take a look at their website and be a participant in and a champion of this emergent movement. #prisonrenaissance !

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Two Brothers in Pen members on NBC

Check out extremely eloquent Brothers in Pen Rahsaan Thomas and Emile DeWeaver, along with other incarcerated Americans at San Quentin, speaking with NBC Bay Area reporter Steven Stock. The first link is the longer “Behind the Scenes” interview, and the second is the shorter news story which was broadcast on Feb. 26.

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Brothers in Pen, in pictures

How is it that I never posted anything about our amazing 10th Annual Public Reading in November? How much amazingness does it take for me to get around to putting something on this blog?

It was a fantastic day. We had a record number of guests. Unfortunately, due to a communication glitch, we missed out on being in the ARC building and ended up in the Multifaith Chapel, which was very nice except that it only had room for our outside guests and no San Quentin guests.

Peter Merts, as always, took fantastic pictures of the event, along with portraits of the writers, and you can see them here:

Here are a few more, but you can see them all at the link above:


The San Quentin News wrote a story about the day, which you can read on page 5 of the January edition:

Watch this space for more news on some of the publishing accomplishments of class members, Life of the Law podcasts, as well as the recent TEDx event which featured former Brother in Pen Troy Williams, among others.

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The Ninth Annual Reading Anthology is out … just in time for the Tenth Annual Reading!

9th Annual Reading front coverSo I’m a little slow… took me nearly a year to get to completing the slim volume of last year’s 5-minute readings. But it has been out now for about a month and its appearance is coinciding with excitement about the upcoming reading on November 14.

The cover for this anthology features a painting by San Quentin artist (soon to be free) Mwasi Fuvi, entitled “Faith.” The writers include Wayne Boatwright, Kenneth R. Brydon, Micheal “Yahya” Cooke, Eric Curtis, Emile DeWeaver, Arnulfo T. Garcia, Ron Koehler, “Killa Clown” Medvin, James R. Metters Jr., JulianGlenn Padgett, Kevin D. Sawyer, Ivan Skrblinsky (aka Juan Haines), Paul Stauffer, Watani Stiner, Aly Tamboura, David Taylor, Rahsaan Thomas, Kevin Valvardi, and Michael Zell.

Ursula K. LeGuin said, The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story. How much more alive does it become when the author is reading it aloud, and when the audience listens with a kind of holy attention, nourishing it with dignity and curiosity. Once a year the San Quentin Wednesday Night Creative Writing Class, a.k.a. Brothers in Pen, holds an Annual Public Reading where an outside audience is invited in, along with other men in blue, to listen to 5-minute pieces crafted by the writers especially for this event. For weeks in advance, the writing and revision process is underway, and the authors also push each other to improve in the particular skill of reading a story aloud. This book represents the product of that labor in an event which took place in the ARC building on the lower yard of San Quentin State Prison on November 15, 2014. It was the ninth such event in the history of this particular class. The stories in their written for9th Annual Reading back coverm have a different kind of
life than they do when read aloud by their authors, but are no less worthwhile.

To purchase this anthology (or any of the other ones), go to

Please leave reviews and feedback about the stories on the Lulu site or this site, or email to brothersinpen [at]

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The Next Reading is Coming!

San Quentin’s Brothers in Pen TENTH Annual Public Reading

(I was erroneously  calling this the Ninth… which was last year!)

Saturday, November 14, 2015 • 11am – 3:30pm

It’s that time again… time for the Brothers in Pen Annual Public Reading! A self-selected crew will come inside San Quentin to attend a reading of works by the Creative Writing class, a.k.a. Brothers in Pen. Each of the 24 members of the class will read a 5-minute work of fiction or memoir, and there will be time for Q&A. If you have ever attended one of these public readings, you know what an engaging, lively and unforgettable event this is.  

And we made last year’s readings into a small anthology which will be available very soon.

Stay tuned!Ron Koehler

Last year’s reading, November 15, 2014

(photo by Peter Merts)
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Long-time Brother in Pen Watani Stiner paroled

This is not new news… Watani paroled in January 2015, but just because it took me a long time to report it here doesn’t mean it’s not big news. Watani spent a total of 26 years in prison and 20 in exile.

I have heard he is spending a lot of time at the library–his “office,” as he calls it–writing articles and posts and reportedly completing his memoir.

He spent 12 or 13 years in the Creative Writing class working on that memoir and we all learned so much as that almost unbelievable story emerged over the years.

A couple of articles have been written about him since he paroled:

and he is continuing to write his “OG” column in the San Quentin News.


photo by Peter Merts
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