For the last 14 years, there have been no yard events at Salinas Valley State Prison in California. Previous activities at the facility had resulted in violent acts, including a stabbing near the performance stage, and convinced prison officials to forgo any such programming for the safety of both performers and prisoners.
But on July 31, the sound of music could be heard emanating from general population yard C. There, in one of the highest-security yards in the prison, musicians, speakers, and even a comedian—not to mention several volunteers—could be found engaging with about 150 prisoners, talking to them about Jesus, and offering them a hope many of them had never had.
The return of such prison yard events to Salinas Valley is a testament to the changing culture in that facility.
Prison warden William Muniz is a graduate of Prison Fellowship’s Warden Exchange program, which brings together prison officials from across the country to share ideas for ways to improve the moral culture behind prison walls. Muniz says the event, an hosted by Priosn Fellowship, served to “plant seeds” of hope in the prisoners gathered in yard C. And while he isn’t expecting complete change overnight, he does see the opportunity for improved lives for those behind bars.
James Rials III, a prisoner who attended the event, agrees. “It instills hope,” he says in an article in the Salinas Californian. “It bridges the gap between the community and the inmates here at Salinas Valley. And it shows that rehabilitation is possible.”
“I’m loving it. It’s needed,” adds Jessie Lee, another prisoner in attendance. “It will help people change from the hardness they have inside to become better individuals. It also helps keep you in contact with the outside world. A lot of us are doing so much time that we’re losing contact with our families and the outside. It makes you feel human again.”
Remembering the humanity of the men and women behind bars is key to Prison Fellowship’s in-prison programs. By reaching out to prisoners with a message of hope and transformation, these men and women are reminded that they are loved by God and that they are never beyond His redemption. To learn more about Prison Fellowship’s efforts to take the Gospel inside prison walls, click here. And to find out how prison officials are working together to create a more effective and transformational prison culture, visit our Warden Exchange page.