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Today, we're bringing you a story about life inside California's San Quentin State Prison produced inside the prison itself. And then we'll get an update on the covid-19 outbreak inside the prison. This episode contains language that may not be suitable for everyone, please use discretion.
I love animals, so, yeah, since I've been in prison, I've had black widows, tarantulas, a lot of grasshoppers, beetles at San Quentin, inmates aren't allowed to have pets, but some guys get creative with kids like roaches, gophers, rabbits.
I had four swallows, a toad praying mantis, 21 snails, frog, red breasted finch, his arm provisions. I had a desert mold that was partially paralyzed by a hamster, just really lazy with an added to the centipede.
And it was a wolf. It was a bad Lumosity. I had to fish that had babies twice.
I had a tarantula broke out one time myself. He said, Yo, Spider got out.
IMER, Lawnwood Earline is serving a 31 year to life sentence for attempted second degree robbery, and he's the co-host and co producer of Your Hustle, and that's Nagpur.
She's a visual artist and works with incarcerated men here at San Quentin. And she's a producer and my co-host.
And together, we're going to take you inside.
I've been coming to San Quentin as a volunteer for about six years now. And when I get here, my routine is always the same. I park my car. I go through a few checkpoints and gates, and once I'm inside the prison, I check in with a few of the correctional officers that I know. And then I make my way down to the Media Lab and to get to the Media Lab, I have to pass through the yard.
When I walk down into the yard, the first thing that I notice is that there's hundreds of guys hanging out in different areas. There's some guys playing basketball, there's other guys playing tennis, and there's guys hanging out in small groups, maybe talking and playing dominoes. And it's a really strangely friendly atmosphere. Everyone you walk by is really friendly. They make eye contact. They ask how you're doing. They say hello. And I'm wondering, do you have the same experience?
Yeah, this is pretty much a very friendly environment.
I mean, from the volunteers to the prisoners to the staff, individuals know how to communicate with each other. And I think by them being able to express themselves and make this place like a cool place. But I really think San Quentin is a perfect soul for rehabilitation for Rialto. I mean, you have people coming in here saying that they feel safer in here than they do in society. Hmm. Yeah, I've heard that, actually. Well, one of the things I've noticed is that there are all these different areas and so on.
I've just discovered this new area called Hippie Road. Right, right. Right.
And there's nothing distinctive about it. It's just a paved part of the yard. But it's called hippie row because that's where you're going to find Roach. And the funny thing about him is that he's always sitting on the ground without shoes.
When I see Roach, he be drawing something and in a process of him drawing, he'll be having these extra pencils in between his toes, like his reds, blues greens, and he'll have them. They're like pencil holders. Yeah, it's like his desk organized. And so how would you describe him to me?
I think Roach look like the original Jesus Christ, you know?
I mean, he's got the dreadlocks he didn't like. He's from the earth. And if he could, he would probably just be within a leaf. And he got this one little thing that he do. He had just sniffing on his dreadlocks.
I know. I've seen him do that. He grabs his hair and he pulls it in front of his nose and just. Sniffs Why are you whispering?
Because I feel like I'm talking about him behind his back.
He knows he does it, right? Yeah. Yeah. It's like he's going to hear this and go, oh, my God, I sniff my hair. He catches you.
Just be looking at me like, uh, f y I, I do smell my dreads. I put different oil on each one of them. They smell good. They smell like I just came out the dirt hanging out with roots and stuff.
But you know what though, when people from the outside look at Rose, they be like, how do we I mean, I ain't talking to do, but roaches are cool. Dude, my name is Renell Draper, but I go by Roache.
My relationship with people is pretty strained. I don't trust them from early on. They have been a source of pain for me.
So Rich is about forty years old and he's a pretty shy guy until you know.
When I was a child, before I was removed from the care of my mom's custody, she tried to drown me a couple of times in the tub and then she stopped and she left the bathroom.
She was crying. I knew she was unhappy or sad at some. I did. I wanted to actually comfort her, but I didn't know how to do it.
I don't remember her face and I haven't seen her since.
Roache said he was six or seven years old before he had his first real connection with a person.
And that was my sister, Maria. She had something about it that I really enjoyed being around. She seemed to care in a different way than I was used to people caring, because up until that point, I had been into different homes, hospitals, and now is in an orphanage.
Roach was in the St. Vincent Orphanage in South Philly.
It was when he was there that he had his first memorable encounter with the animal kingdom.
I remember one time when I was at the orphanage, I wasn't there long, and since Maria took me and several other kids to Atlantic City Beach, Maurois, the day was overcast and we were only people out there. But it was a and birds out. There was a lot of birds, seagulls and I got clam. She said, go and give it to her now and feed the birds.
But I was scared of it because they were aggressive, super aggressive when I seen that there's like a thousand games and yet we need that and this. It was fighting this fight, so I threw it and ran behind her. She was my protection. Roach didn't stay afraid of birds or any other animals at 10 years old, he left the orphanage and he moved into a group home in Philadelphia where they didn't seem to mind his love of animals.
I used to bring home everything lizards, snakes, kittens from down the street and bring in pigeons on dogs.
It was it was bad because they know we're to come out, the ones that come home from school and there would be a bunch of cats or dogs. The pigeon didn't last long because I think the cat eat it, but I didn't know too much that. I wanted all the animals to be my companion and friend, I do not call animals pets, I call them critters. I hang out with these guys or girls.
Their friends, I don't own them. Roach actually spells his name are OK. No, wait a minute, that's how you spell Roach, right? That's how you spell Roger. OK, Roach spells his name are a U.S. H. Is his name Roach because of the critter or was he just.
I was talking to him one time off mic. And the thing about his name is when he was a teenager, he was homeless and he lived in different people's homes, in the rafters, like secretly in people's houses. And he felt like a roach.
He was hiding behind the scenes and his friends knew that he was there, but the parents wouldn't necessarily know that he was. And that's how he got his name. But he changed the spelling of his name because people thought it was insulting to call him a roach.
That's cool. Yeah.
Everybody don't grow up to say I got into crime for survival and I was hurting. And I thought it was a way to get back at people. This was the way to make them feel the pain that I felt. Then it slowly became just a part of what I did. I'm incarcerated for second degree murder. We got in a fight with someone and I ended up killing. This is probably a good time for us to say that we are not investigative journalists, no, we're not.
We invite people to tell us their stories and there's really only so much fact checking we can do. Right.
But what we do know is that Roache got a sentence of 15 years to life. And the other thing we know about Roache is that when he got to prison, he managed to make animals a big part of his life.
I like animals because I communicate with them better than I can people. The first critter I had in prison was a moth and I only had it for a day because I had a seller who came back and killed it when I went to the yard and left it on the floor.
Sometimes I believe I can see or understand or know what an animal is thinking, how it's feeling with the press when it's unhappy, even when I watch it on TV.
I had a frog once who was not cool. Everywhere I moved in the cell, it would move somewhere to watch me. He constantly would keep his eye on me. I would move over here and get out of you. He'll come up and look at me.
I think he was let me know that, you know what? You go to sleep. I more and more pee on. You do. So I ended up letting it go. I used to have a pet black widow and I used to feed it insects, and we are we are in the yard being pimped by a spider.
And then I'd come in with bugs, these crickets, and I put them in a container and nature take its course or the bees run around up in there and fly around in the air for not long. And then he caught in where she is spraying with a webbing. And then wrap them up and then eat them. It was action, it was theater comedy, it was really good. Better than watch TV, you never know is going to happen.
You never know how she was going to do what she was going to do. One time I had four swallows at once and they ended up dying that year, I think I lost maybe 10 along the building, they would always fall down and people would come and get me.
I got some more cuts, some more cuts, some more. And so I had to smuggle them into the building and then they would look really strong. They would even look like they were doing well. But I would leave and come back. I want to be down to work it out. I found out they end up dying because they needed to be touched and to feel a connection with some mother, with the parent. So when I have to take care of another baby, swallow, know it will happen again.
I will keep it in my shirt pocket on my person so it can hear my heartbeat and my voice and feel connected. Our. I take care of animals because they teach me what I can't learn from people is unconditional affection or appreciation. Unconditional love is here. I know it's yours. No, no. Nothing. No, it's all you.
Having pets in prison is considered contraband, but it seems to me that some of the correctional officers ignore the tiny critters that Roach keeps, but there's this one group called the squad.
I've had some interaction with them and they're pretty intimidating.
Oh, yeah. We call them the jump out boys. The Alphabet's, the black patches, the alphabet.
Yes. Like the ATF, the FBI data Iesu, which is the investigative services unit. But when they do come, they come for business. They're not just bothering you to bother you. They come in because somebody sent them to you one time.
I did have an experience with them. And I will say that before they actually show up, something changes in the air.
It's like everyone has this sixth sense about it. And then all of a sudden the door opens and you see these guys come in and you're like, that's why the temperature changed in the room.
One time the squad came to the cell and they were searching for contraband, but they found the desert instead.
And they say as long as I was taking care of it, that they were going to triple me, keep it. It was cool.
This time for Roach, the squad wasn't tripping, but sometimes prison officials aren't so accommodating.
I recently have lost twenty one snails. They threw it in the trash. So it depends on the officer. Some don't mind.
Others see it as a health violation. Now, if I'm in a cell and a mouse wanders in there and says, you know, I'm going to hang out here, it's cool, I'd be willing to take care of it, hang out with it, chill with it. I wouldn't chase him out. I let him stay as long as they wanted and be my friend.
I know you're not really supposed to have pets in prison, but Roach found kind of a way around it.
In reality, you really can't have regular pets like dogs and cats and bunny rabbits. No, you can't. You can't have pets in prison.
But there are some special projects in San Quentin where guys do train service animals.
I definitely hear stories about animals in prison. I talking about, OK, so one time this guy told me that he was in let's say it was high desert. I'm in the middle of nowhere and he was there for ten years and he hadn't really seen much nature and he hadn't heard any animals. And then one day he heard a dog barking and he was so overwhelmed by it, I could watch it.
Come on. It's such a sensitive story. Why is that bullshit?
In his ten years in high desert? High desert is a state prison. He never heard of dog? No, he never had a dog. He of forgot that such things existed. Well, first off, I'm thinking of, you know, I can watch TV and see dogs, different sized dogs from a Chihuahua all the way up. Second, I ask you, which is the squad we've been talking about. They have dogs, so they're dogs is going to walk to the institution through the buildings and they go and bark.
Getting back to roaches story, he has such a powerful urge to take care of critters to nurture, really. And we all have that urge one way or another, whether it's having kids or taking care of pets. Maybe it's even working with young people. And we wanted to find out what other guys inside do to nurture, except most guys aren't going to call it nurture.
They're going to say, looking out, we went around with our microphone for some yard talk on the subject.
No, tell me, was it worth it? One thing for sure, in this game, it's so confusing, but young niggas, they'll learn it.
Oh, well, you know, my friends in here, you know, like they come in, you, me, they sometimes it may need, like, some hygiene, some food. And now it feels good to be able to actually help out my people.
I didn't always stand in my own way.
I kind of see it kind of difficult because it's not really too many things and nurture all.
When I used to have more free time, I I've kept Lizarazo. That's how I, you know, satisfied that need, you know, like taking care of something. I'll give you a little satisfaction, too.
I think a high tech game is so wrong and there's no shit. I swear you. No, it ain't working. It ain't worth it.
Come on. Cash flies like spend hours every day, you know, catch flies, especially in the winter. There's no flies around. You know, I just it was a hassle to catch flies. But catching flies is kind of like meditation, too. You know, you're in your own zone. And, you know, with all this buzzing around, you're focusing on focusing on one fly and trying to, you know, how to approach it, catch it.
No, it's kind of like it's really soothing.
I'll take about niggas in the drive by people already, at least you in a better place might think about my young nigga got real nation. Damn, I wish I had a file for five. I'm keeping my name alive.
Yet a real nigga die, but only the strong survive in there was feeding the geese and like helping them with it and have babies and stuff. I was just checking on them, you know, pretending like I'm helping them and giving them advice and feeding America where they should teach them how to where to learn to fly and all that stuff. And she go over there and hide from the people and all that.
But I enjoyed the parents raising their children corniest, that is, you know, getting nurturing vicariously. Felt good to be able to see that, you know, because I've been away from that from that kind of stuff for so long.
So Denga when I'm sitting in a chair, I never been to heaven, but I know I've been to hell, man. I think of how it all went wrong. We was all getting money, but jealousy fucked it off. Man What happened to keeping the guys singing?
There is Joven meals known on the yard as school. Staggs He just happened to be beating on a table and singing while we were out recording your talk.
But I don't want to get to explain it. I don't want to get too explicit. I don't want to be disrespectful towards you. So taking care of friends, lizards, geese, e what's your work around, what do you look out for?
Uh, for me as my kids, you know, I like to nurture them from here, like through letters, through phone calls.
That's my nurturing is just to stay in contact with them and try my best to raise them from here.
So do they actually come to you for advice? If I end up calling my goddaughter, she'd be like, Man, I've been waiting for you to call me. Oh, and we just go there, you know, because I always be like, you know, we only got 15 minutes for this. Right? That is definitely the story of another podcast.
You have the 15 minute phone call. Well, I know in prison there's a lot of deprivation, so it's really cool that you can keep the connection so strong with them.
That's that's very important to me, you know.
Well, I know we're talking about deprivation, but there are two things that can never be taken away from you in prison, and that's your fantasies and your memories. So I've got a question for you. Since we've been talking about animals, I'm curious if you could be an animal, what would you be, a beluga whale?
Wow. There's no there's no rhyme or reason for it, but it just sounded cool.
But we did go to the yard and ask some guys what type of animals would they be?
Forgive me. Any animal would be a penguin. They're super cute tuxedos and they're like the coolest animals ever.
And a slap box like crazy to don't want to be a panther.
And the reason why is I like the slickness of the animal dog because I know that someone would adopt me a Galapagos turtle because they live to be over one hundred and fifty years old.
Lion because it's king.
Mahmod because they're misunderstood.
Everybody thinks they're weasels and they're not.
They're Marmot's. I want to be a water bottle because it's a religion and because it says very little.
It would be an eagle because they can fly.
So that means I would always be free. I would always be safe.
Tiger cause tigers love their independence, a jellyfish because it has no natural enemies. I asked approach what kind of animal he'd want to be, and his answer is pure roach. I want to hear that if I could be an animal, any animal, it would be a waste dragon that would only appear when a kid needed it, because my experience with imaginary friends, they were needed.
So the thing about being a dragon is they meet and I can do that. So I'd have to be a vegetarian dragging a thin vegetarian dragon because I would spend a lot of time looking for food.
That's a lot of carrots.
That's a lot of apples and oranges that says a lot of vegetables is going to grow those vegetables for giant dragon unless I'm a baby or a tiny dragon, then I just eat a little slice of cheese and then think about that.
This episode aired in twenty seventeen, it was one of the earliest of your show, I think it was the the third episode you ever made. What's changed since then? It has it has changed a little bit.
And I think just you know, that, you know, the biggest I guess the biggest hurdle or for me was getting out of prison in November of twenty eighteen, then Governor Jerry Brown commuted your hustle host or Wood's sentence after 21 years of incarceration.
Getting out, you know, and having a full time job, having a career was definitely a blessing for me, you know.
Well, I mean, one of the great things is that, I mean, we were colleagues inside, but now we get to be like the kind of colleagues everyone else gets to be that worked together on the outside.
We get to travel together. We get to talk to each other on the phone whenever we want. We can email, we can meet for lunch. So it just brings personally a little bit more joy to me.
I don't think the work has slowed down at all.
No, I even think shelter in place is making it harder, not even harder, but making it more make you just being that you sheltered in place, you just like. All right, well, it's eight o'clock at night. Let me go over here and do this. And then you find yourself doing a little bit more work, I think. Yeah.
And you know, the other thing that one of the dreams we had when Erlend was still inside was to be able to do stories in other prisons and to be able to do stories that had women in them. And when when when Earline was inside, it just wasn't feasible because it would mean I would be doing those stories without him, which neither of us wanted to do. So in Erlend got out. It made that dream that we had for a long time possible.
So we're able to include stories about other prisons. And, you know, hopefully that will continue on.
Now that you're out of prison, do you have any pets?
No, no, I don't have pets at all.
You know, you're a real I understand that pets are like kids. You have to do a lot of taking care of them.
And, um, I haven't found that time yet. Nah, no, I don't have any pets.
But I do like when I do go over people house and they have pets, that's cool. So it's just like kids, you know, my nieces, my nieces, it's like my nieces and nephews, you know, I can pick them up, take it with them and then I'll drop them back off. So that's cool.
You like to rent a pet?
I got to know, though, I got to ask you this. I laughed because I don't think you're a pet guy, but if you had to have a pet, what would you have?
Oh, if I had to have a pet, what would I have? Yeah, you have. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
If you didn't have maybe maybe maybe a bird low maintenance, you know, it's very low maintenance. You know, you put some pebbles in there and let it fly around and put it back in there and go about your business.
You'd put it in a cage, you'd have your bird live in a cage. Not to be roaming, I'll be I'll be like everybody else, you know, with a bird living in a cage. Oh, no, no.
Now, speaking of birds, I just I was just with someone last night. I need you to show me some pictures where people put suit songbirds like clothes on birds. I was like, really?
Like, OK, tell me, do you know how Roach is doing? How is Roach doing? Well, I could say the last time. The last time I walked in San Quentin and I ran into Roach and talked to him for a quick second, and he was a different cat than I had seen previously, because I think this time he had cut off all his his his dreadlocks.
And I think he had maybe one laugh that he held on to.
So he was he was making this change. You know, he was going through meeting people, I think he.
Did he have a girlfriend at the time? Yeah, he got he got a lot of attention after that story. You know, after that story, he got a ton of attention and he got a lot of letters. And that was really great for him. But, you know, he's he's a particular kind of guy and he.
He struggles a little bit, you know, life is up and down for him, and he the thing that's consistent about him is that he always goes back to his critter's. I think that's where he finds the most comfort. So, yeah, he did cut his hair off. He was struggling.
But the last time I saw him, when time actually existed in a way that we understand before covid he was doing, you know, he was doing OK.
I saw him almost every day I went in. He still had critter's he wanted to show me. And, um, you know, we talked a lot.
I want to ask about what's going on in San Quentin right now with covid. What are you hearing? I'm hearing things that that there's actually there's some very big outbreaks and problems right now. Yeah.
Um, I think maybe about a week. Say, what is this, July?
Maybe in June? Um, you had a lot of prisoners move from Chino Prison in Chino, California, to San Quentin to another prison. And those individuals were infected with the coronavirus.
And when they sent them to San Quentin, San Quentin didn't have no cases of the coronavirus.
And within a matter of days, it went from one of those prisoners arrive and it went from like nine to five to ten cases to 15 cases to 100 cases to 300 to 500.
Now, is that like fourteen hundred cases and seven deaths.
So it's definitely a lot changing. A lot has changed, you know, and I think now you stop going in. And I just stopped going in before they even did to shelter in place and all that stuff.
Yeah, I wouldn't be.
The last time I was in was March 17th. And that was right around when when California started sheltering in place. And that feels like a lifetime ago. So it's it's desperate in there. And what makes it hard for us is, is that we have the lack of contact. So all of a sudden all our colleagues in there are so far away from us, it's very difficult to talk on the phone. Obviously, we can't go in. We hear the news every day getting worse and worse.
It's it's frightening. Frightening.
Well, you know, I love your show so much and we all love it here at Criminal and so thank you both for speaking today and I'm really happy to talk to you and to hear that you're both healthy.
Oh, thank you. Thank you very much. And glad to hear your voice is as you have that soothing voice saying.
Thank you very much, both of you, and talk to you soon. All right. Thank you. Appreciate you. Bye. On July 10th. California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that because of coronavirus concerns, the state would grant early release to eligible people incarcerated in California prisons.
As many as 8000 could be eligible for early release this summer. Since we spoke to Nigel and Alan, for more men incarcerated at San Quentin have died of coronavirus, bringing the total to 11.
As of July 16th, more than one third of the prison population and staff have tested positive for the virus. Your hustle's co-founder and sound designer is Antoine Williams. This episode, Padmasree Miller was there outside production adviser.
The story editor was Curtis Fox, an air hustle's executive editor from radio. Topia is Julie Shapiro.
You can find more episodes of EER Hustle that you're hustle Ask.com or wherever you get your podcasts.
Criminalist created by Lauren S'pore and me neede Wilson is our senior producer. Susanna Roberson is our system producer. Audio mix by Rob Byers.
Criminal is recorded in the studios of North Carolina Public Radio WNYC, where a proud member with your Hustle of radio topia from PUREX, a collection of the best podcasts around. We'll be back with a new episode in a couple of weeks. I'm Phoebe Judge. This is criminal. Radio from PR ex.