San Quentin Quilt Story

I wanted to share some of my favorite stories with you about the San Quentin quilt.

Quilt made by prisoners at San Quentin

San Quention Quilt

The quilt has 18 squares mounted on black felt.  It is approximately 4 & 1/2 feet wide and 5 feet tall, and has been backed and framed to protect it.  Most of the materials came from San Quentin and include; mattress liners (they make mattresses for California State prisons at San Quentin), a State-issued handkerchief, a blue State shirt pocket, leather samples, black felt (donated by the prison hobby shop), glass beads (Native American crafts in the prison), pen ink, marker ink, print, glue, thread, buttons and rosebuds donated by a quilt store.

The quilt also contains rose petals that were used in the ceremony for Christopher’s Anniversary on Mt. Tamalpais, on March 21, 2006, in a few squares.  The photos are adorned with two red “blessing cords,” blessed by the Dalai Lama, which Jacques had been gifted somehow.  The inmates glued on pebbles collected from one of the beach walks taken by Radha and Jacques when they were discussing Christopher’s life and death.  And at the bottom of the quilt, they attached a hanging red thread, which, according to Navajo tradition, allows the spirit to freely move in and out of the quilt.

The following are the stories and facts written for me by the men who made the quilt:

Square 2

The key to our hearts.

Love. Respect.

(ink, string and petals on white paper covered with plastic)

“When the idea to make a quilt for Radha came about, I knew I was in real trouble!  You see, I have no, I mean not an ounce of artistic talent.  So, I was very reluctant.  Most of the guys in my Katargeo group started coming up with ideas off the tops of their head.  The following week guys started coming to group with their pieces.  I just looked on and wondered, ‘How’d they get that done?’  Well, time was running out for me to come up with an idea and it came down to my last day.

“So, I began to think.  What Radha meant to me.  And, what Radha’s story meant to me.  And, what Radha’s loss meant to me.  And, over and over again, I kept coming up with how this brave woman walked into a room of 17 murderers, attempted murders and kidnappers at San Quentin State Prison, all who have served anywhere from 10–30 years on their life sentences.  And she looked each one of us in our eyes and told us her story.  I thought about how every single man in the room broke down in tears by the conclusion of the story of her son, Christopher. I thought about how Christopher had been murdered by a friend/roommate.  Radha’s story touched each of us in a different way, but I had an epiphany while listening to her story.  The way Christopher was murdered over something so trivial – like putting dishes in the wrong cabinet – really made me see the total picture as far as the error of my ways.

“You see, I was convicted for an attempted murder of a childhood friend whom I shot over something real trivial – money!  While Radha talked about Christopher, I saw my victim’s mother and I started to understand her pain.  I understood the pain she felt wondering if her son would live while he laid in the operating room after being shot by someone their family trusted!  This brave lady, Radha, had in that moment become my victim’s mother.  And I totally got the picture. I truly understood all the pain I had caused not only to my victim, but also his family, my family and our community.  Radha had at that moment won the key to my heart!”

Square 3

Forgiveness is

the essence of the

violet that is shed

by the heel of the

one that crushes it.

(Mt. Tam with violets, sun, mountain and bird embroidery on state issue handkerchief)

“After realizing that we were really going to attempt to make a quilt, I had to come up with material, and even harder still, a motif for my square.  The material was easy, all I had available was a new handkerchief.  I remembered that I had something I put away that had an impact on me speaking on forgiveness.  Now all I needed to do is find it, and I did.

“When I heard the story of the quilt and Christopher’s life, I remembered his love for Mt. Tamalpais and watching sunsets there.  Hence, I embroidered an image of a mountain, a sunset, and some birds.

“The saying I sewed was: ‘Forgiveness is the essence of the violet that is shed by the heel of the one that crushes it.’

“When first meeting Radha, being in her presence and hearing her story, I realized what an extraordinary loving and forgiving woman she is.

“Forgiveness, like the essence of the violet crushed under foot and the sweet smell it brings.  Radha, the sacrifice of your love on the alter of forgiveness sends a sweet smelling fragrance unto God (Ephesians 5:1&2). God Bless You.”

Square 9 from San Quentin quilt

Square 9

Every experience deeply felt in life needs to be passed along. Whether it be through words and music, chiseled in stone, painted with a brush, or sewn with a needle. It is a way of reaching for immortality.

Thomas Jefferson.

(Christopher’s 10th anniversary card with red string blessed by the Dalai Lama, embellished with stones from Cronkite Beach)

Square 13

Chris is alive;

for he is you,

because he

came from you

it is his spirit I hear

when your laughter sings

out loud and it is his spirit

I feel even when we’re in a crowd.

Chris is alive;

for he is you, because he came

from you.

Trust and know he has not

left you alone, he is there by

your side wherever you may roam.

He is there, please trust what

I say is true

Chris is alive; because he lives in you. Thank you for

sharing your son with

us, as well as yourself.

(mattress material with two turquoise beads)

“I remember meeting Radha for the first time in 2003 at our Katargeo class, and I must say I was not too enthusiastic about meeting a survivor whose son had been murdered.  To be honest, I was still trapped within my own guilt and shame of the murder I had committed eleven years earlier.  Upon entering the class you stood up, shook my hand and introduced yourself to me and all I could think of was that you had the kindest eyes and the warmest smile that I had seen in a very long time.

“You put me totally at ease, and at that moment I knew that you did not come here to condemn us, so I opened myself up to receive whatever message you came to bring.  After you finished telling us your story, I was filled with sympathy for you and your family but for the first time since my incarceration I understood the devastation I caused to the family members of my victim. I also came to know Christopher for the wonderfully decent human being that he was.  At the end of the class I told you that you had a beautiful spirit and that God was going to use you in a special way.  Through your willingness not to be bitter from this tragic event in your life, God has and is using you to heal countless men like me and to touch others who are not incarcerated.

“When Jacques suggested that the class should make a quilt for you in honor of Christopher, I was all for it.  Jacques also suggested we make it out of materials that were from the prison.  I decided on a piece of material that we use at my job (Prison Industry Authority) to make mattresses for all the institutions in the State of California.  The poem that I wrote came from my heart because that’s how I felt after meeting you the first day you came to our group and shared you son’s life with us.  I still feel this way today and I know Christopher will always be part of the lives of the people you meet because, he is you and you carry him with you wherever you go.

“Thank you for starting me on my road to healing by sharing your life with me.”

Square 14

Picture of a flower (Radha) with a dropped petal (Chris).

(blue, green, yellow embroidery on a blue, state shirt pocket)

“The very day we started talking about doing this quilt in our Katargeo group, this picture of a flower with a missing petal entered my mind.  That got me to thinking, “What does this flower mean to me, and what may it mean to you?”  Of course I can’t predict what it may mean to you, but I feel deeply what it means to me.  The flower is you; a beautiful person who brings beauty to the world and has chosen to live life with a loving and caring heart (loving and caring about yourself as well as others) even though you were hurt deeply; deeply by someone.

“The fallen petal is the part of you that is with Christopher – keeping him in your life in a most times happy – sometimes sad way.  I’m sure Christopher’s spirit is deeply moved and pleased with how you are holding him, and holding you, as you live your life and share your life.

“The blue material is a piece I cut out of my state shirt that I have been wearing when I get visits from my family and loved ones.  I’ve had this shirt for years now and only wore it to my visits.  I got it brand new and I washed it and ironed it after every visit.  Then I would hang it up in my cell in a plastic bag, just like the dry cleaners do, and save it for my next visit.  I chose this shirt over other blue shirts I had because it means a lot to me, as it’s the shirt I’ve worn so many times while spending precious time with my loved ones.  I also wore it to our Thanksgiving meal we all ate together (that you cooked so lovingly and deliciously).

“I am absolutely not an artist by any means so this kindygarden- looking flower that I drew on paper at first and then transferred to the cloth took me quite some time to draw.

“When I was just eight or nine years old my Mom taught me how to do a simple embroidery stitch and helped me embroider a picture on my pillow case.  Well, I don’t know if I am remembering the stitch right but what I did on your flower is the best I can remember that stitch.  Again, a lot of time spent (stitching this flower I drew) but I loved every minute of it because it was for you and I was thinking of you and Christopher the whole time.

“The thread (yes, I even have story about the thread) is from a little pocket-sized sewing kit I bought in back in 1992; back when you could buy sewing kits in the prison store.  I’ve been using this kit all these years to repair my clothes and make a few things (like leather weightlifting gloves and my leather wallet I made in ‘93 that I still carry today).  Anyway, the kit has dwindled down from several needles and different colored thread to two needles and very small amounts of thread left on a few spools.  The really cool part of this (if you’re not bored with reading this long letter yet) is that I had so little thread left that I had just barely enough of the green and orange to do your flower (less than an inch left after I tied the knots) and only a few inches of the blue and gray.  It was like your flower was what that last little bit of thread was meant for.

“The whole experience of this quilt – the planning it with the guys, (three Katargeo meetings of planning it and making it) the getting together the material and doing my piece in my cell, and the sharing our pieces last week and putting the quilt together as a group (having a great time, us all talking about you and Christopher and the quilt on March 21) and now to get to spend time with you and honor you and Christopher, and ultimately give you the quilt! – is an experience that I will always remember and cherish……THANK YOU for coming into our lives, Radha, and for blessing us with your wonderful spirit and your fun personality. What a gift to humanity you are.”

Square 17

Upon This Mountain

Upon this mountain I love to climb……for it is up here we will always be near.  I come up here for the view and to touch the very sky….that is why I come

Upon This Mountain

A red tail hawk soars serenely by as we view the scenery below.  Forest birds chirp and flit about….other creatures scurry about.  Mice and lizards…I can hear somewhere very near….

Upon This Mountain

Away from the traffic and noise with a sound of its own….a mountain alive.  Is that a creek I know hear?  Also, rather near?  The rains seem to clean and clear the air about me….it is up here I feel so very near…..

Upon This Mountain

Mom, thank you most for meeting these kind men in San Quentin and sharing my love of this mountain.  Their one bad day, a day of an awful choice or an angry fiery rage….it is okay for you to come and visit me….and we will be up…..up here…..

Upon This Mountain

(plastic covered pink typing on paper with dried rose petals mounted on leather)

Square 18

Forgiveness sends a healing

message much further

than you might believe or

comprehend.  As you develop a

forgiving demeanor, you change

minds less by your words than

by your example. Saving souls

less by your program than

by your presence.

Thank you for

sharing your presence with me.

(brown leather with ink)

I wanted to share these stories with you.  More gifts with death.  This quilt is a treasure and very fragile, so I had it backed and framed (without glass) and it hangs in a room in our house where we spend allot of time.  I am very grateful for this additional reminder of how precious every day is.