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tv   United Shades of America  CNN  May 1, 2016 10:00pm-11:01pm PDT

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i've never been to prison, except for the show. i've never been, which is again one of those weird things to say out loud. and it's the same way a person in new york would feel like if they've lived in new york and never stepped on pop. it doesn't mean you're good, it just means you're lucky. every man in this room has had the thought of who he would be in prison. i think everybody feels like i'd be the guy who ran the yard. come to me if you need everything. when really most of the people are like boo hoohoo. please.
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my name is ww. kamau bell. now, i'm challenging myself to dig deeper. i i'm on a mission to experience all the colors and believes that give shade to this country. this is "united shades of america." oh, the san francisco bay area. my home. when the producers told me we were shooting our next episode in the bay, i couldn't wait. so many stories to be told here. the tech industry is pushing working class people out of san francisco. oakland is the birth place to the panthers. even bruce lee lived here. the producers looked add me and said the four words no one wants to hear. you're going to prison. right across the bay, just 12 miles from san francisco sits san quentin prison.
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this place has locked up the best of the worst, from serial killers to presidential assassins. to maybe the worst husband of all time but it's also been home to people you wouldn't expect, like country singer murl hagert and even stanley tooky williams, a convicted murderer, ex-gang member turned nobel peace nominee who the state still saw fit to execute. alcatraz, also or brittany. which means, of course, johnny cash recorded an album there. now, why in the world would i be going there? well, whether we like to think about it or not, there are human beings behind these walls. yes, some very bad ones but then
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some i've heard have just done bad things, got caught up in the system. and i want to meet these men to find out what life is really like in prison and see if they're being rehabilitated or are they just doomed to become a statistic in the business that is prison. and more than any other prison in the state of california, san quentin is known for suviddism. almost 60% are returning within three years of being released. to get me started on my time here, i'm meeting up with lieutenant sam robertson, who will be my tour guide, because, yeah, not really looking to get
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lost here. i hear they call you the mayor of san quentin. >> officially i'm the public communication officer of san quentin. >> it feels a little like a community college. >> it does. this is the adjustment center. this is where we say we house the worst of the worst of the state of california. >> this is the worst inmates in the city of california. i feel like i shouldn't be pointing. yes, san quentin houses california pfsh only death row inmates, yet it's actually the prison california inmates want to be transferred to because it has the highest number of rehab programs by far and security prison levels range from a level one, like martha stewart to 4,
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like oz. in 1989, it was chacnged to a leveling two. it's not what i was expecting. i thought we were going to turn this corner and there would be several gates and i would strip searched. >> why would we strip search you? >> do we need to? >> let's be clear, no you do not. >> we house 3,864 inmates. currently there are 731 guys on death row here. >> is there anything i should be aware of or think is about or know know? >> just be yourself. >> it's amazing how many times you're given that advice. it feels like walking into a neighborhood i'm unfamiliar with. now it feels great.
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>> now you know. >> i'm looking round, i see different groups of people in different areas. >> the areas are broken up in a way. beyond the tennis court are primarily where the white guys are. there's a couple different areas for those guys. the basketball court is primarily where the african american guys are. and the pisas. those from mexico south, hispanic inmates wh s who are n californians so to say. and the yard is seg ruigated based on underground rules. >> so, it seems like the black guys got the basketball court, no surprise there. so, if you're a white guy and you want to play basketball, is it not recommended you go over there? if you have a good jump ashot?
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>> it's that the guys that look like you might have an issue of you coming over here. >> is there an effort to create that cross pollination? >> yes. through other programs, work assignments. we try to bring our population together and successfully put people next to each other who traditionally will not be next to each other. >> he wanted to me to meet sean thomas, from the san quentin news. kamau bell. >> how you doing. heard a lot about you. >> i heard i should talk to you about what's going on down here. >> i'm the sports editor. >> how long are you in for? >> i got convicted voluntary manslaughter. 55 to life. so, level two is a blessing.
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sd they have free college here. i'm beating you. >> they don't bring in unknown comedians to talk to you. >> so, that's the alarm here at the prison and when there's an alarm, people no matter where they are here, everybody gets down on the ground until our staff figures out what's going on. >> how often does that alarm go off? >> some days not at all, and other days four or five times but it's usually pretty short. >> that means they found whatever and we're back in business. >> there wasn't any reactions. >> the level two part, nothing hardly happens on this side. >> duck. so, tell me what would you think is the biggest surprise in san
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quen tr quentin. >> they actually produce positive people now. some people come here and couldn't read, write, spell, they're walking around geniuses now. >> and you don't have a cell phone, so you need somebody who's nickname is wikipedia. so they can give you information. >> keep you aware. they make us feel like we're still part of some form of humanity, other than that, we'd just be numbers on the yard. >> what's your sentence? >> seven to life. i'm on my 40th year. >> seven to life and you're on your 40th year. wow. >> same thing i say everything morning. you would think you'd be gone a long time. >> i thought you were going to say six 1/2. if you're able to live here and sit here -- >> because they call this rehabilitation. so, if you have been
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rehabilitated, then you get to a spot like this, there should be rewards at the end of the gate but it don't seem that way. >> there should be incentives. because once you're rehabilitated, you have the potential to be an asset to society. >> for some reason prisoners don't get that second chances. you get defined boo ithe worst moment of your life. it was time for rajon to take me to meet the staff of the san quentin newspaper. it's one of the few written by prisoners that can be read by people on the outside. >> his is where the magic happens. any inmate that wants to write, just come to the journalism gild and get lessons on writing.
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>> just show willingness to do it and pick up the skills. okay. are these connected to the internet? >> heck no. i wish. we have berkley students who do research for us. we come up with the ideas and the stories. >> so, it's basically the old school internet, people. there's nothing about the way these guys are working that says this is a hobby or just a way to pass time. at first glance, seems like san quentin -- >> know any spirituals? ♪ swing low sweet chariot coming for to carry me home ♪ ♪ ♪ uh oh. what's up? ♪ ♪
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♪ today at san quentin, i'm meeting back up with rajon thomas who's on assignment for the prison newspaper. as we walk the yard, i see a lot of black faces. while only 13% of america's population is black, black people makeup 40% of the prison population. due to over sentencing and unequal application of the law,
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one in three black men will go to prison some time in their lives. >> how, how did you get past the three? they didn't try to take your sneakers? >> if they took my sneakers, i'd be like, all right. that's what they call conflict avoidance. that's how you become a comedian, you avoid the fight. >> that's a blessing. >> one of the thing i keep hearing is they need to do things that make them feel normal and for a lot of these dudes, playing sports is one of those things. >> have you ever seen baseball in prison? >> no. up until this week i'd never seen anything in prison. if you work hard and stay out of trouble, not only do you get to play but against outside teams. teams of regular folk, regular folk who voluntarily agree to let convicted felons hurl
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objects at them. >> how you doing, kamau. >> he's one of the top players. >> i wouldn't say one of the top but a guy who really loves the game with a passion. baseball gives me the opportunity to practice leadership, teamwork, confidence, hard work, dedication and i think streets treated me wrong but baseball always treated me right. >> wow. as we watch the team practice, i got curious, while would rajon work so hard at a rehab program when he knows he has almost no chance of ever getting out of prison? >> why do you want to be a journalist? what does this do for you? >> having so much time, you feel like you're going to waste. there's nothing meaningful to do except for writing. so, this gives me something meaningful to do. >> finding a purpose in life is
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not generally what you think of. you think of fighting in the shower. racially rioting. yoga is another one of the rehab program programs. he's letting me tag along while he gets the story. why do you think it's important to do yoga? >> it helps me relax and discharge that energy. >> mentally, what has it done? >> i'm more clear, focussed. i'm readyother challenge. it's good. >> next me and foon head over to cell block c where 420 men are housed, including foon. >> when i first came, i was scared. i was like, man, here's this little guy. >> so, can i ask you how you
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ended up incarcerated? >> yes. so, i'm in here. >> first degree murder on a drive by. i had nephew in school. he was getting picked on, so i went to pick him up so he could get home safely without getting harassed. when we were getting ready to take off, another car pulled up behind us, they came out and they rushed us. so, i told him to drive the car. i was looking for anybody who resembled those guys and as soon as the opportunity arrived, which was all innocent victims. >> so, it wasn't even the guys. >> it wasabon't even the guys. i'm here for one murder and four attempted murders. i'm sentenced to 35 to life. i've been here 20 years now. there's a tremendous amount of giltd i hold because my nephew
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is also here because of that. >> is he in san quentin? >> yes. and me being the older one, i took him down this path. >> the way we define ourselves as men, if we feel that's challenged, it can lead to destructive behavior because we put so much on what it cake f takes to be a man. >> too much. sometimes. >> you all spend a lot of time talking about your issues. >> i think it's important for us to talk about it and to take ownership of what you've done. with a better understanding, it doesn't have to be who you are today. ♪ ♪
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everyone in here says that to do time, you have to know how to kill time. and i'm not talking about a gang leader name time. i'm talking about killing time playing overly complicated card games like pee knuckle. i know it's slowing you down. >> how you going to grow up black in america and not know
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how to play peaknuckle? >> why this game? >> it's time consuming and a lot of people have nothing better to do than sit around and make time go by. >> so, that's why it's so complicated, because it takes time. >> i'm incarcerated right now under the three strike law. i committed a nonviolent, no physical injury second degree robbery and i got almost as much time as him, 30 years to life. >> it was first degree murder. >> i got possession of a firearm and i'm doing double life. they turned me, a career criminal, when i had never been to juvenile hall, but krb like this prison. >> of the 35 state prisons in california, this is by far the best as far as educational, self-help development programs,
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whereas at the other prisons, the resources aren't available. we worked our way down from those higher level security institutions by obeying the rules, staying out of trouble, programming, doing what is necessary to get out of those places. >> but recognition about change, it seems like that's a hard thing for people to swallow because they don't think we can actually change. >> i keep coming back to the fact that i believe as long as i sit here, it's a paycheck for someone. >> that's exactly what it is. you hit the nail on the head. >> i see the same thing here and here. >> he made that statement, he told the truth. because a lifer is bread and butter for a whole lot of people who work for the department of corrections. >> what they're talking about is the business of prison. the u.s. spends around $70 billion a year on prisons. to but that in perspective, since 1986, we've increased spending on higher education by
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only 5.6%. we increased spending on kinder garden, by 69%. but we've increased spending on prisons by a whopping 441% and while we have our charts out, during that same time, the prison population as the grown from 300,000 to over 1.6 million prisoners today. so, whats good here? >> you go up those stairs, it's totally different. >> what's up there? >> north block, our houses. >> but when you go home, you google peeknuckle. >> i figured i'd ask my new friend to give me a tour of his cell. it won't take long. >> this is the cell i'm at. you can go in there. >> thank you. >> wras you can see, as big as u
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are, two people can't stand down here at the same time normally. when i get down, thing my celly lays here so i can get by. >> you get to pick your roommate? technically, no. but the department understands that you have to. >> it's better if you are living with someone you want to live with. >> you have to be able to deal with another person's personality in this small space. there's a term called a cell slug. that's a person who never leaves the cell and so the other celly never gets any real privacy. >> we got to talk about it. the toilet. >> yeah. i mean, i tell you, when i go to the bathroom, i like some privacy, i like to be alone, i don't want nobody talking to me. >> the way most sell eies nege h
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negotiate that is i'll find something to do. my regular system is hooked up, so after 6:30 i'm hooked up. >> is that like when women live together, your cycles are aligned? >> and finding the right celly is one of the bigging thes. will you leave? and that's the cell slug. >> thank you. we can step on out of here. starting to get a little claustrophobic. one thing that has become clear to me is that every inmate is open to talking about the reason they're here and not in the gossipy way, but in the taking responsibility way. can i ask how you ended up here? >> i was arrested in 1996 for a series of bank robberies in san diego. i've robbed a bank before and
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the lady said, are you serious? the fbi gave me the moniker. the brown bag. >> so, you got a name. >> i still got the bag. it's not the real bag. i have something like this and i just write in red marker. i have a bomb. put the money in the bag and she just opened it up and put in a bunch of 50s and 20s and i walk out of the bank. >> wow. who was the person that you were back then that decided to rob a bank? how did you get that to place? it's a part of that process that i look to myself to figure that out because i don't see myself as a bank robber. why was i doing that? one of the tellers that i robbed came in and testified against me and was crying on the stand and told me that terrified her whole
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life and right there, i was like, it kind of hit me knowing that i just ruined this woman's life. that's because of what i did, you know. but i couldn't process that the way i'm processing it right now. after my trial and conviction, i received a sentence of originally 85 years to life. >> for bank robberies. >> and finally came to a realization what my impact is on this planet and it wasn't all good. >> 85 years to life for bank robbery may sound reasonable to you, but not to me. and even if it does sound good to you, how does juan sound? to me he generally sounds like a good dude who's made the most of his time and yet he has no date for possible parole even on the books. friends are. seriously, it's, it's really fine. you don't want to be seen with your dad?
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at san quentin, i've been lucky to meet prisoners that are clearly doing things to better themselves. there's another side that frankly the administration won't let me see. but i'm meeting back up with lieutenant robertson. where are we?
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small management yard complex. >> these are individual yards designed for people who have security concerns here in the prison. whether it's someone pred torrial or someone we've identified has victimization type of issues, we place them here to insure the safety of them and the rest of our population and many times guys who had issues with other people inside the prison, either they would stay in their cells until those issues resolved themselves or go out and there would be drama out within the prison. what we generally do is -- >> can we walk in one? >> sure. >> and then can we get out quickly? >> i'll assure that. generally a yard like this is for one person. but we'll imp ruvise. the guy inside the cell space,
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he can't walk around. so, this gives you the opportunity to get some circulation going. >> as a person, i like to pace a lot. >> many times you see guys doing push ups, talking to the guy in the yard next to them. they may be mortal enemies. >> and the sun is blocked out. >> in this area, yes. because this yard didn't exist here until five or ten years ago. >> a lot of the things i'm seeing i've seen in moveies before but i've never seen this before. >> this is prison on a different level. >> i'm going to go back to that prison on no level that i live. look at those cages reminds me that evilen though it's a level two prison, it's still -- well, a prison. and a lot of the ideas we get from the movies about prison,
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the movies get from prison and san quentin has had its fair share of violence. which makes me wonder, who would want to work this guy? apparently this guy. he was busy. you're a co here? >> yes, i am. >> i assume from thuce costume, the uniform. i've been here 22 years now. i've done all my time here. sglir >> it's almost like you are doing time here. >> yeah. you're going to see a lot of things you don't necessarily see on the streets. you need adjust your mentality to be able to maintain your sanity. >> is it hard to go home and let this all go? >> you definitely have to have an outlet.
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it's not easy but skryou have t have one. >> having an outlet seems important for employees and prisoners alike. meet the most unlikely financial advisor. >> everyone calls me wall street. my name is curtis caral. >> why do they call you wall street? >> 11 or twelve years ago, i developed a literacy class. my cell mate at the time used to read different publications to me. i didn't know how to read at the time and one die i went to get the sports page and accidently picked up the business section and when i did, another guy said oh, you play the stock market and i said what's that and he said ritszer the place where white people keep all their money and first thing i thought was okay. as i started to learn how to
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read, i started reading a lot of business publications, the stock developed on its own in a way. >> are you actually working with money? >> yes, investing money efor myself, family, friends. >> how does that work? there's rules and regulations around that? >> i'm not running a company. i trade stocks. i get on the phone. call, talk to my family. say, buy this, buy that and they're buying it. >> and now you're on tv, and in the newspaper and people are talking about you and i hear they nicknamed you the oracle of san quentin. >> i took what has been available to me and packaged that so it's really easy for guys to use and it's been a tool that has been successful. >> how did you end up in prison? >> tried, taken to trial of first degree murder and attempted robbery and gun
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possession and sentenced to 54 years in life. i was 17 years old. 54 years life in prison. and people see that and wow, you're kids. but for me, at this stage in my life, i work hard to move forward, right. >> are you making good money doing this even from prison? >> yes, making great money. by prison standards, i'm making millions. >> if you don't mind me saying, this is kind of nerdy. >> the nerdy ones are the ones that are wealthy. notice i didn't say rich, wealthy. >> have you heard the word blerd? >> like blurred lines? >> no, like b-l-e-r-d? >> what's that? >> a black nerd.
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every man thinks he knows everything he needs to know about prison because he's seen the movie "shawshank redemption". we really think it's what it
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would be and all cast ourselves in the main character, like would i be morgan freeman, no, i'd be andy due fran. and i'd spend years trying to break out and end up on a beach in mexico with my money and my best friend. would you be sexually assaulted? everything but that. back in san quentin, juan said there is a man i should meet who knows all about accountability. he's a found of his own program here at the prison. the u.s. has over 200,000 incarcerated veterans. challenges like unemployment, and substance abuse and ptsd can accelerate these issues. it's called veterans healing veterans from the inside out. >> i was like, what do you mean,
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veterans? it didn't occur to me, that of course everyone's in here. how many veterans are here and what is their experience? >> like 362 mainland on the yard. but it's a large veteran's population and for me it's a way to help reduce the number of veterans coming to prison and the number of suicide. >> so, in a way you're continuing your serve thoos country through your service here in san quentin. >> i came to prison in 1997. >> 1997. >> so, i was in the marine corps from 1987 to 1997. conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder. >> talk about how that guy goes in the newspaper as a hero to someone who ends up
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incarcerated. >> we're all given the opportunity to defend this country at one time. clearly by the fact that we came to prison, we did something we shouldn't have so, we violated that trust. and talk about why you feel like it's important to give back. >> i think i can speak for all veterans. we just want to give back and redeem ourselves and makeup for whatever shame we brought to the marine corps and i think san quentin make it possible to give back and they'll help you and that's something that happens at this prison that i haven't seen at any other prison. >> do you have a possible puparole date? >> this december. i want to get out so i can come back. i found my calling in life and that is doing these therapy
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programs with veterans and just prisoners. >> one thing that's clear to me is you're proud of your service and you're a veteran that still wants to serve your country and i wish you luck in december. >> thank you very much. >> now, i understand the prisoners have had years to change from the people they once were and while it may be easy for me to forgive them, i understand why they may not ever be able to. but there's a man here hoping to change people's views on the men and women in prison, the catholic priest and a man who has forgiveness in his job description. they did this horrible thing that defines them, they should be in prison as long as the cells have room for them. >> there are men who have been here since the '70s. how many people watching this
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rogram are the same as they were in 1978? we found a way to throw people away and ignore them and it goes against my values as a christ n christian. these are our fellow citizens and there's so many of them and disproportiona disproportionately men of color and prison, i think should be a call to search our souls and say we're doing something wrong here. we're not treating our brothers and sisters the right way. we need to change. we need to live up to the ideals that made us this way in the first place . >> you have my vote as the next pope when it comes up. i'll throw up the black smoke for you. you know when i first started out,
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during my time at san quentin, i've met all sorts of people working hard to rehabilitate for themselves. and rajon reminds me there's one thing i've yet to experience. chow time. >> this is the chow hall. there's two choices tonight. i usually get the religious meat alternative, which is turkey dogs. or they got chilly macin the main line. which do you prefer? i i'll try to chilly mack. >> just grab a tray. >> so, it is what i get.
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>> the next is at 5:00 a.m. >> and it's 5:00 at night right now and this is your last male of the day. >> 5:00 p.m., for dinner? there's days i don't eat lunch until 5:00 p.m. >> i don't even like the turkey hot dogs. >> let's see you try it. look at that. >> i can do, i can do it. it's hot. it's hot. >> ahow does that taste? >> what is on it? >> we would like to know too. >> it sort of feels like a lunch that a middle school kid would eat. >> i come to eat whatever they give me and i make myself a soup and they have top raman soup. >> i feel like if you eat this you'll be hungy in two hours or
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if you don't, you'll be hungy in 15 minutes. we're talking about the all the programs and rehabs but all the best i keep getting is this is a unique situation. it's got to be hard -- you can just fall into a bad cycle by virtue of the fact there's so many things going down. >> you can get caught up in wanting help and needing help and with the help it make as big difference. >> you see the door is locked now, right? he'll see everything has died down, say, hey, last call. >> we can't eat until you eat all of your food. >> that's not a rule. >> that's the san quentin news rule. >> i feel like i'm one of you. i think as much about this food as you think about it.
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♪ >> it's game day for the san quentina's and they're taking on a team from the bay area. there are fans, security, half the players are criminals. what do you say to people sitting at home watching us on a sunny day watching baseball enjoying ourselves? people who thij that's not what prison should be about. >> first of all, everything you see on tv and the picture a that's been painted about who prisoners are, we're more than that. that doesn't define who we are. that was a snap shot in our life. an obvious bad choice and we're here bayipaying our dues. we're here trying to do what is necessarily for the harm that we committed in society. >> my time at san quentin has come to an end and i want to say
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good bye to all the guys i met at the paper. good to see you. looks like it's our last day here. >> good to meet you man. that's it. i got my parole date. to being real. thanks for being so open and honest and telling your stories. you guys are doing great work and when you get out, i hope the doors open up for you do do this great work elsewhere. >> hey, welcome back, brother. >> you don't want to see me come through the gate like this. come through the yard, like, hey, guys. >> definitely won't walk out the gate. >> all right, man. thanks, fellas.
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as i walked out the doors of san quentin, i realized i was actually sad to leave. maybe even my definition when i got here, these dudes are hardened criminals but now i see many are men that have made mistakes, many when they were teenagers, men who have spent 20 years or more to change who they are and expand their personal definitions. like duck said, rehabilitation has led to rehabilitated. and most aren't getting out and if you feel good about that, you need to rewind this show and start again. >> this is the old san quentin dungeon. >> i see graffiti in there. that's from 1938. >> no, our construction workers occupy the dungeon for supplies and equipment.
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>> and they left some of their tools. >> a couple tags inside of it. >> that graffiti is not 1938 graffiti. i don't iraq on edge. as sunni extremists bring more carnage. a voyage four decades in the making. we will bring you the view from hava havana, cuba as the first u.s. cruise ship docks there since diplomatic relations resumed. plus. >> i was pleased when senator sanders said he was going to work tirelessly to make sure that donald trump is not president, and i really welcome that because that has to be our primary objective. >> hillary clinton tells cnn why she's ready to make amends with bernie sanders and focus her efforts on securing the keys to the white house. hello and welcome to our viewers here in theni


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