An Awakening at San Quentin

Fresh from my experience yesterday afternoon/evening, I needed to write this before the feelings float away…

I’m sitting in the prison chapel at San Quentin and a man, an incarcerated inmate, is singing a stirring rendition of Amazing Grace a capella. As he finished I told a couple of my Checkr colleagues that in those few moments of listening to him I felt like I had gone to church for 10 years (in a good way, not like when we were kids squirming in the pews).

We are wrapping up a half day program put on by Prison To Employment Connection led by Diana Williams, where inmates meet with employers who are supporters of Fair Chance hiring. These men have gone through this program for 12+ weeks and are interviewing with employers, looking for guidance on how to speak to the strength of their resumes and their experience. Meeting several of these 46 men, I can tell right away that they’ve been taught well as to how to interview. While they humbly ask for feedback they also have a professional sense of confidence and self worth.

In full transparency, I humbly admit I was anxious walking into one of the most notorious maximum security prisons there is. Adding to that anxiety is the very long process of getting secured entrance into the facility.

But then, something happened that soothed my nerves. As we entered the chapel, one by one men dressed in their ‘prison blues’ greeted each one of us with a handshake, a smile and a warm greeting as we, the employers, walked to the front of the chapel. It was not unlike a receiving line at a wedding.

We spent several hours with these men, who rotated amongst the various employers every 15 minutes, with only one interruption — the afternoon prison headcount. At the end of the day, Ms. Williams asked for a few of the men to speak to their experience of the day. Several humbly thanked our group for spending time with them and for the simple act of caring. One gentleman calmly said ‘we don’t get many visitors, some of us don’t get visits from anyone, so you all coming here is greatly appreciated’. Then it was the employers turn to share and several expressed our support, our encouragement and how proud we are of their accomplishment of completing the program and wishing them the best upon being paroled and re-entering the workforce.

I’m thankful for the 45 minute train ride home as I needed that time to decompress and process the experience I just had. I’ve never been more proud to be employed by a company that not only recognizes Fair Chance hiring, but is literally its mission. I have a stronger bond with my coworkers who participated and made relationships with new partner organizations/individuals who fight tirelessly for those re-entering. And I thank Diana and Prison To Employment Connection for putting on this amazing program that has a positive impact on the men and those who volunteer their time for it.

Mostly, though, I am moved by these mens’ desire to move on from the missteps of their past and make a better future for themselves. This was an experience I will not soon forget and I look forward to participating in events like these in the future.

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