On Saturday night, Dec 5, 2015 more than 200 people filled the pews of the Catholic chapel inside San Quentin State Prison for a first-ever uncensored storytelling event behind the prison walls. Together, inmates and volunteers, officers and staff gathered to hear stories about the all-too-secret, often misunderstood community that sustains each of them inside and outside the prison walls.

For two storytellers, Troy Williams and Watani Stiner, the night would be the first time they would return to San Quentin after being released a year earlier following decades as inmates.

Like those in the audience for Live @ San Quentin, this special episode offers the chance to hear the voices and stories too often silenced by imprisonment.

Matt Martin, General Manager of Public Radio KALW in San Francisco, was in the audience that night, and he made the decision to jointly air the Live @ San Quentin Christmas Day Special on KALW.

               He explained why to the station’s listeners in a newsletter:

Earlier this month, a group of us from KALW had the privilege to be part of an amazing evening in the chapel at San Quentin State Prison. It was a program of live storytelling by prisoners, staff and volunteers at the prison, organized by the podcast Life of the Law. As in any great night of storytelling, there was drama and disclosure, pain and humor. And for me, a new understanding that “rehabilitation” isn’t only about job skills or being ready for reentering society.   At its root, it’s about restoring life.  

The men who spoke are reclaiming their lives — from years of separation from loved ones, from violence and trauma and addiction, from their own terrible mistakes.  They are striving to make their lives meaningful, doing work to examine and improve themselves that most of us on the outside never do.

We are proud to be able to bring you a selection of these stories this Friday at 5pm.  As you’ll hear, they are remarkable and important — and completely appropriate for Christmas Day.

Matt Martin, KALW General Manager

The special hour-long feature episode presents stories by Lawrence Pela, Watani Stiner, Azraal Ford, Aaron Taylor, Phil Melendez, and Emile Deweaver.
Each of the photos below are links to the audio stories of the other wonderful stories shared at Live @ San Quentin — stories by Kathleen Jackson, David Jassy, Raphaele Casale, Eric Durr and Troy Williams.


Raphaele Casale


David Jassy


Troy Williams










Eric Durr


Kathleen Jackson









Live @ San Quentin was a co-production by Life of the Law, the San Quentin News, the San Quentin Prison Report, the Society of Professional Journalists Northern California Chapter and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The event was funded in part by the Open Society Foundations, the Law and Society Association, the National Science Foundation and A Blade of Grass.

This year the Society of Professional Journalists welcomed the reporters inside San Quentin to become members. The San Quentin Association of the Society of Professional Journalists has formed the first ever chapter of incarcerated journalists in a US prison. See the photos of the day they received their membership cars, and read about the association in this Life of the Law blog post.

Special thanks to Nigel Poor and San Quentin SPJ members Rahsaan Thomas for hosting, and to SPJ San Quentin members Greg Eskridge, Juan Haines, Louis A Scott,  and Tommy Winfrey for their months of work co-producing the event.  Our appreciation to photographer Elisabeth Fall and to Tony Gannon for producing the video of the event, which is being shown on San Quentin Television on Christmas Day.

Thanks also to Warden Ron Davis, Chief Deputy Warden Kelly Mitchell, Lt. Sam Robinson, Raphael Kasalee, Steve Emrick and Father George Williams of the San Quentin Catholic Chapel for their support in producing Live @ San Quentin.

Guests and press were by special invitation only and were cleared to go inside the prison walls by the CDCR.


Life of the Law is published by Panoply network of podcasts. We’re a non-profit project of the Tides Center. This episode of Life of the Law was funded in part by grants from the Open Society Foundation, the Law and Society Association, the Proteus Fund and the National Science Foundation.
© Copyright 2015 Life of the Law. All rights reserved.