Janie McCauley Associated Press
Inside San Quentin State Penitentiary — Stephen Schneider needed a nickname, or a handle to be called in prison.
So the inmates quickly began brainstorming for a college tennis player to visit San Quentin for the first time.
“Finesse” was served to 22-year-old Braydon Tennison.
“Twinkle Toes” suggested another inmate named Kenny who preferred not to give his last name out of respect for the victim’s family.
Winner — Twinkle Toes quickly stuck.
“It’s basically glitter,” said Tennyson with a grin. “He looks like a really good kid, so I couldn’t give him anything hardcore.”
Afterwards, when the now 20-year-old Schneider showed everyone his strong game, “Ten” beamed and applauded.
“Look, I knew you were taking it easy,” Tennyson said forcefully.
For a few hours, these prisoners had the opportunity to play tennis and forget their bar life for a moment.
Hundreds of inmates fill San Quentin’s expansive exercise yard every Saturday morning performing walking lunges, chin-ups, pull-ups and push-ups, jabs to punching bags, abdominal exercises, and even picnic table bench presses. , do exercises in all manner of ways. Basketball and baseball games are held at the same time in a space the size of three soccer fields.
Every corner is filled with activity and energy. Some wait their turn to get haircuts, checkers, dominoes and horseshoes.
With one tennis court on one side of the ground and its back fence so close to the line, a well-placed lob has little chance of crashing someone into the chain link and keeping a point.half a dozen regulars start playing at 8am
“Are you ready Ten? He only started playing tennis last August and is already a very accomplished player.
“You won’t believe my last name. I was meant to play,” said Tennyson, but he cherishes the chance to get back on the court. The 6-foot-3 lefty started playing tennis in high school at the age of 16.
“I would have continued playing, but I got into legal trouble,” said Tennyson, who writes poetry and performs in prison Shakespearean plays. “I have the greatest love for it, I love it. I’m just grateful to be where I can play.”
A close-knit tennis crew gathers at every opportunity, and many aim to hit the court every day, usually after a work shift or college course. They are thrilled to be out again after two and a half years of near-constant lockdown during the pandemic.
San Quentin tennis team captain Earl Wilson, who has been in prison since 1985, said: “It gives us a sense of family. People love coming here and say we should come here because we don’t argue.”
Because they have their own tennis etiquette. Closed balls are usually called to avoid confrontation.
This is not to say that there is no idle talk. When he’s not playing baseball nearby, Colby his Southwood tennis joins his group and taunts Matt “Doc” Montana by calling him “grandpa” and slicing short balls to make Montana run. maybe.
A former tennis pro and a key leader in player development, Montana holds his own with ease. The 67-year-old former Chiropractor hails from the Bay Area and has been teaching for 30 years. He spent countless hours with some inmates, coaching them on the basics, while constantly pushing newcomers against the wall so they could develop a rhythm on their own.
“I’ll give them some tips to help them,” said Montana, who also stretches and does yoga on the court. “It was very difficult with the pandemic. There was lockdown after lockdown.”
Montana, who has been in San Quentin for three and a half years and is taking sociology and psychology classes, is very grateful to have a court.
“When the bus came up here and I saw the tennis courts, I was like, ‘Oh,'” he recalls.
Kenny Rogers enjoys trying new things while completing his sentence. He has been with him for 14 years, stating, “This tennis was my new spark.”
Patrick Leon coordinated visiting volunteer players like Schneider to play doubles with inmates at San Quentin, California’s oldest correctional facility and the state’s only gas chamber. We support the operation of the Outside program.
It also stars Leon, an English professor at Diablo Valley College. He wears an old-fashioned headband and the inmate lovingly cheers for his friend “Alley Pat”.
Schneider and his mother, Margie Moran, from the East Bay suburb of Alameda, are longtime tennis players who have played for several USTA teams at once, and when the pandemic restrictions were lifted, they signed up for the Sun for the program. Was part of our first visit to Quentin.
These unique sports programs are nothing new. Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers played for the Sun for Quentin five years ago. San Quentin has also embraced his club’s players in softball, soccer, flag football and the 100-mile run.
The experiences of those invited to attend prisons are often life-changing, providing a deep glimpse into what a largely forgotten population looks like.
“I didn’t expect anything like that… there’s a lot of them all in one place,” Schneider said. I really liked the way they did it and they seemed to be having a lot of fun. They’re clearly better for the amount of time they’ve been playing so it was pretty cool to watch.”
Wilson restrings racquets, conducts tryouts for tennis teams, and is responsible for equipment.
He loves the days when players come to bring the San Quentin team some much-needed competition.
Wilson’s mother introduced him to tennis around the age of seven. However, he stuck to the major growing sports – football, basketball and baseball – and “clashed with tennis” in the spring. Wilson hopes to one day play over the wall again.
“Keep learning, stay healthy, and go see my mom before she dies,” he said of what keeps him going after staying home for nearly 40 years. “She’s my rock.” .”
“Wow! Nice shot, Stephen!” exclaimed Wilson.
“Hi Kenny! Nice get!” Cheered Moran.
fist clash. The racket clinks to celebrate a good shot or encourage another chance. It felt awful, like a friendly day of tennis that could have been done in any public park, not inside those prison walls.
On a sunny, warm mid-August morning, Wilson pulled the group together for a team huddle at the end of the two-and-a-half-hour session, as discreet speakers under the benches quietly played classic rock. , Inside Out Tennis! ”
They said goodbye and the visitor left the prison gates, only to meet again two weeks later.
By then, Ten was practicing against Twinkle Tuz — and Prisoner proudly hit an ace serve to pass Schneider.
“I achieved my goal! I beat Stefan!” he announced.
“It made his day,” said Moran, gleeful at Tennyson’s feat.
Twinkle’s mom, what’s Moran’s nickname?
The smiling marten simply shrugged, placed his fingers on his head as if contemplating, and exhaled. “These things take time.”
A former college tennis player returning to the competitive sport in 2021 after being away for more than 20 years, McCauley was invited by Leon to join the program as a tennis player. Allowed her to write about the experience.
https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/09/09/san-quentin-inmates-find-community-through-tennis/ San Quentin Inmates Find Community Through Tennis