Public Witness

Interfaith Vigil At San Quentin

Allison Tanner

July 31, 2020

Interfaith Prayer Vigil, July 19, 2020, photo by Joyce Xi

…the Lord looked down to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death – Psalm 102:19-20

The conditions at San Quentin State Prison are deplorable. The current COVID outbreak has spread to over half the population, sickening over 2000 incarcerated individuals, over 250 employees and claiming the lives of at least 19 people. These illnesses and deaths were preventable – they are the direct result of the lack of concern for those incarcerated and the inhumane treatment they regularly endure.

photo by Joyce Xi

On July 19, the interfaith community gathered outside San Quentin to decry the conditions that led to this outbreak, demand an end to inhumane practices that cause such conditions in the first place, and declare a vision for restorative justice practices that provide healing for individuals, communities and society. Over 100 people gathered to hear testimonies of incarcerated individuals and their families, mourn lives needlessly lost, and provide public witness of the faith community. We prayed together: Respect Human Lives – Release the Captives – Restore Our Community.

Our united, ongoing prayer, photo by David Bacon

We made four demands of Governor Newsom: immediately improve the conditions at San Quentin, ensuring that all who are incarcerated are treated with mercy, compassion and human decency; intervene and stop all transfers among prisons and ICE detention centers, ending further spread of the virus; release incarcerated individuals, starting with those in great danger: the medically vulnerable, the elderly and the trans community; reduce the population at San Quentin to 50% of capacity to allow for social distancing – release should be to family, the faith community or other community-based re-entry programs, not other prisons.


I encourage you to add your voice by calling Governor Newsom to share our demands, as well as to offer the prayer below, which grounded our action. To learn more about this action, and for a sample script to email, call or tweet the governor, click SQVigilToolkit. Here is a video of the service.

Interfaith Prayer for San Quentin Action

Respect Human Lives 

As human beings, all people, all of us

  • All of us deserve to live – and for incarcerated individuals COVID has become a death sentence
  • All of us are capable of redemption – no one deserves excessive punishment
  • All of us are more than our worst mistakes – we all have the ability to grow
  • No one deserves to live in a cage

Release the Captives

  • Release people to families, faith communities, or community based re-entry programs
  • Release the vulnerable – because they are at great risk – especially the medically compromised, the trans community and the elderly
  • Release those who have completed base terms – they have done their time
  • Release those who have been unduly burdened by lengthy sentences or life without parole – undoing racial injustice
  • Release those who are currently low risk – they are in need of community support
  • Release those who have changed – they are ready to return
  • Release imprisoned community leaders – we need their wisdom and leadership
  • Release us all from the inhumanity of prisons to new ways of community redress & repair.

Restore Our Community

  • Restore families and loved ones
  • Restore individuals to their communities
  • Restore justice to black and brown communities
  • Restore humanity to all communities
  • Restore us back to the oneness of our humanity