Awash with Trust (San Quentin)

We were doing a Training for Facilitator’s workshop - and we were walking on eggs. For the first time ever in this AVP workshop we were alone in the entire building for the weekend. The nearest correctional officer was in a small separate building several floors above us and could not leave his post to check on us. To say we were on our best behavior possible is a serious understatement.

It was Saturday evening after dinner; I was leading an exercise when suddenly I heard water running. My first thought was that this was strange - there isn’t supposed to be anyone else in the building. The sound became louder and closer - and then the ceiling began to leak through the joints of the ceiling tiles! First a few small leaks, then more, and shortly nearly the whole ceiling was pouring water down on us.

As the men realized what was happening they went to work. Some took our AVP supplies off the tables and carried them to an adjoining open room that was dry. Some saw the water coming down in the Education Office that opened directly into the workshop room (the door was open so we could use the phone if necessary). They first tried to cover the computers, printers and other sensitive equipment with hastily made covers from trash bags. When that didn’t really work, they carried those office machines into a different adjoining room that had a dry ceiling. This required threading their pathways around the columns of water falling from the ceiling while walking on a wet and slippery floor. No one organized it, no one directed the actions -- they simply did it without question, without argument, without overt direction. I saw one man, squatting in water a quarter of an inch deep, with water flowing down the wall he was facing, pulling a plug and cord out of the wall socket. It sparked as he worked; he could easily have electrocuted himself.

Scores of times I’d heard angry, hostile, vengeance-seeking remarks from inmates about the prison system, the guards, the warden, the governor, the judges. Here was a perfect opportunity, with perfect cover, to exact a certain kind of revenge: simply carry that computer, that printer, that telephone, directly under one (or more) of those columns of flowing water. No one would ever be able to tell who did it, nor that it was a planned act. And no one did it. All the machines arrived safely and dry.

In half an hour we were regrouped in the alternative room and went on with the workshop. We jokingly learned to call the event a “monsoon.” It turned out there had been an exceptionally heavy rain that early evening – which we couldn’t hear, being several stories below the roof –and the drainage system of that 100 year old plus building couldn’t handle all that water coming so quickly.

We made sure that each man in the workshop had a note placed in their record indicating their exceptionally responsible behavior in the midst of the crisis.