The University of San Quentin: Welcome to Class

Henry Miller once wrote, “The prisoner is not the one who has committed a crime, but the one who clings to his crime and lives it over and over.” For it is not the menacing stone walls and towers, nor the iron bars which holds a man prisoner. It is the nature of mans own mind and heart which torments his soul the most.

As many of you have noticed, it has been quite a while since I last posted to my blog. This is not for a lack of subjects, for I have had many idea floating around in my head which I would like to share with you, however, none seemed as pressing as to find the right words to share my experience at San Quentin. I have been there six weeks now and have only recently been able to process through enough to be able to share with you.

The expectation of what life one might find behind the walls of San Quentin scarcely matches the reality of what is found there. As I made my first clearance through the gate and started the three hundred yard walk to the main prison I found myself immensely humbled and partly terrified of what I had committed myself to. My path led me beneath the shadow of the west tower, under watchful eyes, and through the main gate which appeared as a dark hole in the side of the prison wall. There I was searched by an intense guard, let into a holding cage, checked over once again, and then led through into a courtyard which sat in the middle between Death Row and the Protestant Chapel. Vulnerable is the only word I can use to describe what I was feeling as I stood for the first time within the walls of San Quentin. It is not a feeling I will soon forget.

As I entered the Chapel I immediately became aware I was now the minority, the outsider, the one who did not belong or know the rules. Everything in the world of San Quentin was new to me and I was noticeably ignorant as I followed closely behind my guide who was to introduce me to the class. I stood there looking over the class which would soon be mine to teach and found myself feeling as if I were the new kid in school who had just been drug before the class by the teacher, only these were not a bunch of first graders, they were convicted felons. All eyes were upon me and I could feel their prying questions. “Who was this guy?” “Why was he here?” “What makes him qualified to teach us?”

The introduction came to an end and the room was opened up for questions before I was given the floor. One of the men raised his hand and asked, “He’s never been here before has he?” “No this is his first time,” answered my escort. The room erupted in laughter. “Why do you ask?” The mans face lit up with a great big smile, “his eyes are the size of tennis balls, it’s sixty degrees in here and he sweating, and he is standing as stiff as a board. You would think he’s nervous or something.” Again the room burst into laughter but this time there were shouts of encouragement. “Don’t worry man we aren’t goin’ to hurt you.” “Relax, we’re all brothers in God’s house.” I myself had to laugh as I must have been quite the sight.

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3 thoughts on “The University of San Quentin: Welcome to Class

  1. “I would like to share with you, however, none seemed as pressing as to find the right words to share my experience at San Quentin.”You’ve been going to Raider games on Sunday? Good for you!Prison ministry is definitely a different experience. It truly takes a lot of discernment to really reach out to them. I say that because of the mentality of prisoners. As you said, “It is the nature of mans own mind and heart which torments his soul the most.” My experience with it was trying to reach a lot of people who wanted an “appearance” of change for their parole officers. A friend of mine spoke that Sunday on the true freedom of Christ; and he opened by asking, “What are your plans for when you are free?” That’s when I realized how many people in there were just there for an “appearance” of change. My friend’s message was to those prisoners; and hit home a strong message of what it means to truly be free in Christ. Are you still going there to minister? If so, how much longer are you doing this? Let me know how I can further pray for you to reach them. Good post.

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