On a rainy day in February, a crowd gathered in the Koret Auditorium of the San Francisco Public Library for a unique event: a viewing of The Other Side of the Wall, a short film by R.J. Lozada, followed by a panel discussion with Mount Tamalpais College alumni Corey McNeil, John Lam, Jesse Vasquez, Wayne Boatwright, Anthony Ammons, and San Quentin’s recently retired Public Information Officer, Lt. Sam Robinson.
The film follows two men, Corey McNeil and James “JC” Cavitt, in their post-release lives after being incarcerated for more than two decades. McNeil currently serves as Mount Tamalpais College’s first-ever Alumni Affairs Associate and Cavitt is the Housing Manager at Project Rebound at CSU-Fullerton and a graduate student at CSU-Long Beach. The film showcases their respective work to support other incarcerated people post-release, the friendship they formed at San Quentin State Prison, and allows viewers the opportunity to witness a rare event: their reunion as they look across the San Francisco Bay at San Quentin from afar. “Would you ever have thought,” said Cavitt joyfully, embracing McNeil in a hug. “Look how far we’ve come. We’re looking this way now.”
The panel discussion, moderated by Earlonne Woods, the co-host of the popular podcast, Ear Hustle, delved into the impact of education in prison, both on panelists’ personal lives and on the culture at San Quentin. Jesse Vasquez, who serves as the Executive Director of the Friends of San Quentin News, discussed his transfer to San Quentin and the shock of finding a prison with a college campus. “Other prisons were about gang and race. At San Quentin, it was about who’s programming and who’s not? Who is about rehabilitation, and who isn’t? It was in that environment that my mindset was challenged.”
Other chimed in to debate whether college programs should expand to other prisons, with recently retired Public Information Officer Lt. Sam Robinson discussing the importance of volunteers, and Wayne Boatwright suggesting that leveraging technology was the key to expansion. “Every person in prison should have the opportunity to go to Mount Tam,” concluded Anthony Ammons.