• San Quentin News editor Anthony Caravalho speaks with volunteer Alastair Boone in the newsroom at San Quentin State Prison on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

  • San Quentin News editor David Ditto is working on a story in the newsroom at San Quentin State Prison on Tuesday, November 16, 2021. The San Quentin News is written and produced entirely by inmates. (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

  • Inmate Gregory Eskridge poses for San Quentin News photographer Phoeun You in San Quentin State Prison on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

  • San Quentin News photographer Phoeun You works to capture images of the prison yard through a fence in San Quentin State Prison on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

  • Writer Anthony Caravalho, left, watches San Quentin News sports writer Timothy Hicks work on an article in the newsroom at San Quentin State Prison on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

  • Edwin Chavez of the San Quentin News speaks with outside adviser Jan Perry in the newsroom at San Quentin State Prison on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

  • Steven Brooks, left, reads a copy as he and Vincent Obannon work on the San Quentin News in the newsroom at San Quentin State Prison on Tuesday, November 16, 2021. Both men are on staff for the newspaper . (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

  • San Quentin News editor David Ditto chats with outside adviser Jan Perry in the newsroom at San Quentin State Prison on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

  • San Quentin News editor-in-chief Marcus Henderson reads a copy of his diary in the newsroom at San Quentin State Prison on Tuesday, November 16, 2021. The San Quentin News is written entirely and produced by inmates . The newspaper produces approximately 35,000 copies each month with the support of volunteer journalism advisers and donations. (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

  • Mount Tamalpais rises behind the courtyard of San Quentin State Prison on Tuesday, November 16, 2021 (Sherry LaVars / Marin Independent Journal)

Timothy Hicks recalls many grueling days spent writing on the top bunk in a cramped 4ft by 9ft cell. If he extended his arms, he could touch the opposite walls of his cell. A locker on the wall above her bunk further restricted movement.

Unable to get up and move when the writer’s blockade hit, Hicks said he would turn on the television or read a book to try to “rejuvenate” his mind and return to work on an article.

Hicks, a reporter held at San Quentin State Prison, said he needed to stay focused on the mission – continuing to produce journalism for a prison newspaper – to “let the public see these people trying to transform their life “.

“The whole dynamic changed the way people viewed incarcerated people,” Hicks said.

As San Quentin became the epicenter of one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the United States in the summer of 2020, Hicks and San Quentin News reporters continued, documenting the latest news on the crisis. health workers while locked in their cells 23 hours a day. daytime.

Despite the uncontrolled spread of the deadly virus in a debacle later described by a judge as “willful indifference,” when most fell ill with the virus themselves, the San Quentin News team produced award-winning work . Now the staff is expanding the post.

The newspaper, which exists through charitable donations and support for journalism projects, returned to the newsroom in August. Broadcasting director David Ditto announced an increase in the number of print distributions, a return to the digital world and a new partnership with the Folsom Women’s Facility in November.

The newspaper – which prints 35,000 copies, distributed monthly to approximately 100,000 people incarcerated in 36 California state prisons and some prisons – will provide 10 female inmates with journalism training for 26 weeks to create a Folsom publication.

The San Quentin News has a staff of 12 to 15, with a team of professional advisers and volunteers, who are returning to producing the monthly newspaper in person. Those released on parole have a 0% recidivism rate, and many have published articles and editorials in major newspapers.

The newspaper won five awards from the California News Publishers Association for articles published in 2020, including honors for editor Juan Haines, editor Marcus Henderson and journalist Anthony Caravalho.

Caravalho continued to write while ill with COVID-19 and did not see his wife, who has cancer, from March 2020 to November 12.

“Being in a cell, not knowing whether you’re going to live or die, when your wife has cancer… it was just therapeutic writing,” he said, choking back tears.

Henderson also returned to the newsroom. He spoke proudly of his staff’s work to keep the newspaper going for over a year when operations were halted.

“We wanted to make sure we captured the story of what was happening to us at that point,” Henderson said.

Advisor Yukari Kane of the Prison Journalism Project, which supports the publication, called the staff’s work “a pole star of what’s possible.”

“There are stories that can only be told from within,” Kane said. “Its main audience is inside, and it’s a reliable and trustworthy form of information inside the prison. “

How the prison newspaper, rocked by a deadly pandemic, continued to produce award-winning journalism was something of an achievement. Henderson said his staff must be tenacious at a time when so many people were sick or dying around them.

After the prison closed, all staff were confined to shared cells all day with no access to computers and only 90 minutes for phone calls.

They devised a plan to write stories on paper, by hand, or on a typewriter, and send their copies to Friends of San Quentin counselors and former inmates. Henderson said he had little time to check in on staff members in person or call advisers for help.

Outside the prison walls, the work of journalists has been typed, edited and laid out by former staff who have been released. The first “pandemic article” was published in August 2020, featuring stories from April to July.

It would be the longest period without a print edition since the newspaper, established in the 1940s, was resurrected by director Robert Ayers. Jr in 2008 after being shut down by a director in the 1980s, according to Idem.

The newspaper produced monthly editions by mail until it got approval to finally resume regular operations in August. Henderson said nine men were paroled during that time and his focus was on training a new group of reporters.

“We were very lucky to have all the support from outside,” said Ditto. Staff relied on alumni, including former editor Jess Vasquez, to get the document edited, designed and distributed.

Vasquez, now communications director, is a key player outside of prison, seeking donations and grants, and handling distribution. The paper costs nearly $ 100,000 to print each year but receives no state support, relying instead on private support.

“It is a challenge to fund a newspaper as it is, and especially a hard sell when writers are incarcerated and face continuing stigma,” Vasquez said.

Still, the paper retained a broad base of support, with the help of a Marin printer who produced the paper at cost.

Henderson said the post always focused on social justice, but staff felt responsible for serving their community, promoting successes, and maintaining high standards.

“Newspapers and news are about the community. Once we stop serving the needs of the community, we all have these schisms in society, ”said Henderson.

“To be able to tell someone else’s story, it kind of teaches you empathy. “

For men like Vasquez who have left the walls of San Quentin, the real benefit of the newspaper is for the inmates themselves.

During his time in the newsroom, he spent 14 hours a day, from 6:15 a.m. to 8:15 a.m., worrying only about the production of the newspaper.

“I prepared for success,” he said. “I learned to write a little better. I became a critical thinker and was able to network with a lot of people.

While the mission has always been to highlight incarceration, rehabilitation and reintegration, Vasquez said: “I think the need for the newspaper has become more evident during the pandemic.”

“All of a sudden people were forced to consider the reality of what incarceration looks like – health disparities, mistreatment, use of funds, human rights.

He said the pandemic was an opportunity to present a different perspective on the crisis and on what happened in the criminal justice system, as debates over crime and prison reform erupt throughout. the state.

“It’s a broken system. There is literally neglect when dealing with people in the prison system.”

At a time when newspapers face growing mistrust, Vasquez said, it is important for San Quentin News to produce a fair and balanced publication. He said most newspapers don’t know how to report on criminal justice in a balanced way, given the current stigma.

“In addition to raising the voice of the incarcerated and humanizing them, we are trying to fight ignorance,” Vasquez said.

Richard Richardson continued to work with Vasquez outside of prison on the layout and design of the journal, as he said the journal had given meaning to his life for a decade.

“In a hopeless place, in a desolate environment, people sink into their shells and believe the rhetoric they’ve heard all their lives. We want to inspire hope where there is none, ”said Richardson.

Eagan agreed that the newspaper is an important way to inform people about people in prison.

“The more we educate people on the outside, the more people would realize about the stupid mistakes we have made over the past 30 years, locking up a huge percentage of our population – usually for invalid reasons or for excessive periods of time.” , Eagan mentioned.

Ditto said some staff are paid for their work, around 24 cents an hour. But they’re there because they want to, not for the money, he said.

Ditto said he looks forward to rewarding himself for the winnings with a pint of ice cream, when it becomes available in the prison cafeteria. Recently, the price of a pint jumped to $ 4.45 – an expensive treat for an inmate, “but it’s worth it,” Ditto said.