Vicarious Joy

James King CDCR # V-69030 2–W–10

Optimism is running through SQ like an electrical current. A week ago three people went to their parole board hearings and were found suitable for parole. About ten days ago, a lifer under the three strikes law was resentenced to time served. Last Friday, five people at this prison alone had their sentences commuted by the Governor, and yesterday two of those people went home.

I work close to the area where new arrivals sign up for self-help programming. Lately there has been an unprecedented amount of people coming in to get on the waiting lists for self-help. People feel optimistic about their chances for release. To make their case stronger, they are pursuing their GEDs, signing up for college classes, and taking anger management and substance abuse classes.

It feels like less people are fighting, even as the prison is more crowded than it has been in the five years I've been here. I see more smiles, and conversations often turn to how happy someone is that such and such is going home.

Hope is a powerful drug. Governor Brown, through Prop 57 and the commutations he's been doing, is participating in changing the culture right before our eyes, from one of bitterness and fatalism, to one of empathy and hope. These changes, of acknowledging a few people's suitability for parole, granting small opportunities for us to shorten our sentences, not to mention, five commutations in a population of over four thousand have had a butterfly effect that is powerful to behold.

It's enough to make me wonder, what if, when one entered prison, the attitude was, "What do we need to do to get you home?" What if prisons positioned themselves as a place where people who'd committed harmful acts could learn how to relate to society in more healthy ways? What if we treated crime as a social wellness issue, instead of a moral failing? What if, instead of small incremental nods to rehabilitation, we went all in on healing?

I, like many other people living here, am inspired by the vicarious joy I feel whenever a person has proven they are ready to reenter society. I believe that if they can do it, I can too. Hope inspires me to work even harder. And if I succeed in my goal of earning my freedom, I know it will inspire others. Instead of spiraling down, we're cycling up. Feels good.

About First Watch

First Watch is a media project started at San Quentin State Prison. All content is shot, directed, edited, and scored by the journalists inside prison.

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