San Quentin inmates discover group via tennis

INSIDE SAN QUENTIN STATE PRISON, Calif. (AP) — Stefan Schneider wanted a nickname, or a deal with as they name it in jail.

So the inmates rapidly started brainstorming for the school tennis participant making his first go to to San Quentin.

“Finesse,” supplied 22-year-old Braydon Tennison.

“Twinkle Toes,” recommended one other inmate named Kenny, who most popular to not give his final identify out of respect for his sufferer’s household.

A winner — Twinkle Toes instantly caught.

“Twinkle for short,” Tennison stated with a smile. “We couldn’t give him a hardcore one because he looks like such a nice kid.”

Later, “Ten” beamed and clapped because the now-20-year-old Schneider confirmed everybody his robust recreation.

“See, I knew you were taking it easy,” Tennison stated emphatically.

For just a few hours, these prisoners have been simply tennis gamers out for some aggressive enjoyable and an opportunity to neglect their life behind bars for a short time — even with the cell blocks in view at each course.


Hundreds of inmates fill San Quentin’s sprawling train yard each Saturday morning to work out in all methods — strolling lunges, chin-ups, pull-ups and pushups, jabs right into a punching bag, belly strikes, even bench-pressing picnic tables. There are basketball and baseball video games going concurrently within the house some three soccer fields in dimension.

Every nook is stuffed with exercise and power. Others wait their flip for haircuts or to play checkers, dominoes and horseshoes.

A single tennis court docket sits on one facet of the grounds, its again fences so near the traces {that a} well-placed lob will ship somebody crashing into the chain hyperlinks with little likelihood at conserving a degree alive. A half-dozen regulars begin enjoying at straight up 8 a.m.

“Are you ready, Ten?” hollered inmate James Duff, beaming. He picked up tennis solely final August and already is a extremely expert participant.

Tennison — who notes “you’ll never believe my last name, I was meant to play”— cherishes the possibility to be again on the court docket. The 6-foot-3 lefty started enjoying tennis in highschool at 16.

“I would have kept playing but I got into legal trouble,” stated Tennison, who additionally writes poetry and performs in jail Shakespearean performs. “I just have a supreme love for it, I love it. I’m just grateful to be somewhere I can play.”

The close-knit tennis crew gathers at each likelihood, lots of them aiming to get out on the court docket every single day, usually after their work shifts or faculty programs. They are thrilled to be exterior once more after virtually fixed lockdown for two 1/2 years throughout the pandemic.

“It gives us a piece of community to get out of the mode of prison drudgery,” stated Earl Wilson, San Quentin’s tennis staff captain who has been incarcerated since 1985 — about 37 of his 60 years. “It gives us a sense of family. People love coming in and say it’s better coming in here because we don’t argue.”

That’s as a result of they’ve their very own tennis etiquette: Any shut balls are usually referred to as in to keep away from confrontation.

That’s to not say there’s no trash discuss. When he’s not enjoying baseball close by, Kolby Southwood would possibly be part of the tennis group and razz Matt “Doc” Montana by calling him “Grandpa” and slicing a brief ball to make Montana run.

An ex-tennis professional and key chief within the gamers’ enchancment, Montana simply holds his personal. The 67-year-old former chiropractor is from the Bay Area and taught for 30 years. He has spent numerous hours with among the inmates, guiding them in fundamentals whereas all the time sending newcomers to the hitting wall to allow them to develop some rhythm on their very own.

“I give these guys some tips to try to help them out,” stated Montana, who stretches and does yoga on the court docket, too. “It’s been very difficult with the pandemic. We’ve had lockdown after lockdown.”

Montana, who has been in San Quentin for 3 1/2 years and takes sociology and psychology lessons, is so grateful to have the court docket.

“When the bus came here and I saw the tennis court, I was like, ‘Ahhh,’” he recalled.

Patrick Leong helps run the “Inside-Outside” program by coordinating these volunteer visiting gamers like Schneider to play doubles with the San Quentin inmates. An English professor at Diablo Valley College, Leong additionally performs. He sports activities an old-school headband, and the inmates cheer fondly for his or her good friend “Alley Pat” — the deal with a nod to his exact accuracy down the traces.

Schneider and his mom, Margie Moran — a longtime tennis participant from the East Bay suburb of Alameda who performs on a number of USTA groups directly — have been among the first guests allowed into San Quentin for this program as pandemic restrictions lifted.

These distinctive sports activities applications aren’t new. Golden State Warriors normal supervisor Bob Myers performed inside San Quentin 5 years in the past, a convention of the staff’s workers taking up the inmates. San Quentin additionally has hosted athletes in softball, soccer, flag soccer and a 100-mile working membership.

The expertise for many who are invited into the jail to take part is commonly life-changing, offering a profound glimpse into what it’s like for a inhabitants that’s largely forgotten.

“I wasn’t expecting anything like that … there are so many of them all in one place,” Schneider stated. “I really liked how they found a community for tennis with those 10 guys, and it seemed like they were having a lot of fun. They obviously are really good for the amount of time they’ve played, so it was pretty cool to see.”

Wilson restrings the rackets, runs tennis staff tryouts and is accountable for tools.

He loves the times when gamers are available to present the San Quentin staff much-needed competitors. It brightens up the monotony of jail life.

Wilson’s mother launched him to tennis at round age 7. Yet he all the time caught with the most important sports activities rising up — soccer, basketball and baseball, which “conflicted with tennis” within the spring. Wilson hopes to sooner or later play past the partitions once more.

“Keep learning, keep healthy and get to my mother before she passes,” he stated of what retains him going after practically 4 a long time inside. “She’s my rock.”


“Whoa! Good shot, Stefan!” Wilson hollered.

“Yay, Kenny! Nice get!” cheered Moran.

Fist bumps. Rackets clinking to have a good time good photographs or to encourage for the following likelihood. It felt an terrible lot like a pleasant day of tennis that might have been at any public park as an alternative of inside these jail partitions.

At the top of a 2 1/2-hour session on that sunny and heat mid-August morning, with a modest speaker underneath the bench quietly enjoying basic rock, Wilson introduced the group collectively for a staff huddle: “One, two, three, Inside-Outside tennis!”

They stated their goodbyes, and the guests made their manner out the jail gates, solely to see one another once more in two weeks.

By then, Ten had practiced to tackle Twinkle Toes — and the inmate proudly hit an ace serve previous Schneider.

“I accomplished my goal! I aced Stefan!” he introduced.

“It made his day,” Moran stated, overjoyed for Tennison’s feat.

So, how a few nickname for Twinkle’s mother, Moran?

A smiling Ten simply shrugged, put a finger to his head as if pondering, then exhaled, “These things take time.”


McCauley, a former collegiate tennis participant who returned to the game competitively in 2021 after greater than 20 years away, was invited to take part in this system by Leong as a tennis participant. San Quentin officers allowed her to put in writing in regards to the expertise.


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