OP-ED: Returning to San Quentin A Year After Being Released


By Troy Williams


After spending 18 years in prison, I returned, a freed man. I was asked to be one of the speakers at an event for a national podcast called “Life of the Law.”

Thirteen months after being released, I stood outside San Quentin State Prison at what’s known as East Gate, waiting to re-enter the prison.


I couldn’t help but think that I was standing in place where one year ago I could have been shot and possibly killed, sent to solitary confinement and charged with escape.


Fear, excitement, and sadness overwhelmed me throughout my return.


Initially, a deep sense of fear arose as I began walking down the long stretch of road that would lead me back inside the prison.


I began questioning my decision to reenter a place that on some level I thought I would never be able to leave. The psychological impact of spending nearly two decades of not knowing when or if I would ever be paroled physically began to manifest itself in my body.


My hands shook, and my breathing got shallow and heavy. I got fidgety and couldn’t keep still.


Other guests waiting to enter with me began asking me questions: “What does it feel like? Are you nervous? How has life been? What is parole like? Do you miss some of the guys? What are you going to talk about?”


I heard the questions and tried to answer, but my mind could only focus on the steal bars in front of me. I could only think about men like Sam Johnson, Curtis Carrol, David Jassy, and Brian Asey – still stuck inside a system that can neither see how they have transformed their lives nor the value their transformation would have in the free world.


As I began the process of reentering the prison, I was excited at the thought of seeing some of my old comrades as well as being able to encourage hundreds of incarcerated men that their work to change themselves will be valuable to the communities that await them.


I told the men that their work was not in vain. I told them that many people and organizations in our community have taken notice, are fighting for them and are working hard to establish resources.


I told the men that youth in the circles I travel in have begun to hear their voices when I to prisons full of men who wish they had a second chance.


I told the men that our communities out here need them.


There were many good speakers that night. I spoke along with incarcerated men, prison staff and another formerly incarcerated man named Watani Stiner.


Please listen to the Life of the Law Christmas day special called Live at San Quentin: “A whole ‘nother world” (www.lifeofthelaw.org)


I was glad to see so many good men who jokingly teased about how much weight I gained. They all seemed to think that I lost my prison physique. But that’s another story.


I left the prison feeling sad –sad because I know the look of men who are happy to see you leave but enduring so much pain because they can’t.


Writer and videographer Troy Williams is a columnist for the Post News Group. A video he produced is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCRwNXhNX6A


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