California Prison Newspaper Provides Outlet for Storytelling and Leadership

Marcus Henderson, Editor-in-Chief of  San Quentin News

Marcus Henderson, Editor-in-Chief of San Quentin News

 

I am proud to work in prison journalism with a remarkable group of men—together, we produce the award-winning San Quentin News while balancing college and rehabilitative programs. 

Hard work has paid off for those in the newsroom: six of our fellow staff members received commutations from former Gov. Jerry Brown, while others returned home after being “found suitable” by the parole board.

I am honored to have my name added to the distinguished list of Editors-in-Chief of San Quentin News. Coming off a level four yard (maximum security) with a life sentence, I never thought I would find more to my life than just doing time. 

I thought I was okay because I was functioning. I wasn’t self-medicating with drugs or prison wine. I still had my hard exterior, but I was dead inside. I locked a lot of the real me up. I didn’t know what making amends meant until I came to San Quentin. 

The first day I arrived, my old cell-mate from Calipatria State Prison, asked me to help cover a baseball game in which the prisoners were playing a team from the community, an event that would be unheard of in my former prison world. 

My friend told me to interview these people. My mouth dried up. I realized I hadn’t talked with anybody besides prisoners and guards for more than 15 years.  That was my introduction to reporting. I learned the power of capturing history and fairness, no matter if you like a topic or not. 

I have been working for San Quentin News. for five years now. I started as a member of the Journalism Guild, and I worked my way up to the Journalism Guild Chairman position. Through this experience, I’ve learned the importance of telling our stories. 

So why do we report on sports and entertainment? Well, San Quentin has a long history of hosting entertainers within the prison. Eartha Kitt, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Johnny Cash, B.B. King, and many others have performed inside these walls.

By entertaining us, these visitors give us a sense of normalcy. It is a moment in time that allows us to imagine freedom. These same people are using their celebrity status on behalf of criminal justice reform, including Kim Kardashian, Common, J. Cole and many others whom we have covered in the San Quentin News. These people made contributions beyond entertainment and play by adding their voices to our cause. 

We will always report on California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) policy changes and new laws that are passed. Even if you don’t like something or someone, it is not our right  to take away their voice. Our stories are intended to elevate the voices of our audience, including volunteers, staff and administration. Believe me, we hear you, and we are doing time just like you.