Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
United Shades of America: Behind These Walls. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired May 1, 2016 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
W. KAMAU BELL, HOST, UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA: I've never been to prison, except for this show. I've never been, which is, again, one of those weird things to say out loud. And I feel like -- how I feel about not going to prison is the same way a person in New York would feel like if they'd been there all through New York and never stepped on poop. You know what I mean? It just doesn't mean you're good. It just means you're lucky. You know what I'm saying.
I feel like there's two things that are true about prison. Every man in this room has had the thought about who he would be in prison. I think every guy feels like I'd be the guy who ran the yards. I'd be the guy who was in charge of everything. Come to me if you need anything. Every guy thinks he'd be that guy, when really most of us would be like, boo hoo hoo, please.
My name is W. Kamau Bell. As a comedian, I've made a living finding humor in the parts of America I don't understand. And now, I'm challenging myself to dig deeper. I'm on a mission to reach out and experience all of the cultures and beliefs that add color to this crazy country. This is the "United Shades of America."
Ah, the San Francisco Bay area, my home. When the producers told me we were shooting our next episode in the Bay, I couldn't wait. So many stories to be told here.
The tech industry is pushing working class people out of San Francisco. Oakland is the birthplace of the Black Panthers. Hell, Bruce Lee even lived here.
Well, the producers looked at me and said the four words no person ever wants to hear, "You're going to prison." Right across the bay, just 12 miles from San Francisco, sits San Quentin Prison, one of America's most famous and infamous prisons.
This place has locked up the best of the worst, from serial killers to presidential assassins to maybe the worst husband of all time. But it is also been home to people you wouldn't expect, like country singer Merle Haggard, actor Danny Trejo and even Stanley Tookie Williams, a convicted murder and ex-gang member turned Nobel peace prize nominee and children's book author, who the state still saw fit to execute.
San Quentin is one of a handful of American prisons that, like a pop star or an A-list celebrity, for some reason rise to a weird, iconic single-name status like Alcatraz, Folsom, Rahway, or Britney, which means, of course, Johnny Cash recorded an album there.
Now, why in the world would I be going there? Well, whether we like to think about it or not, there are human beings behind these walls. Yes, some very bad ones, but then some who I've heard are just people who have done bad things. Some who just made mistakes. Got caught up in the system.
And I want to meet these men to find out what life is really like in prison and see if they're being rehabilitated. Or are they all just doomed to become just another statistic in the ever-growing business that is prison?
And more than any other prison in the state of California, San Quentin is known for its cutting-edge rehabilitation programs. These programs are all about trying to cut down on the rate of recidivism.
The national average recidivism is 60 percent. That means 60 percent of paroled prisoners are returning within three years of being released. And that fact is only the beginning of what is a disturbing reality that is the prison system in this country.
To get me started on my time here, I'm meeting up with Lieutenant Sam Robinson, who'll be my tour guide, because yes, not really looking to get lost in here.
LT. SAM ROBINSON, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, SAN QUINTIN STATE PRISON: Lieutenant Sam Robinson.
BELL: Yes, Kamau bell.
ROBINSON: Nice to meet you.
BELL: Yes, although I hear they call you the Mayor of San Quentin.
ROBINSON: I may be called many things here, but I officially --
ROBINSON: -- I am the public information officer here at San Quinten.
BELL: All right, well, thanks for bringing me in here.
ROBINSON: Well, hey, I'm glad you guys could come in experience this world. And I know when you step inside the prison, there's a different feel when you walk on this side of this walls.
BELL: Yes, yes, it feels a little bit like a community college.
ROBINSON: It does.
ROBINSON: This is the adjustment center. This is where we say here at San Quintin we house the worse of the worst inmates in the state of California. And so --
BELL: And so this is the worst inmates in the state of California.
ROBINSON: This is the worst inmates in the state of California.
BELL: I feel like I shouldn't be pointing. I feel like maybe I shouldn't --
ROBINSON: Well, they're not coming out this way.
Yes, San Quentin houses California's only death row inmates. Yet it's actually the prison that California inmates want to get transferred to, because it has the highest number of rehab programs by far. And it's also a level two prison.
See, prison security levels range from level one, think like a Martha Stewart prison, to level four, like real frobby (ph) episode of Oz. Well, San Quentin used to be level four, but in 1989, it was changed to a level two.
ROBINSON: Our inmate population was down below down there.
BELL: Wait. I've got to say, Sam, it's not what I was expecting. I thought we were going to go -- turn this corner and there would be several gates and I would be strip searched. You know what I mean?
ROBINSON: Why would we would strip search you? Do we need to?
BELL: No, absolutely -- to be clear, no you do not. Sam, you absolutely do not.
So this is what those of us who watch prison movies refer to as "the yard."
ROBINSON: This is the yard here at San Quentin. We actually house 3,864 inmates here at this prison. Currently, there are 731 guys who are on death row here at San Quentin.
BELL: Is there anything I should be aware of or think about or know as I walk in here?
ROBINSON: I think just be yourself.
ROBINSON: I think when you walk --
BELL: It's amazing how many -- how many times people give you that you advice.
ROBINSON: So for a guy who's never walked inside of a prison --
ROBINSON: -- what does that feel like?
BELL: You know, it's funny. It feels like I'm walking into a neighborhood I'm unfamiliar with.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like your comedy, brother.
BELL: Thank you, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
BELL: Oh, now it feels great.
ROBINSON: Now you know.
BELL: So I'm looking around. I see sort of different groups of people in different areas. Are the areas broken up in any way?
ROBINSON: The areas are broken up in a way. Just beyond the tennis court are primarily where the white guys are.
ROBINSON: There are a couple different areas for those guys. The basketball court, there's primarily where all of the African-Americans are. There's a little area of land just behind us near the shack --
ROBINSON: -- where the Piesis (ph) --
BELL: The what?
ROBINSON: The Piesis (ph). So those individuals who are from Mexico south, Hispanic inmates who are not Californian so to say.
BELL: Oh, OK.
ROBINSON: And then Nortanios (ph), which are northern Hispanic. There's an area where they're at. And so the yard is segregated based upon some of those underground rules.
BELL: OK. So it seems like the black guys got the basketball court, no surprise there.
BELL: But if you're a white guy who wants to play basketball, is it just not recommended that you go over there? I mean if your white guy's got a good jump shot, I mean, would they -- would they welcome you in there?
ROBINSON: You may feel that way, and it may not be that these guys have an issue with you.
ROBINSON: It's that they guys who look like you may have an issue with you coming over here.
BELL: Oh. Is there any sort of effort to create that cross- pollination?
ROBINSON: Oh, there are many efforts we have, whether it be through educational opportunities, sometimes the programs we have, work assignments. We do try to bring our population together, and we successfully put people next to each other who traditionally will not be next to each other.
Sam wanted me to meet Rahsaan Thomas, a writer for the award winning newspaper the "San Quintin News."
ROBINSON: Rahsaan, I want to introduce you to somebody. How you doing, brother?
RAHSAAN THOMAS, SPORTS EDITOR, SAN QUINTIN NEWS: All right.
ROBINSON: It's all good.
BELL: Hey, Kamau Bell.
THOMAS: How you doing, Kamau Bell? I've heard a lot about you.
BELL: Oh, OK. All right. Yes, I just wanted to come say hello, man. I heard you -- I should talk to you about what's going down here.
THOMAS: I'm the sports editor, so if there's anything --
BELL: Sports editor of the newspaper?
BELL: OK. And can I ask how long you're in for and what's your sentence?
THOMAS: I'm a lifer with -- I convicted second degree murder, attempted manslaughter. I have a 55 to life sentence. I'll probably never go home.
BELL: Fifty-five to life?
THOMAS: Fifty-five to life, so level two is a blessing.
BELL: So you consider this a blessing?
THOMAS: This is. I mean they've got free college here at San Quentin . I'm meeting you. This would not -- level four, this wouldn't happen.
BELL: Level four, they don't bring in unknown comedians to talk to you?
ROBINSON: So what that is, that's an alarm here at the prison. And when there's an alarm, as you can see, people, no matter where they are here, everybody gets down on the ground. And we get down on the ground until our staff figures out what's going on.
BELL: How often does that alarm go off?
THOMAS: Some days not at all, and other days it might go off four or five times, but it's usually pretty short.
THOMAS: Like that. It's pretty short.
BELL: Oh, so that means it's over?
ROBINSON: Yes, that means they found whatever, and we're back in business.
BELL: Oh, OK. There wasn't any reaction. Everybody just sat down. There wasn't like a lot of --
THOMAS: The good thing about San Quentin, the level two part of it especially --
THOMAS: -- nothing hardly happens on this side.
BELL: OK, cool. Hey, my name's Kamau.
BELL: Duck, so tell me, what would you say is the biggest surprise -- would you think that would surprise you on the outside about being in San Quentin?
DUCK: The name itself is not the characters that it produces anymore.
DUCK: It actually produces positive people now.
BELL: Yes, yes.
DUCK: Some people come here who couldn't read, write, spell. Now you walk around, they're geniuses now.
BELL: Yes, yes, yes. Since you don't have cell phones, you need somebody to be walking around to be the computer.
DUCK: Oh, there isn't any doubt, yes.
BELL: Yes, yes. You need somebody who's nickname is Wikipedia so they can give you information.
DUCK: Like that keeps you, you know, aware.
BELL: Yes, yes.
DUCK: You know, they make us think that we're still part of some sort of --
DUCK: -- humanity. Because other than that, we just would be numbers on the yard.
BELL: Yes, numbers on the yard.
DUCK: Yes, just numbers on the yard.
BELL: What's your sentence?
DUCK: Oh, I've got seven to life.
BELL: How long you been in here?
DUCK: Oh, I'm on my fortieth year right now.
BELL: Seven to life, and you're on your fortieth year?
DUCK: Fortieth year, yes.
DUCK: Same thing I say every morning I get up.
DUCK: Wow, wow, wow.
BELL: Yes, seven to life -- that's like seven to life sounds like that's not --
DUCK: Yes, you would you think you would be --
BELL: Yes, yes.
DUCK: -- you'd been gone a long time ago.
BELL: Yes, that -- I thought -- I was hoping you were going to say, you know, 6.5, you know.
DUCK: No, no.
BELL: It sounds unfair. It just sounds like that if you -- if you're able to live here and sit here and we're talking --
DUCK: Right, because if you -- right, because if -- because they call this rehabilitation.
DUCK: So if you've been rehabilitated --
DUCK: -- then you get to a spot like this, and then there should be some rewards at the end of the gate.
DUCK: But it don't seem to be that way.
THOMAS: It should be incentives. We should get out sooner if you can complete these programs and get past checkpoints and be rehabilitated. Because once you're rehabilitated, you've got the potential to be asset to society.
BELL: America's a country that likes to give people second changes. But for some reason, prisoners don't usually get that second chance.
BELL: You get defined by the worst moment of your life.
It was time for Rahsaan to take me to meet the staff at the "San Quentin News."
THOMAS: So this is where I work.
BELL: With a press run of 13,000, the newspaper is distributed to 18 other prisons in California. And it is also one of the few papers in the world to be run by prisoners that can be read by people on the outside.
THOMAS: Everybody's gathered for the meeting. This is where the magic happens.
BELL: OK. All right.
THOMAS: Any inmate that wants to write for "San Quintin News", all they have to do is come to the journalism guild and get lessons on writing, and they can start being assigned stories.
THOMAS: So it's really our paper. "San Quintin" belongs to us, you know?
BELL: So you just have to show willingness to do it --
BELL: -- and then also pick up the skills?
BELL: OK. Are these computers connected to the internet?
THOMAS: Heck no, I wish. We have Berkeley students that do research for us. We write it. We come up with the ideas, but they gave us the information and all the support we need.
BELL: So it's basically the old school internet? People.
BELL: There's nothing about the way these guys are working that says this is a hobby or just a way it pass time. At first glance, it seems like San Quentin is taking this rehab thing seriously.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, I like way Kamau comes to work. That's right.
Hey, Kamau, you know any spirituals?
BELL: Swing low, sweet chariot. Coming for to carry me home.
BELL: Today at San Quentin, I'm meeting back up for Rahsaan Thomas, who's on assignment for the prison newspaper.
As we walk the yard, I see a lot of black faces. I wish I could say I was surprised. While only 13 percent of America's population is black, black people make up 40 percent of its prison population.
And there's more bad news. Due to over-sentencing and unequal application of the law, one in three black men will go to prison some time in their lives.
THOMAS: So Kamau, how did you get past the one in three?
BELL: I don't know. I feel -- it's -- I feel sort of weird talking about it.
THOMAS: You weren't poor? You weren't a victim of crime? A man didn't try to take your sneakers?
BELL: No, no. I mean I was -- you know, I was the kind of kid who if they took my sneakers, I'd be like, all right. But I think that's -- I think a part of it is that's what they call conflict avoidance. That's how you become a comedian. You make people laugh it avoid the fight. You know?
THOMAS: Man, that's a blessing.
THOMAS: So this is the A's dugout.
One of the things I keep hearing from the guys in prison is how they need to do things that make them feel normal. And for a lot of these dudes, playing sports is one of those things.
THOMAS: Kamau, have you ever seen baseball in prison? BELL: No, up until this week, I had never seen anything in prison.
Well, at San Quentin , if you want to play baseball and you work hard and stay out of trouble, not only do you get to play, but you get to play against outside teams. Not teams of other prisoners, teams of regular folk. Regular folk who voluntarily agree to let convicted felons hurl objects at them.
How you doing, sir?
CLEO: How you doing, Kamau?
THOMAS: So he's one of the top players on the A's, this guy here, man.
CLEO: I wouldn't say top, but somebody who really loves the game with a passion.
THOMAS: All right. Somebody that loves the game with a passion.
So what does the baseball program do for you?
CLEO: The baseball gives me the opportunity to practice leadership, team work, confidence, hard work, dedication. And I think streets treated me wrong, but baseball always treated me right.
BELL: As we watch the team practice, I got curious. Why would Rahsaan work so hard at a rehab program when he knows he has almost no chance at ever getting out of prison?
Why do you want to be a journalist? What does this do for you?
THOMAS: It does a lot. First of all, my voice is the only thing still free.
THOMAS: And having so much time, you feel like you're going to waste. There's nothing meaningful to do --
THOMAS: -- except for writing. So this gives me meaningful to do.
BELL: Finding a purpose in life is not exactly what we generally think of when we picture what inmates are doing in prison. You know what you think of. Fighting in the shower. Racially rioting. Well, check this out. Yoga is another one of the rehab programs here.
And Foon Sing (ph) a practitioner and a writer for the "San Quentin News" is letting me tag along while he gets the story.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Inhale and extend.
BELL: Why do you think it's important to do yoga?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It helps me to relax and do -- whatever energies I accumulated throughout day, it helps me to discharge that energy.
FOON SING (ph), WRITER, SAN QUINTIN NEWS: Mentally, what has it done?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm more clear. Focused. I'm ready for, you know, another challenge. It's good.
BELL: Next, me and Foon head over to Cell Block C, where 420 men are housed, including Foon.
SING (ph): When I first came, I looked. I was like -- I was actually scared.
SING (ph): You know what I mean? I was like, here is this little guy, you know.
BELL: And so can I ask you how you ended up incarcerated?
SING (ph): Yes, so I'm here for first degree murder on a drive-by.
BELL: And so what exactly happened?
SING (ph): I had a nephew who was in school, all right. He was getting picked on.
SING (ph): So I went to go pick him up so that way he could get home safely without getting harassed. Right when we were getting ready to take off, another car pulled up behind us. They came out, and they rushed us.
So I told him to drive the car. I was looking for anybody who resembled those guys. And soon as the opportunity arrived, which it was all innocent victims.
BELL: So it wasn't even the guys you were looking for?
SING (ph): It wasn't even the guys.
BELL: And how many people were killed?
SING (ph): I'm here for one murder and four attempted murders. So I'm sentenced 35 to life.
SING (ph): I've been here 20 years now.
SING (ph): And it's a big, tremendous amount of guilt that I hold.
SING (ph): Because my nephew is also here because of that.
BELL: Is he here in San Quentin ?
SING (ph): He's here in San Quentin.
BELL: Oh, wow.
SING (ph): Yes, so me being the older one --
SING (ph): I took him down this path.
BELL: The way a lot of us men define ourselves as men, if we feel like that's challenged --
SING (ph): Yes.
BELL: -- it can lead to destructive behavior.
SING (ph): It can definitely lead to violence and destructive behavior.
BELL: Because we put so much on what it is to be a man.
SING (ph): We put way too much sometimes.
BELL: Yes, yes.
SING (ph): You know what I mean?
BELL: I have to say the other thing that impressed me with the prisoners I've talked to so far is clearly you've all spent a lot of time talking about your issues.
SING (ph): Well, I think it's important to talk about it, and it's important for us to take ownership about what we've done. It's a part of you. It's who you are. However, with a better understanding, it doesn't have to be who you are today.
BELL: Everyone in here says that to do time, you have it know how to kill time. And I'm not talking about a gang leader name time. I'm talking about killing time playing overly complicated card games like pinochle, which turns out is another hole in my blackducation (ph). Thanks a lot, mom.
Yes, just take me through it step-by-step. I know it's slowing you down. Because you say, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How you going to grow up black in America and not know how to play pinochle, man?
BELL: See, I don't know. We missed that one.
Is this a game that is common in prison?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, it is.
BELL: Why is it this game? Why not --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, because it's fun. It's time-consuming.
BELL: Yes, OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- and a lot of people have nothing better to do than to sit around and make time go by.
BELL: So that's why this game is so complicated, because it takes time?
Can I ask how long you're in for and what's your sentence?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm currently incarcerated right now under the three-strike law. I committed a non-violent, non-weapons involved, no physical injuries, second-degree robbery. And you know the crazy thing? I got almost as much time as him. Thirty years to life.
BELL: Can I ask you what the crime was, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was first-degree murder.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got a possession of firearm, and I'm doing double life. And they term me a career criminal when I had never been to juvenile hall, YA. But I like this prison.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out of the 35 state prisons in California, this, by far, is the best as far as educational, self-help development programs. Whereas at these other prisons, the resources aren't available. The programs aren't there.
We worked our way down from those higher level security institutions by obeying the rules, staying out of trouble, programming. Doing what is necessary to get out of those places.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But recognition about change, it seems like that's a hard thing for people it swallow, because they don't think that we can actually change.
BELL: Yes, yes. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I keep coming back to the fact that I believe it's
because as long as I sit here, it's a paycheck for someone. You know what I mean?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's exactly what it is. You hit the nail on the head.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see the same thing here --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You hit the nail on the head.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- and here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what I mean?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he made that statement, he told the truth. Because a lifer is bread and butter for a whole lot of people that work for the Department of Corrections.
BELL: What they're talking about is the business of prison. The U.S. spends around $70 billion a year on prisons. To put that in perspective, look at this chart.
Since 1986, we've increased spending on higher education by only 5.6 percent. Not great. We increased spending on kindergarten to high school by 69 percent. Sounds pretty good, right? But we've increased spending on prisons by a whopping 141 percent.
And while we've got our chart out, let's look at another one. During the same time, the prison population has grown from around 300,000 in 1980 to over $1.6 million prisoners today.
What's not good here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You go up those stairs, it's totally different.
BELL: What's up those stairs?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You go into north block. Go into our housing.
BELL: I'm glad you guys are telling me the truth.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, but when you go home, you Google pinochle.
BELL: Those guys mentioned the living conditions here. So I figured I'd ask my new friend Juan Hanes (ph), managing editor at the "San Quentin News," to give me a tour of his cell. It won't take long.
JUAN HANES (ph), MANAGING EDITOR, SAN QUENTIN NEWS: This is the cell that I'm at.
BELL: OK. HANES (ph): You can go in there.
BELL: Thank you. Thank you.
HANES (ph): One of the things about these cell is, like, as you can see, as big as you are --
HANES (ph): Two people can't stand down here at the same time normally.
HANES (ph): Like if I want to get down, then my celly, he lays all the way there so I can get by.
BELL: Oh, so you have to really choreograph how to live in here.
HANES (ph): Yes, yes.
BELL: Do you get to pick your roommate?
HANES (ph): Technically, no. But --
HANES (ph): -- the -- you know, the department understands that you have to.
BELL: It's better if you are living with somebody that you want to live with?
HANES (ph): Yes. You have to be able to deal with another person's personality in this close space. There's this term called cell slug.
BELL: Cell slug?
HANES (ph): Yes, that's a person who stays in his cell all the time and never leaves his cell. And so the other celly never gets any real privacy.
BELL: And I hate it bring it up --
HANES (ph): Yes.
BELL: -- but we've to talk about -- I think you know what I'm going to say.
HANES (ph): What? That?
BELL: The toilet.
HANES (ph): Yes.
BELL: How -- I mean, I tell you this. HANES (ph): OK.
BELL: When I got to the bathroom, I like some privacy.
HANES (ph): OK. Yes, yes.
BELL: I like to have my time.
HANES (ph): Yes.
BELL: I like to be alone.
HANES (ph): Yes.
BELL: I don't want nobody talking to me.
HANES (ph): OK, the way most cellies negotiate that is if my celly has to use the restroom, I'm just going to go find something to do.
HANES (ph): He normally leaves at 6:30 in the morning, and so my regular system --
BELL: OK, OK.
HANES (ph): -- is hooked up so after 6:30, I'm good to go.
BELL: So is it kind of like -- it's like when women live together, their cycles all sort of align?
HANES (ph): Yes, you got it.
BELL: When you live with a guy, you make sure you guys aren't on the same gastrointestinal cycle?
HANES (ph): Yes, yes. And finding the right celly --
HANES (ph): -- that's one of the --
BELL: That's one of the things.
HANES (ph): -- big things.
BELL: If you both have a --
HANES (ph): It's like saying, will you leave.
BELL: Oh, man.
HANES (ph): You know, and that's the cell slug. That's where the cell slug comes in.
BELL: All right. Well, thank you. We can step on out of here. Starting to get claustrophobic.
One thing that has become clear to me in my short time here is that every inmate is open to talking about the reason that they are in San Quentin. And not in a gossipy way or a defensive way, but in a taking responsibility way.
And can I ask you, how did you end up in San Quentin, sir?
HANES (ph): I was arrested in 1996 for series of bank robberies in San Diego.
BELL: You don't seem like a bank robber
HANES (ph): Right. I robbed a bank before --
HANES (ph): -- and the lady said, are you serious?
BELL: How did you do it? What was your process?
HANES (ph): The FBI gave me the moniker, the "Brown Bag Bandit."
BELL: So you got a moniker? You got a name?
HANES (ph): So these -- so here's a -- that's cold. I still got the bag. No, it's not.
BELL: I was like --
HANES (ph): It's not the real bag.
BELL: OK, OK.
[22:30:00] HANES (ph): So I had something like this, right, and then I just write in like red marker --
HANES (ph): -- "I have a bomb. Put the money in the bag." And she just opened it up, put in a bunch of 50s and 20s, and then I walk out of the bank.
BELL: Wow. Who was the person that you were back then who decided to rob a bank? How did you get to that decision? How did you get to that place?
HANES (ph): It's a part of that process that I look into myself to try to figure that out, because I don't see myself as a bank robber.
HANES (ph): Why was I doing that? One of the tellers that I robbed came in and testified against me and was crying on the stand and told me that terrified her whole life.
HANES (ph): And right there, I was like, you know, it kind of hit me knowing that I just ruined this woman's life. That's because of what I did.
HANES (ph): You know, but I couldn't process that the way I'm processing it right now.
HANES (ph): After my trial and conviction, I received a sentence of originally 85 years to life. But then --
BELL: For bank robberies.
HANES (ph): Yes. And finally came it realization when I came to prison what my impact is on this planet, you know, and it wasn't all good.
BELL: Eighty-five years to life for bank robbery may sound reasonable to you but not to me. And even if it does sound good to you, how does Juan (ph) sound? To me, he sounds contrite, responsible and well, generally like a good dude who's made the most of his time. And yet he's got no date for possible parole even on the books.
At San Quentin, I've been lucky to meet some prisoners who are clearly doing everything they can to better themselves. But let's be honest, there's a whole other side to this place that frankly, the administration won't let me see. But I'm meeting back up with Lieutenant Sam Robinson, who's decided to give me a little peek of how the other side lives.
BELL: Where are we?
LT. SAM ROBINSON, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, SAN QUENTIN STATE PRISON: We are in our small management yard complex.
BELL: Small management yard complex.
S. ROBINSON: Small management yard. Exactly. These are individual yards designed for people who have security concerns here within the prison. So whether it's someone that's predatorial or someone that has -- we've identified to have some type of victimization type of issues, we place them on an independent yard by themselves to ensure the safety of them and the rest of our population.
And many times, guys who have issues with other people here inside the prison, either they would stay in their cells themselves until the issues resolve themselves --
S. ROBINSON: -- or they would go out and there would be drama out within the prison.
BELL: So is there anything in there within the inmate?
ROBINSON: What we generally do is our mental health team--
BELL: Can we -- can we walk in one?
ROBINSON: Sure. Our mental health team --
BELL: And can we get out then quickly after we walk into one?
S. ROBINSON: We can get out quickly.
S. ROBINSON: Yes, I'll assure that.
S. ROBINSON: Now, generally in a yard like this, it's for one person, but we'll improvise. It'll be you and I.
S. ROBINSON: And so the guy inside that cell space, you really can't stretch out like this and walk around, and so this gives you an opportunity to get some circulation going.
BELL: Yes, as a person, I like to pace a lot, so this would be the place I would come and pace.
S. ROBINSON: You could -- you could come and pace. Many times, you see guys doing push-ups or burpies, talking to the guy that's in the yard just next to them.
S. ROBINSON: They may be mortal enemies.
BELL: And the sun is blocked out.
S. ROBINSON: In this area, yes --
S. ROBINSON: -- because this was an after-thought. This yard didn't exist here until 5 or 10 years ago.
BELL: All right, so that's -- I mean it's funny. A lot -- a lot of the things I've seen in this prison are things I've seen in movies portrayed or on TV shows, but this is something I've never seen before.
S. ROBINSON: Yes, this is --
BELL: It's just -- you know -- S. ROBINSON: This is prison on a different level.
BELL: Prison on a different level, yes. I'm going to go back to that prison on no level that I live.
Looking at those cages reminds me that even though San Quentin is a level two prison that this is still, well, a prison. And a lot of ideas we get from movies about prison, the movies get from prison. And San Quentin has had its share of riots and violence, which makes me wonder, who in the hell would want it work here?
Apparently this guy. He was busy and had the kind of energy that said, if you go too far, Mr. Comedian, I'm throwing you in the hole.
So D. Robinson, you're a CO here?
D. ROBINSON, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER, SAN QUENTIN PRISON: Yes, I am a CO here at San Quentin Prison.
BELL: I assume from the costume, from the outfit, the uniform. I'm nervous, too.
How long you been here?
D. ROBINSON: I've been here for 22 years now.
BELL: Twenty-two year in San Quentin?
D. ROBINSON: In San Quentin. I've done all my time here in San Quentin.
BELL: I mean it feels like if you worked her for 22 years, it's almost like you are doing time in San Quentin.
D. ROBINSON: Yes.
You're going to see a lot of chaos. This place is loud. There's still violence. You're going to see a lot of things that you you're not necessarily going to see on the streets. You know, you come here, you need to be prepared to adjust your mentality to be able to maintain your sanity.
BELL: Is it hard to go home and let this all go?
D. ROBINSON: You definitely have to have an outlet. It's not easy, but you've got have outlet.
BELL: Having an outlet seems like the key for inmates and employees alike. And one prisoner has gotten so good at his outlet on the inside that it has gotten him attention from the outside. Get ready to meet America's hottest and most unlikely financial advisor.
Tell me your name.
CURTIS CAROL: So my name is Curtis Carol, but everyone calls me "Wall Street." BEL: All right. Yes, because in prison, there's the government name
BELL: -- and there's what people call you.
BELL: And so why do they call you "Wall Street"?
CAROL: Eleven, 12 years ago, I developed a financial literacy class at another institution I was at.
BELL: How do you know to a point of a guy who knows all this stuff?
CAROL: My cell mate at that time used to read different publications to me. I didn't know how to read at the time.
CAROL: And one day, I went to get the sports page so he could read it to me, and I accidentally picked up the business section. And when I picked up the business section to walk off, another guy asked me, he said, oh, would you play the stock market? I was like, what's that? And he said oh, it's the place where white people keep all their money.
When he told me that, the first thing I thought was, OK, this is where I'm at.
BELL: Yes, yes, yes.
CAROL: As I kind of started to learn how to read, I started reading a lot of business publications.
CAROL: Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, that was kind of like my thing at the time.
BELL: Yes, Yes, Yes.
CAROL: The stocks kind of developed on its own in a way.
BELL: And now are you actually working with money?
CAROL: Yes, investing money for myself, for family, friends.
BELL: Now how does does that work with prison? Because I know there a think where prisoners can't make -- there's rules and regulations around that.
CAROL: I'm not running a company.
BELL: OK. CAROL: I trade stocks.
CAROL: Right? I get on the phone, call, talk to my family. You know, say, buy this, buy that, and they buy it themselves.
BELL: And now you're on TV and in the newspaper, and people are talking about you. And I hear they've named you the "Oracle of San Quentin"?
CAROL: Yes. All I've done is just take what's been available to me, and I packaged that and I've made it where it's really easy for guys to use. And it's been -- you know, it's been a tool that's been very, very successful.
BELL: Can I ask you another question?
BELL: What -- how did you end up in prison?
CAROL: I was tried -- taken to trial and found guilty of first-degree murder, attempted robbery and a gun possession, and sentenced to 54 years to life in prison.
BELL: Fifty-four years to life?
CAROL: Fifty-four years to life in prison, man. And, you know, ironically --
BELL: And how old were you?
CAROL: I was 17 years old.
CAROL: Seventeen years old.
BELL: Fifty-four years.
CAROL: Yes, 54 years to life in prison.
CAROL: And it's -- you know, people see that and they're like wow, you know, they're kids. But for me, at this stage in my life, I work hard to move forward. Right?
BELL: Are you making good money doing this even from prison?
CAROL: Yes, making great money.
CAROL: Prison standards, I'm making millions. BELL: When the standard is 40 cents an hour.
CAROL: I'm making million.
BELL: If you don't mind me saying, this is kind of nerdy.
CAROL: You know, it's crazy, because the nerdy ones are the ones that's wealthy.
CAROL: You notice I didn't say rich. I said wealthy.
BELL: Yes. Wealthy is the nerds.
BELL: Now have you ever heard of the word "blerd"? Have you ever heard that word?
CAROL: Blurred? Like blurred lines?
BELL: No, no, no. Like b-l-e-r-d?
CAROL: What does that mean?
BELL: It's a word. People use that, a black nerd.
CAROL: I like that. Black guys.
BELL: Yes, yes, yes.
BELL: Every man thinks he knows everything he needs to know about prison, because he's seen the movie "Shawshank Redemption" 11 times. Every time it's on TV, men just sit down like, all right, let me studying. Like we really think "Shawshank Redemption" is what it would be, and we all cast ourselves in the main character.
Like you're like, would I be Morgan Freeman? No, I'd be Andy Dufresne. I'd go to prison, embezzle millions of dollars. And then I'd spend years trying to break out. And then I'd finally break out and end up living on a beach in Mexico with all my money and my best friend.
You're like oh, you'd do everything Andy Dufresne did. Yes. Would you be sexually assaulted? Everything but that. I wouldn't do that.
Back in San Quentin, Juan told me there is a man I should meet who knows all about rehabilitation and accountability, inmate Ron Self. Self is a decorated former marine and founder of his own program here at the prison.
The U.S. has over 200,000 incarcerated veterans. Challenges like PTSD, unemployed and substance abuse contribute to these high numbers. Ron's program helps them address tough issues in an environment of trust. It's called "Veterans Healing Veterans from the Inside Out."
We were with Juan and he said, are they going to talk to any of the veterans? And I was like, what do you mean, veterans. It just didn't occur to me that, of course, everybody's in here. And so we said, well, who should we talk to, and you were the first name that came up.
And so how many veterans are here in San Quentin? And what is their experience?
RON SELF, SAN QUENTIN VETERANS LIAISON, VETERANS HEALING VETERANS FROM THE INSIDE OUT: Like there's like 362 main line. That's GP in blue, on the yard veterans. And we have 51 on death row. But yes, it's a large veterans' population here.
In the capacity of my job as the veterans' liaison, for me, it's a way to help reduce the number of veterans coming to prison and the number of suicides.
BELL: So in a way, you're sort of continuing your service to the country through your service here in San Quentin?
BELL: Yes. And how long have you been incarcerated?
SELF: I came it prison in 1997.
SELF: So I was in the Marine Corps from '87 right up to '97.
BELL: And can I ask you what you're incarcerated for?
SELF: Conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder.
BELL: Talk about how that goes from -- you know, in the newspaper is a hero to a person who ends up being incarcerated.
SELF: We're all given an opportunity to defend this country at one time. Clearly, by the fact that we came it prison, we did something we shouldn't have so we violated that trust. And I think the nation, as a whole, has a right to expect better of me.
BELL: And talk what it's -- why you feel like it's important to give back.
SELF: I think I can speak for all veterans. We just want to give back and redeem ourselves and make up for whatever shame that we brought to our branch of service. For me, the marine corps.
And I think San Quentin Prison is probably the best example for that. They make it possible for us to give back, and they'll help you. And that's something that is unprecedented that happens at this prison that I haven't seen at any other prison.
BELL: Do you have a possible parole date? SELF: I go to the board this December.
BELL: How's that feel?
SELF: This is strange. I want to get out so I can come back.
BELL: OK. You don't mean recidivism. You don't mean in that way.
SELF: No, I mean, I want to -- I've found my calling in life. And that is doing these therapy programs with veterans and other just prisoners.
BELL: Well, the one thing that's clear to me is that you are proud of your service and you are a veteran who still wants to serve his country.
SELF: Very much so.
BELL: Yes, and I wish you good luck in December.
SELF: I appreciate it.
BELL: Yes, thank you. Thank you very much.
SELF: Thank you.
BELL: Now, I understand that the prisoners I'm meeting have had years to change from the people they once were. And while it may be easy for me to forgive them, I also understand why those directly affected by their crimes may not ever be able to. But there is a man here hoping to change people's views of men and women in prison, Father George Williams, San Quentin's Catholic priest and a man who has forgiveness in his job description.
Talk to people on the outside who go, they did this horrible thing that defines them. They should be in prison for as long as the cells have room for them.
FATHER GEORGE WILLIAMS, CATHOLIC PRIEST, SAN QUENTIN STATE PRISON: Well, there are -- there are men who have been since the '70s. And I would say, well, how many people watching this program are the same person they were in 1978?
WILLIAMS: We all change. I think that the greatest tragedy in our culture is that we've found a way to kind of throw people away and ignore them. And it goes against my values as a Christian, but I this I it goes against our values as Americans that these are people. These are our fellow citizens.
And there's so many of them, and disproportionately men of color, and it's wrong. I think really prison, I think nowadays, should be a call to us to look at ourselves, to search our souls and say, we're doing something wrong here. We're not treating our brothers and sisters the right way. And we need to change. We need to live up to the ideals of what made us Americans in the first place.
BELL: It's powerful to hear that coming from a member of the cloth. And I don't think I do have a vote, but you have my vote as next pope if that comes up. I'll stir up the black smoke for you.
BELL: During my time at San Quentin, I've met all sorts of people working hard to rehabilitate themselves, not for us on the outside but for themselves. And before I leave, Rahsaan reminds me that there's one thing I've yet to experience, chow time. Can't we just order in?
RAHSAAN THOMAS, SPORTS EDITOR, SAN QUENTIN NEWS: So kamau, this is the chow hall.
THOMAS: Now, there's two choices tonight.
THOMAS: All right? I usually get the religious meat alternative --
THOMAS: -- which is hot dogs, turkey dogs.
THOMAS: Or they've got chili mac on the main line.
BELL: Chili mac on the main line.
THOMAS: Which do you prefer?
BELL: I'll try the chili mac.
THOMAS: You'll try the chili mac.
THOMAS: OK. Just grab a tray.
THOMAS: So this is what I get.
THOMAS: The next meal is tomorrow at 5:00 a.m. -- 5:30 a.m.
BELL: So wait. And it's 5:00 at night right now.
THOMAS: It's 5:00 at night right now.
BELL: And this is your last meal of the day. THOMAS: This is my last meal of the day.
BELL: 5:00 p.m. for dinner? There's days I don't eat lunch until 5:00 p.m.
THOMAS: I don't even like the turkey hot dogs. Let's see you try it. Let's see you try it, man.
BELL: All right.
THOMAS: Look at that. You can do it.
BELL: I can do it. I can do it. That's hot.
THOMAS: It's hot.
BELL: Yes, yes. And then this is carrots?
THOMAS: How'd that taste?
BELL: I'm not -- what is on it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, well, we would like to know, too.
BELL: It sort of feels like a lunch that like a middle school kid would eat.
THOMAS: You have to feed yourself. I come eat whatever they give me. Then I go back, and I make myself soup. They have Top Ramen soup for 25 cents each, so --
BELL: Yes, because I feel like if you eat this, you'll be hungry in two hours.
BELL: Or if you don't eat this, you'll be hungry in 15 minutes.
So I mean, we're in here in San Quentin, and we're talking to people about all the programs and rehab, but the message I keep getting is that this is a unique situation.
BELL: With all of the lack of programs at other prisons, it's got to be really hard that you could just fall into a bad cycle there just by virtue of the fact that there's so much shit going down.
THOMAS: You can you get caught up in riots.
THOMAS: You can get caught up in wanting help and needing help and not really being able to get it. And I found out that with that help, it makes a big difference. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see the door is locked now, right? So like
when the officer in a few minutes, when he'll see that everything's kind of died down and say, hey, last call, everybody's got to get up and leave.
THOMAS: There's one catch, though. We can't leave eat until you eat all your food.
BELL: Wait. That's not a -- that's not a -- that's not a rule. Wait a minute.
THOMAS: That's a "San Quentin News" rule.
BELL: Oh, if I'm sitting at the "San Quentin News" table.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you've got to feel like you're one of us.
BELL: All right, I feel like I'm one of you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, so pick up your tray.
BELL: I think as much about this food as you guys think about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three, teamwork!
BELL: It's game day for the San Quentin A's, and they're taking on a team from the Bay Area. Looking at this scene, it feels like any Major League Baseball game in America. There are fans, security. Half the players are criminals.
What do you say to people who are sitting at home right now watching us sit here on a sunny day watching some baseball, enjoying ourselves? People who think that that's not what prison is about or should be about?
CLEO, PRISONER, SAN QUENTIN STATE PRISON: Well, what I would tell them is that first of all, everything you see on TV and the picture that's been painted about who prisoners are, we're more than that. That doesn't define who we are.
CLEO: That was a snapshot in our life. It was an obvious bad choice.
CLEO: And we're here paying our dues.
CLEO: We're human, and we're here trying to do what is necessary to make an amends for the harm that we committed in society.
BELL: My time at San Quentin has come to an end. And I want to say good-bye to all the guys I met at the paper.
What's up, fellas? Hey, man, good to see you. It looks like it's our last day here.
THOMAS: Hey, buddy. Good to meet you, man.
BELL: Good to meet you, man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's it.
BELL: That's it. I got my quota, yes.
To be real, thanks for being so open and honest and telling your stories. You know, you guys are doing great work in here. And when you guys get out, you'll be -- I hope the doors open up for you to do this great work elsewhere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, hey, man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, welcome back, brother.
BELL: You don't want to see me come through gate like this. See you in the yard like, hey, guys.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You definitely won't walk out the gate (inaudible).
BELL: All right, man.
BELL: Thanks, fellas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bye.
BELL: As I walked out the doors of San Quentin, I realized I was actually sad to leave. By many people's definition, maybe even mine when I got here, these dudes are hardened criminals. But after spending time here, I see many of them as men who made mistakes, many of them when they were teenagers. Men who have spent 20 years or more working hard to change who they were and to expand their own personal definitions of who they are now.
Like Duck said, rehabilitation has led to rehabilitated. But for most of the guys I met, they aren't getting out. And if you feel good about that, then you need to rewind this show and watch it again.
S. ROBINSON: This is the old San Quentin dungeon. Dark room, ball and chain.
BELL: I see graffiti in there. S. ROBINSON: You see graffiti in there. I know.
BELL: Yes, someone -- is that from 1938, or is that --
S. ROBINSON: That's not from 1938, no. Our construction workers occupied the dungeon for supplies and equipment and --
BELL: And they left --
S. ROBINSON: And they left some of their tools.
BELL: -- some left their tags behind.
S. ROBINSON: And so a couple tags inside of there, yes.
BELL: All right, I just wanted to be clear. That graffiti is not 1938 graffiti.
S. ROBINSON: No, no, that's not 1938.
BELL: I didn't want people to think you're pulling an okey-doke on me.
S. ROBINSON: No okey-doke here.
BELL: We haven't used this since three weeks ago.