Prison Reform Sparked By A Mixtape

When the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic in March, the world went into frenzies and lockdowns.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 began to ravage through California’s San Quentin State Prison.

Then in May, San Quentin Mixtapes, Vol. 1 dropped: a 17-track album that was written, recorded and produced within the prison’s walls.

David Jassy is at the heart of the Youthful Offender Program Mixtape Project. In 2010, the Grammy-nominated producer was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced 15 years to life.

Jassy kept music with him as much as he could throughout transfers between prisons. Once he got his hands on a keyboard in San Quentin, he started making beats.

His music was contagious there.

“Regardless of what set or gang they belong to, I just seen how fascinated they were about music and how they all lit up,” Jassy said. “People started smiling. If they heard somebody that was a dope rapper, they just all started smiling and nodding along and encouraging each other. And, it was different. I just knew this was a different energy from everything else that was going on in prison.”

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AN END TO LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE?

After spending more than half his life behind bars, George Mullins can tick off what he sees as sorely needed programs: economic literacy, conflict resolution, learning how to recognize trauma and triggers, connecting with family, positive reinforcement.

It’s too easy to languish otherwise, watching each year roll by like heavy fog.

A quote from Bryan Stevenson, president of the Equal Justice Initiative, struck a chord: “You are more than the worst thing you’ve ever done.”

We cannot create a system that serves people adequately—people suffering from trauma, people who are victims of violence themselves—we can’t serve them if we’re not listening to them. Not just listening to them, but centering them.

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