In 2008, a group of men incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison were unsatisfied that people were leaving prison institutionalized by prison culture, inadequate resources and the continued support necessary to succeed. Knowing this would make it difficult for them and others to live healthy, engaged, crime-free lives outside of prison, they decided to start a new program at San Quentin to give prisoners the tools they would need to truly reintegrate back into society and practice social justice.
With a handful of community volunteers and a few prison staff dedicated to rehabilitation, they established the Alliance for CHANGE. They established a nonprofit public benefit corporation with the pro bono assistance of the law firm of Winston & Strawn, and created a sanctioned activity group inside San Quentin to bring the program and its philosophy to the men inside the prison. They recruited several professionals and academics from the fields of criminology, law, communications, sociology and psychology.
Together, the members of the Alliance developed an intensive social justice course and peer mentor program. Classes began in 2010 with every founding member included as pilot participants. They believed that by first learning themselves what social justice is, they could then teach it to other incarcerated men at the prison and eventually reach outside to communities and foster a more fair and equitable society.
At the same time, the Alliance began offering anger management courses, led by Dr. Peter Richman, a psychologist with over 40 years of experience.
Over time, the Alliance added more critical aspects to its programs. In the second cycle of classes, they created a peer mentoring program so that previous graduates could help guide new students through the social justice curriculum. Shortly after, the Alliance recruited interpreters to better reach Spanish speakers.
When three founding members, David Cowan, Ernest Morgan, and Nathaniel “Shahid” Rouse were found suitable for parole in 2011, they understood the challenges of reintegration even more concretely. The practical lessons they received in their first months of freedom took form as the Alliance recruited new volunteers working outside the prison. These volunteers started picking men up from the gate on the morning they were released from San Quentin, helping them through their first day, and guiding them on Critical Adventures that give them functional skills, connect them back to their community, and create a support system that is essential to reintegration. Preparation for parole increased inside the prison as well, with the addition in 2013 of reintegration classes and the development of a virtual community to practice their news skills.
Starting in 2014, the Alliance partnered with No More Tears, Project Rebound, and Phatt Chance Community Services to create the Bay Area Bridge Project. This program outside the prison walls is a process and support group for formerly incarcerated people.
More than 48 students per year graduate from the Alliance Social Justice Education Program and another 40 graduate from Anger Management. Over 150 men have completed our social justice course, and we have supported dozens of men in the days and months after their release. We continue to grow and work with more partners and we look forward to expanding our reach and our effect on the men’s lives.