The bridge between an inmate and society | Earnest Sanford | TEDxSanQuentin


Translator: Delia Cohen
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney (Applause) (Cheers) Thank you guys for coming out
to the TEDx event today. My topic today is going to be
basically about the bridge between inmate, staff, and the public. The faces that you see in here today
are the faces you’ll see in our future. I wanted to talk to you and tell you
a little bit about myself. So, how did I become
a correctional officer? My mother and my father put me
in situations where I could be successful, and they always bred that into me. You need to strive to do better each day. I started my career off with approximately 16 years
doing armed security within the housing projects
within the Bay Area: Acorns, Oakland, Geneva Towers, San Francisco, St. Johns, Crescent Park, and Richmond, just to name a few. I started off as a child, wanting to be a part of some
major law enforcement agency, and today I’ve fulfilled that by joining
the California Department of Corrections. In my 14 years here,
I’ve learned quite a bit. When I arrived here, I assumed that I
was going to see the “worst of the worst” from all the inmates that I’ve seen here,
so I came in with that attitude. They’ve got nothing coming;
I’m not going to give them anything. And at the end of the day, my job is
on the line every day I come in here, and my life is on the line
every day I come in. I want to go home the same
way I came to work. So, I worked everywhere in the prison. Anywhere from AC, North Seg, and these are all death row areas, and they’re the worst of the worst
except for North Seg. That’s like your premier inmate
that knows how to program, no problems. And I’m now down in Education. I’ve been in Education
for the last four years, which brings me to say I’ve seen quite a few people
come in on the bus. I was in Receiving and Releasing
one day, working overtime, and there was an inmate, he was
pacing back and forth profusely; he was just nervous. Came from a level three pen;
didn’t know what to expect. So, I walked up to him and I asked him,
I said, “Hey, are you okay?” He said, “Yeah,” he said. “I just want
to know what the programs are.” I said, “Well, what you do
is tomorrow, I work in Education. You come see me tomorrow, and we’ll see if we can get
you on the right track.” So, he came over to me. He seen me around about 1:30;
I show up at work around 1:30. 1:30 to 9:30, and he beat me to work. And he was standing right
there, waiting patiently. So he says, “Hey, you told me to come
see you, you remember from yesterday?” “I remember. I’ve got a good memory. I said, “Let me turn you on to somebody.” So, that particular day, we had PUP,
and we had Miss Jody that was in. So, I turned to him onto Miss Jody, and today he is a successful journalist
with The San Quentin News. (Applause) I would like him to stand up. That would be Ross, Tommy Ross, stand up. (Applause) (Cheers) Take the applause for yourself. I just want to say I’ve gotten the chance
to view these guys come in, and they put the work in. I see them go to class. I see them come in asking
questions on how to be better. I see them striving to be better. I see them put together self-help groups. I see them put together work groups. I’ve seen some of these guys
start up programs, and one of the guys that started up
programs is here today, Troy. He helped start a program. He also got out after being incarcerated
after about 20 some odd years. That just shows that these inmates
can rehabilitate themselves and put themselves
in a situation to be successful. Likewise, I’ve not always been viewed
prior to coming here as a good person. I’ve had my own issues but life has revealed to me that everyone has a chance, and it’s what you make of that chance. And I try my best to implement that
with all of the inmates that I talk to. I don’t treat no inmate the same. I treat them on an individual basis. That way when you deal with an inmate
you know exactly what you’re coming from because that’s what
they deal with, respect. And they honor you when you are real. Don’t turn around
and give them a fake answer. You know, “Hey, can you tell me
what time this class is showing?” or “Are they going to have
this class this evening?” “Aw, no, no, no, I don’t know.” But instead if you tell them “Hey look,
I don’t know right now but I’ll find out.” They respect that; before you
were just leading them on. But I also wanted to say being here with the California
Department of Corrections over the last 14 years what I’ve realized is that we have totally made a transformation from the California
Department of Corrections to the California Department
of Corrections and Rehabilitation. I see the rehab. (Applause) And I say again, these faces
that you see today will be the faces that you see
in your community. You know, I just ask that you also extend
your hand when these guys come out and show them the way to jobs, shelter, a way to get finances, so they can stay out
so the recidivism rate stays down. And also one last closing word from me. As of when I retire, which is a few years,
maybe six, seven, eight years from now, I’m a little, young guy (Laughter) Hopefully, I can set up
a transitional home for the incarcerated when they get out
and point them in the right direction. And that’s my story. Thank you. (Applause)

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