This story originally aired Dec. 1, 2018.
Meet the two teams:
Seattle NABA is the local branch of the National Adult Baseball Association. When they’re not suited up, they’re tech workers and bartenders and consultants. At least one is a retiree.
The San Quentin A’s, in their green-and-gold uniforms, are all inmates at San Quentin prison in California. And it was on their turf that the two teams met for a recent four-game series.
“San Quentin is just a very unique prison, in that they have a lot of athletic programs,” said Steve Albertson, a manager at KNKX who attended the games. “They bring in outside teams to play. It’s just part of the program for the prisoners.”
Two of Albertson’s brothers play on the Seattle team, and when Seattle NABA answered the A’s invitation, Steve joined them to document it.
“They send you in through one iron gate, and then once you’re all in that iron gate they open the other iron gate, and suddenly you’re in the prison,” said Albertson.
The ballfield is in the “yard,” a big open space surrounded by fences topped with razor wire. The warning track doubles as a walking track for other inmates.
“The thing that struck me immediately is, there were were no guards. There were hundreds of inmates walking around doing stuff, and there were no guards,” Albertson said.
One of those inmates is Brandan Riddle-Terrell.
“Putting on that uniform, it’s like no other. You’re not in blue no more,” he said.
Riddle-Terrell is serving an 11-year voluntary manslaughter sentence for an incident that resulted in the death of his friend. He says sports, and particularly baseball, have been a major positive influence on him.
“I remember this specific time last year, we were playing the Stompers, which is a professional team. It was a Saturday afternoon. I’m like, there’s no other place I’d rather be than right here in this moment. Like, I’m going to get out to my family one day, I’m going to be free. However, in that moment … it just was like I wasn’t in prison,” he said.
Albertson said the Seattle players tried to keep an open mind coming into the game. Even so, they found themselves surprised at how comfortable they felt inside.
“I thought it was gonna be crazy, seeing lot of crazy activities. But you come in, everyone’s down to earth. Like normal people, on the outside. They're just all stuck in one spot,” said Felix Rodriguez, a member of the Seattle NABA team.
That’s one of the main objectives of this program: in addition to teaching the inmates pro-social behaviors and teamwork, the idea is to show outsiders the humanity of incarcerated people.
“By time that first pitch is thrown, and we’re in that ballgame, I want them to understand and get that feeling like they’re not in prison, that we’re just men,” Brandon Riddle-Terrell said. “And by time we leave, after the game’s done and we have our little group meeting, a lot of times we’ll pray, and share some stories, that they go out there and spread word that we are men. Like the men out there.”
Editor’s note: Steve Albertson did much of the reporting for this story, but we also had some help from a person named Earlonne Woods. He is an inmate in San Quentin, and also host of the award-winning podcast Ear Hustle, about life on the inside. He did several of the interviews for us.
Earlonne has been in prison for 21 years, on a 31-year sentence for attempted armed robbery.
Then, just before Thanksgiving, Woods got word that Governor Jerry Brown of California has commuted his sentence, and ordered that he be released from prison as soon as possible.
Welcome out, E. pic.twitter.com/4MQZ7ks1B8
— Ear Hustle Podcast (@earhustlesq) November 30, 2018
He will be paroled to Oakland, where he plans to continue working on the podcast.
We’re so grateful for Woods' help on this story, and congratulate him on his freedom.