Building Bridges: Reflections on the Criminal Justice Reform and Philanthropy Workshop

By Tony DeTrinidad | April 5, 2019

Published in the April 2019 newsletter, which you can read in its entirety here.

This fall brought, for me, an entirely fresh outlook on life when I was given the opportunity to enter the Criminal Justice Reform and Philanthropy workshop. A bit before the beginning of the semester I received an invitation, as all Prison University Project students did, to apply for the workshop. The process consisted of writing a short paper on what I saw as the element needed for effective criminal justice reform. I admit to having some degree of hesitation before deciding to apply. I just didn’t look at myself as the kind of person who could impact this world in any substantial way. Then a friend posed this question to me: “Who better to contribute to the solution than those closest to the problem?” So I wrote on the need for those of us with the vision for change to be able to build bridges to those with the power to make that change happen.

And I’m so grateful I submitted that writing, because building those bridges then became possible. Once in the class, I was given a chance to study and begin to understand the great many dynamics of power and the structures through which it takes form. Many of the readings were a lot to take in, but I couldn’t imagine when or where else I’d get the opportunity to read any works such as those by John Pfaff. And I got not only to meet, but to also sit with and learn from some of today’s greatest minds in the world of change, including people such as Jack Dorsey (co-founder of Twitter).

Here I am in prison, and I had a bonafide research assistant (RA). It was amazing to be able to tell that and inspire a fun bit of jealousy to loved ones back home (who themselves with master’s degrees have never had RAs!). With the help of those RAs and my classmates, my ideas finally coalesced into an actual proposal. I then presented that proposal along with the rest of my class to a room full of people who cared enough about our ideas to come into San Quentin on a Saturday and hear them. I will never forget how it felt to watch guys with whom I’ve joked and chatted transform into inspirational leaders of change, as one by one they bravely went up before this crowd and presented their visions for change to a room full of strangers.

It was then I realized what this meant to me. I felt humbled by the gift given to me that semester. I was inspired to see that people did care about my situation, and that I could make a difference. The bridges we built are still there, and even though the workshop is over, the work continues.

Please note that the Prison University Project became Mount Tamalpais College in September 2020.