by Dale Chappell
Arnulfo Garcia, sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, turned his life around and received a second chance when he was released on July 24, 2017 after serving 16 years. Two months later he was killed in a car crash. He was 65.
During his term as the editor-in-chief of the San Quentin News, a paper produced by prisoners at the infamous California facility, he transformed it into a serious journalism publication that is now distributed to 69 prisons across the country. He also transformed other prisoners’ lives.
After being sentenced as a convicted armed burglar and heroin addict, Garcia was determined to change and to help others do the same.
“He taught me how to be a man, how to be a father, to be responsible and accountable for my actions,” said Richard Richardson, a prisoner who took over as the newspaper’s editor when Garcia was released.
“It takes a team to make it to the moon,” Garcia would say. His “team” used the San Quentin News to give prisoners a voice and educate them on how they could improve themselves while incarcerated. The newspaper also featured profiles and editorials about prison conditions, and invited prosecutors and judges to participate in forums on criminal justice issues. During his tenure at the paper from 2012 to 2017, Garcia formed the first prison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
“One of the things he was really, really adamant about was people who took responsibility for what they were incarcerated for, being accountable,” stated Aly Tamboura, who worked with Garcia at the newspaper.
“I blamed my father, the police, the probation office, the D.A., the judges,” Garcia wrote in a 2014 column. “I blamed everyone but myself.” Writing gave him purpose, he said. “I came full circle to the realization that the person responsible for my situation was me.”
Garcia’s dream was to build a reentry home with a full treatment center, a place where former prisoners could get used to life on the outside. He had the support of officials and social workers – and even several prosecutors. His family agreed to help pay for it, and Garcia and his sister, Yolanda, went to check out a possible property. They died on the way there in a vehicle accident on September 23, 2017.
Garcia is survived by six siblings and a 17-year-old daughter, Carmen. “Arnulfo had a second chance at life,” said his sister, Carmelita Vargas. “Unfortunately, it got taken too quick.”
At a memorial at San Quentin, prisoners sat in a circle voicing their thanks to Garcia. “Many times I wanted to quit,” one stated. “You told me ‘come on, let’s go.’”
“I just want you to know that each day that we are moving forward, we will carry on your legacy in the proper way, and do everything we can to change the social construct of the prison in your name,” said another.
Sources: www.kqed.org, www.latimes.com, www.sfgate.com
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