Professor Lisa Armstrong, of UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, provides instruction for the Journalism Guild’s first official class at Folsom Women’s Facility. (Photo courtesy of California Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections)

This article was first published by San Quentin News, a prison newspaper that reports on rehabilitative efforts to increase public safety and achieve social justice from inside San Quentin State Prison. Visit SQN’s website or follow them on Twitter. The article has been lightly edited to add clarity and conform with PJP style rules.

In a history-making move, the San Quentin News Journalism Guild at San Quentin State Prison in California established its first satellite newsroom at the Folsom Women’s Facility (FWF) on November 1. Students in the program will receive journalism training that will provide them with the skills to bring the voices of incarcerated women to the newspaper on a regular basis. 

“The unique partnership will offer FWF incarcerated people journalism training, professional development and mentoring, with the goal of establishing a newsroom staff at FWF that regularly contributes content to the San Quentin News,” said a joint press release from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and Friends of San Quentin News. The first news stories written by the Folsom women are expected to be seen in SQ News early in the New Year.

Former SQ News editor-in-chief Jesse Vasquez, now development director for the organization Friends of San Quentin News, helped facilitate the Journalism Guild’s expansion to the women’s facility. 

“We’re thrilled to bring San Quentin’s transformative Journalism Guild to the people at Folsom Women’s Facility,” he said. “I’m eager to see the impact the women at Folsom will make through the program.” 

FWF Public Information Officer Valencia, Facility Captain Geis, Associate Warden Caraballo, and the facility’s community resource manager were all instrumental in making the program possible and enabling access for the volunteers. 

“We support the value of bringing this program to FWF to teach the population important journalism skills that will enable them to share their unique challenges and rehabilitation experiences in a female institution with a wider audience,” said Folsom State Prison and FWF Warden Rick Hill. 

The Folsom Guild classes meet 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Mondays. Ten students attended the first session. The class is taught by Lisa Armstrong, University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism professor and award-winning journalist. 

The 26-week course will include instruction in interviewing and research, writing techniques, and The Associated Press style of news writing. 

Folsom’s aspiring journalists will have access to resources and research equal to that provided to their colleagues at San Quentin. They will compose their stories on portable word processors called NEOs. Their work will then be uploaded to a computer and sent to SQ News for publishing. 

Some of the first topics the student journalists will write about include their experiences with COVID-19, prison diet and food waste, limits on visitation, detainers that restrict access to programming, and the psychological impact of incarceration on parents. 

Armstrong will be assisted by Madeline “Maddie” Scott, along with UC Berkeley graduate students. Scott will serve the group as a volunteer coordinator and researcher. 

“I honestly had no idea what to expect at the Folsom Women’s Facility. Any anxiety I felt … vanished after just spending a few minutes talking to the women and hearing their excitement to be involved in the Journalism Guild,” said Scott. “Many of the women … (told) us why they wanted to be involved in this project — to have their voices heard through storytelling and explore ideas they are passionate about.”

Mary Palomera is one of the Folsom Guild students.

“Hearing the stories of success from members of the Guild at San Quentin, specifically how the program makes them feel that they are getting their voices heard, has made me eager to join the Guild at Folsom,” she said.

Virginia Cervantes is another member of Armstrong’s class: “I’m looking forward to seeing how my words may promote social justice and inform those outside about the important issues faced by incarcerated women,” she said.

SQ News encourages incarcerated Californians to write and strives to include their many diverse voices.

Vasquez, Armstrong and Scott will make the 105-mile, two-hour commute from the Bay Area to Folsom each week to provide instruction and facilitate the connection between the emerging writers and the San Quentin newsroom.

In an interview with CBSN Bay Area Channel 5 KPIX, Vasquez said that the Folsom writers’ guild is a pilot program. Friends of San Quentin News envisions similar expansions nationwide.

“Ideally we would want to see at least one prison newspaper in every state with high incarceration rates so that the incarcerated have a voice and are able [to] speak to the issues that are relevant in their communities to dismantle those stereotypes and biases,” said Vasquez.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Charles Crowe

Charles Crowe is a writer at San Quentin State Prison in California. A father and a grandfather in his late 60s, Charles is a staff writer for the San Quentin News.