Remembering San Quentin News’ Executive Editor
I remember my first day at San Quentin clearly. My heart started beating as soon as I got off of the freeway and turned into the little village of San Quentin. I was nervous pulling into the parking lot, I was nervous walking up to the gate, and I was nervous as I took my first step inside. The amazement of seeing beautifully cultivated rose bushes, the quaint façade of the medical building, and the tennis court in the middle of the yard couldn’t quell the fear of walking through a sea of inmates.
But in the newsroom of San Quentin News, I felt immediately comfortable. One of the first things I noticed was the diversity of the staff. Outside in the yard, the white people hung out with white people, the Blacks with Blacks, and the Asians with Asians. In the newsroom, however, there was a healthy mix, much more so than a typical newsroom. I could see by the way they interacted with each other that the camaraderie among the men was genuine. They exuded a warmth and openness with me as well. When I sat down at the staff editorial meeting, they proved themselves to be smart, focused and engaged.
The man leading this team was Arnulfo Garcia. He was there at the very beginning of the resurrection of the newspaper about a decade ago, and he managed the newspaper through much of the last decade. Not only did he have an ambitious vision to turn the newspaper into a professional-caliber publication with a readership beyond the walls, he also had the ability to bring people from different backgrounds together and get them to believe in themselves. He was a visionary, a leader, and mentor for many. Even though I was coming in as a teacher with many years of professional journalism experience, I looked up to him. In the beginning, he was always checking in with me, making sure I was doing okay. Later on, he mostly just kept an occasional eye on me, just as he did with everyone else.
Besides his work as the editor, he also led rehabilitation and mentorship programs. His contributions were so highly regarded that two months ago, he was released from his life sentence after serving 16 years. He had big plans to build a re-entry house in the wilderness for inmates, open an outside bureau for San Quentin News and much much more. He might have already been 65 years old, but he had been destined for greatness, or at least until his life was cut short.
Two weeks ago, he died in a car accident on his way to checking out a property for the re-entry house he wanted to build. His sister was with him.
Last week, I went to his funeral. The attendees reflected all the lives he had touched – his family, his Mexican American community, former inmates, San Quentin News advisors and volunteers, religious leaders and members of the correctional institution. I’ve been mourning the loss of what he could have done and would have done to make the world a better place. I’ve also been mourning the loss to the world of someone who had done so much good at a time when many people (including our president) seem out for themselves.
But I also feel a responsibility to help carry on his legacy. Arnulfo’s last words to me before he left prison was, “You’re doing a really good job, a really good job. Keep on doing what you’re doing.”