Mass Incarceration

Call me by my name, and other exercises in empathy from the local prison in Soledad. | Cover

SERGIO ZARAZUA IS 37 NOW, AND HE HAS BEEN LOCKED UP SINCE HE WAS 15. He retains his head and face clean-shaven, which makes his already massive eyes look even larger and deeper. When requested to put in writing down his identify, he provides his jail quantity. He desires to be useful.

It was a second-degree homicide and tried voluntary manslaughter conviction in Sacramento over 20 years in the past. Then one other conviction arrived, for a similar incident – capturing at an occupied car and after, some years later, it was confirmed the crime was gang-related.

The primary story he shares within the circle – just some chairs, some inmates, some civilians – is about attending to the place he’s in the mean time, the Facility’s B Degree II Delicate Wants Yard within the Correctional Coaching Facility, Soledad. Earlier than that switch 5 years in the past, he spent 10 years in different prisons, together with adjoining Salinas Valley State Jail.

“The sergeant requested me about my identify,” Zarazua says, glowing with each sentence despite the fact that the smiling is completed principally together with his eyes.

“She requested me: ‘What’s your identify?’” he says. “And I instructed her. And he or she stated: ‘No, your first identify. What’s your first identify?’”

Zarazua says he was speechless: “She requested for it as if it was a traditional factor, you recognize?”

For just a few seconds, he didn’t know what to reply, he says. At that second, he realized that his precise first identify was not in use for the final 10 years. After which, when the identify arrived in his reminiscence, ought to he say it in Spanish or English?

Zarazua says he went with the American pronunciation. He additionally says that that second 5 years in the past was essential in his personal therapeutic course of. “It was the primary time I felt I’m not a quantity,” he says.

Different inmates within the circle are nodding.

THERE ARE CLOSE TO 7,000 INCARCERATED MALES IN THE CORRECTIONAL TRAINING FACILITY COMMONLY REFERRED TO AS CTF, or Soledad State Jail. When a small group of civilians – principally school college students, led by Hartnell School Adjunct Sociology Professor Megan McDrew and her workforce, respiratory teacher Spencer Smith and former inmate Carlos Aceves – cross the massive yard surrounded by Pentagon-like partitions, just a few inmates on the best way to make a cellphone name cease and ask how they will be part of. They seemingly noticed a poster for Workouts in Empathy: A Transformative Justice Initiative on the wall and perhaps ignored it. Solely now it happens to them that sitting down with a bunch of civilians is usually a actuality, and one thing they might be concerned with.

McDrew turns to inform them that whereas solely 80 inmates can take part within the eight-week program without delay, her workforce can be again in January 2023, with one other iteration. She has to maintain strands of her lengthy hair in her fingers and is squinting within the huge sunshine of an open, windy house. Then she turns again to the group of “civilians” she leads and shares that she would love this system to spill from the college surroundings into the broader neighborhood.

“I would love extra individuals to return, not solely college students,” she says, including that one or two periods could be ample to open individuals’s minds and hearts.

Call My Name

Sergio Zarazua sits amongst his fellow inmates throughout an Workouts in Empathy session.

PROBABLY MOST MONTEREY COUNTY RESIDENTS HAVE PASSED EXIT 306 ON HIGHWAY 101 Between Gonzales and Soledad. However except you’ve got enterprise with CTF, the exit may as effectively result in one other dimension.

Program individuals from the surface commit to 2 hours weekly, for eight weeks. Most of them know solely that they are going to be speaking about empathy with the inmates, however McDrew is selective and rapidly weeds out spectators who will come solely as soon as to have the ability to inform individuals they’ve been to jail.

Earlier than reaching the yard and moving into the low dayroom constructing, a lilliput amongst giants towering above it, all people’s ID is checked thrice. There can be a few extra checks on the best way again and the compulsory trunk opening on the exit gate, operated by younger guards, women and men. There’s a strict gown code. No spaghetti straps, no denim, no grey denim or grey shirts that might resemble inmates’ apparel. No hugging, no buying and selling something – objects, medicine, data.

The inmates, even those that did enroll, don’t know that it’s a two-way-street miracle. They don’t seem to be the one ones who profit from this “academic trade,” because the official description of this system reads. An “emotional trade” could be as correct of an outline.

WHEN THE EINE GROUP FINALLY GETS INTO THE BUILDING, BROTHERS IN BLUE, AS THE 80 INMATES WHO WILL PARTICIPATE IN THE PROGRAM are referred to, are already inside, lined up across the dayroom. Most of them put on blue shirts on white T-shirts and darker pants with the identify of the jail in huge, yellow letters.

Shaking fingers with every of them will take a couple of minutes, nevertheless it’s exhausting to overstate its significance. Achieved twice, earlier than and after every session, it cements the brand new bonds in an invisible however palpable manner.

“There are 80 classes in empathy right here, 80 academics.”

Whereas this system is open to any inmate on this yard – and for the primary time in its historical past it presents an trade for his or her participation credit into just a few days off from their years-long sentences – Delicate Wants Yard is just not a typical CTF inhabitants.

“This isn’t the primary inhabitants yard,” McDrew explains. “This yard is beneath protecting custody.” Eighty p.c of inmates are there as a result of they needed to be taken from the primary yard for both their very own, or another person’s, security. That signifies that all particular wants inmates can be right here for a spread of causes – navy veterans requiring help, and in addition severe intercourse offenders. Some are right here as a result of their life is in danger – they’re escaping homophobia, medicine or gang life omnipresent in the primary yard.

“I discover it extra peaceable,” McDrew says, despite the fact that she finally plans to supply this system to any inmate inhabitants. She could be comfortable to go wherever with EinE. What she requires from all individuals, incarcerated and never, is exhibiting up on time and dedication.

EACH TWO-HOUR SESSION HAS TWO ELEMENTS. Earlier than dispersing into circles or households the place extra intimate conversations happen, all individuals sit collectively on benches organized as viewers seating. The civilians and the inmates are inspired to sit down collectively. This easy motion instantly transforms the jail into an establishment of upper schooling. Extra importantly, all individuals at the moment are one scholar physique.

That’s the time when one in every of McDrew’s assistants, Smith, leads respiratory workout routines. Most inmates shut their eyes and lean upward on the benches. They exhale loudly, some are swinging; others lose endurance with the train and go searching. “You should use this method day-after-day, anytime, all through your life,” Smith says, promising that the impact of the clear head and the sense of leisure might be achieved wherever – even in jail.

Every week of EinE is dedicated to a distinct difficulty. The fifth week is for societal trauma, the sixth is for gender, seventh for race. Contributors do readings on their very own every week. One of many first readings assigned is the primary chapter from the 2014 ebook by Roman Krznaric, Empathy: Why It Issues, and How one can Get It, adopted by The Little E-book of Race and Restorative Justice by Fania E. Davis from 2019. There are darkish inexperienced UC Santa Cruz folders that some inmates use to rearrange their readings so as.

The names of thinkers they learn differ from activist and thinker Angela Davis to modern vulnerability guru Brené Brown to the late actress Audrey Hepburn. There are quotes to mirror on. Along with a powerful feminist core, Martin Luther King Jr. returns a number of occasions, together with a full of life dialogue about what would have occurred if he had an opportunity to hold on together with his Dream. EinE doesn’t shrink back from points comparable to mass incarceration within the U.S., systemic trauma, the trauma attributable to jail itself, and a necessity for racial reconciliation.

The “lecture half” is temporary and interactive, and serves as a immediate to extra partaking actions in smaller circles. McDrew referred to as them households. Every household has about 5 to seven inmates and a few the surface individuals. The work in circles takes a stable hour – then all households are referred to as again to sit down on the viewers. There, two representatives from every household share “sparks from the fireplace,” which might be just about something they wish to share. In that a part of the session, personalities present up. Some inmates take pleasure in talking in entrance of the viewers, others are clearly uncomfortable.

“Wait till the final session,” McDrew says. She is referring to the ultimate, eighth week of this system, when a ceremony can be held. She calls it the Efficiency Night time. Then, all individuals are requested to organize one thing, in the event that they really feel prefer it. It may be spoken phrase, poetry, a letter, a speech, a track, no matter. “On the final session, on the final minute, all people desires to talk.”

Call My Name

Sociology professor Megan McDrew inherited this system from Jim Micheletti, a former instructor at Palma Faculty in Salinas.

THE IDEA THAT PRISON AS PUNISHMENT DOESN’T WORK AND MAKES A SERIOUS CRIMINAL FROM A PETTY THIEF IS NOT NEW. It was proclaimed by French thinker and historian of concepts Michel Foucault in his breakthrough evaluation of Western penal programs Self-discipline and Punish: The Delivery of the Jail (1975).

Together with society, jail modifications too. When in 1968, the identify “Soledad State Jail” was formally modified to “The Correctional Coaching Facility” it was as a result of intensive academic and vocational coaching out there to the inmate inhabitants.

“This isn’t the one system that wants revamping,” says Carlos Aceves, McDrew’s different assistant. His perform is completely different from Smith’s; he’s not an skilled on mindfulness. However he was incarcerated for 21 years, together with in CTF.

Aceves flies in from San Diego each week and takes an Uber from San Jose Airport to Soledad. One evening, on his manner again, he couldn’t discover an Uber however began to wish and he quickly met a man who gave him a journey, he says. “Now I name him each week and pay him money,” he says.

Aceves is outgoing and pleasant, and wears a black leather-based jacket over a darkish sweater. He has been coming to prisons as a speaker since earlier than EinE began; McDrew discovered him via CROP (Artistic Restorative Alternative), a nonprofit devoted to reforming California’s legal justice panorama.

Aceves can also be the one one who mentions the opposite immense price of mass incarceration within the U.S. – in {dollars}.

“It prices a mean of about $106,000 per 12 months to incarcerate an inmate in jail in California,” he says. “Do you make this cash?” he asks civilians within the circle. Nobody does. “Come on, we will repair this. Aren’t we the best nation on the planet?”

McDrew desires to contribute to a metamorphosis from punishment to therapeutic, however says her fundamental motivation in main Workouts in Empathy is to offer for extra security within the jail system – not just for the inmates, but additionally for the guards, who work lengthy hours and are vulnerable to despair working in a difficult and nerve-racking surroundings.

“Sure I desire a change,” McDrew says. “I need the change to occur from the within.”

Call My Name

Micah Harris, a former school soccer participant who was coaching for observe for the Olympics when he was sentenced to jail. After he’s launched, he wish to open his personal sports activities facility and prepare others.

THERE ARE NO SIDES IN A CIRCLE. All people sits eye to eye, head to head. First introductions are shy and quite easy, eye contact interrupted. Happily, McDrew fingers every group a speaking piece – just about a stress ball. It’s unbelievable how a lot it helps and the way comforting it’s to squeeze it and speak.

“I am going by Ricco.”

“I’m a former Marine.”

“My identify is Micah. I’ve been incarcerated for 16 years.”

“I’ve been down for 20 years.”

“I like soccer and I really like Jesus. I’ve been down for 20 years.”

One of many first workout routines within the circle begins with exhibiting a cartoon drawing, a picture of individuals sitting on a tree. The tree appears to symbolize the society, a few of the individuals proven sitting with others, some sitting alone. There’s a individual sitting with a turned again; there may be somebody with an prolonged hand on the trunk of the tree. All people within the circle is requested to search out himself or herself on the tree. Perhaps as a result of it’s a cartoon, it’s straightforward and enjoyable to confess the way you understand your self in society – a person, a pushover, a loser, a loner?

“Being in jail teaches you to like your self. And should you don’t love your self, you aren’t residing.”

However not each confession is enjoyable or straightforward. Quickly, the inmates speak about their childhood, gang dads and uncles who realized that mendacity and dishonest is the best way to be a person.

There are such a lot of issues to share. One inmate says it took him years and years to confess that he killed his spouse. One other says solely now he realizes how a lot he loves his mom.

A former Navy member discusses his drug issues at work, individuals from Mexico and Honduras speak concerning the racism and racial segregation they realized in jail.

An inmate who goes by the identify Chicago talks about Alaska Day by day on ABC and the way he loves that the TV sequence brings up lacking Indigenous ladies. George talks about vital race idea and the way necessary it’s to start out educating African-American historical past in colleges.

Additionally they contact on relations inside jail. “It’s not straightforward to share,” one in every of them says. “You’ll go, however we see one another day-after-day.”

There are some shocking shares. “Being in jail teaches you to like your self,” says Tony. “And should you don’t love your self, you aren’t residing.”

Christian was concerned in a gang and was sentenced for second-degree homicide. He thinks it’s unfair he obtained 25 years as a result of others “obtained 15 for a similar factor.”

Micah Harris has been incarcerated for 16 years. He’s straightforward to identify because of his athlete top and the yellow ADA shirt he wears, signaling his position helping disabled inmates. Harris has a bachelor’s diploma in sociology and used to play soccer for the College of Oregon. He was discovered responsible of torture and sexual assault in San Diego in 2006, and sentenced to life in jail. He’ll see the parole board once more in 2023. On the time of his crime, Harris was coaching in observe together with his eyes on competing within the 2008 Olympics.

“Empathy was a… wrestle for me,” he says. “I assume one may say I lacked empathy. It’s a brand new idea for me.”

Harris talks a couple of dysfunctional, violent family and the emotional trauma that was by no means addressed. He talks about counting on alcohol within the years earlier than the crime. Solely this 12 months, he began to be the yard’s ADA employee. He takes veterans to their appointments, or wherever they should go, in accordance with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the People with Disabilities Act of 1990.

“All of it got here via this 12 months,” he says, referring each to his new tasks and the EinE program.

Call My Name

Micah Harris works on a writing train on the subject of race.

McDREW’S FIRST EXPOSURE TO THE PRISON SYSTEM WAS IN SAN QUENTIN STATE PRISION CIRCA 2013. “There was an enormous give attention to rehabilitation in San Quentin,” she says. As a result of it actually does matter who’s in command of the ability, she says, praising Luis Martinez, the CTF warden since 2021.

Wardens’ efforts in offering their inmates with greater schooling was what obtained McDrew – a sociology professor at Hartnell School and UC Santa Cruz, who lives in Monterey – into the jail system within the first place. Earlier than the primary session of Workouts in Empathy begins, the civilians are welcomed by a workforce who runs CTF, and Martinez talks with pleasure about “changing the tradition of violence” by treating inmates like human beings. Due to the entry to greater schooling, prisoners are being “despatched residence with a talent set,” he says.

McDrew first began in CTF in 2016, providing one sociology class per semester through Hartnell, as a volunteer. Inside, she developed relationships and rapport not solely with the guards, but additionally with different volunteers from the surface world, amongst them Jim Micheletti and Mia Mirassou from Palma Faculty, a Catholic boys faculty in Salinas. Their program was the precursor of EinE. Micheletti got here up with the identify.

“Many of the teams within the jail system are restricted to prisoners themselves and whoever facilitates this system,” McDrew says. However EinE, initially provided as a literature class the place Micheletti would learn all the pieces from Steinbeck to Shakespeare with the inmates, would moreover herald some highschool college students from Palma to hitch.

McDrew prompt bringing school college students too. They led one cohort collectively, however quickly each Micheletti and Mirassou parted methods with the college. (“Palma continues to be lively within the establishment,” writes CTF spokesperson Wilbert Landrum. Representatives of the college visited the jail on Jan. 11 to debate resuming their program in Facility C.)

“I didn’t need this system to get disintegrated,” McDrew says. “I noticed real-life advantages in it.” She revamped it, prolonged the unique title to include the “Transformative Justice Initiative” part, and utilized for (and acquired) a California Reentry and Enrichment (CARE) grant from California Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation. That enabled her to supply this system, supported by a analysis intern and two facilitators, Smith and Aceves.

Call My Name

Earlier than and after every session, the inmates and the guests shake fingers. It takes a couple of minutes nevertheless it’s price each second.

THE PERFORMANCE NIGHT SURPRISES ALL. First, it comes too quickly. Second, it’s precisely like McDrew says. It’s showtime and all people is nervous once more, but additionally fairly excited, like earlier than a category efficiency. There are poems and actually good songs, each a capella and with a guitar. There are additionally dream catchers and different handmade artwork ready by the inmates.

Kevin talks about how he spoke on the cellphone together with his spouse after the primary EinE session and instructed her: “They got here. These individuals actually confirmed up.” Many thanks for “making me really feel human” and for “strolling in my footwear” are being given. Kevin ready a rap track on empathy in motion and praises God; one other inmate reads a poem that he wrote to his useless daughter.

Sergio Zarazua is performing as effectively. He shares a narrative he heard on the radio a couple of fancy girl who picks up a homeless outdated man and takes him for lunch. She seems to be the CEO of a financial institution, whom he as soon as helped when she herself was in a determined scenario, years earlier. As with every story, he’s brimming with hope, however he has each proper to be hopeful – Zarazua can be out in three years. By now even the prosecutor who led the case in opposition to him is curious and well-wishing for his upcoming future. They’re in contact by mail.

McDrew is just not shocked by the standard of the performances, she understands the potential – creative, mental and societal that’s locked up behind these bars. “I consider in neuroplasticity,” she says.

She believes that creating empathy is one of the best use of human creativeness; she sees it as a talent to interrupt the pipeline of mass distress with mass incarceration.

When reflecting on Workouts in Empathy, McDrew appears round and counts the inmate individuals: “There are 80 classes in empathy right here, 80 academics,’’ she says.

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Tha Bosslady

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