Widelock worked with the group of prisoners associated with RSVP in person, and described them as a community. The members were very welcoming towards him, and each played a specific role within the group.
“If they weren’t wearing all orange or all blue, they could be Elks members, or a sports team, or a high school class,” Widelock said.
As a middle school teacher, Widelock notices parallels between his students and the prisoners he works with.
“When I’m [with RSVP prisoners], right after a couple thousand kids that I’ve taught, I could look around the room and say, ‘I know you. I don’t know what your name is but I’ve seen you before. I know what you were like when you were 13,’” Widelock said. “Because I have children [that] are victims of domestic violence in my room. I know how they act. I have children who are victims of sexual abuse. Statistics on people who have committed crimes show that most are victims of crimes themselves.”
Widelock has also volunteered with Dolores Canales, a criminal justice reform advocate whose involvement began after her own incarceration and watching her son’s imprisonment.
“I think the one thing that is important is we have to remember the way that prisons are designed right now, they are designed in an inhumane standard. Humans were not meant to be kept in cement and steel,” Canales said.
Canales believes that serious rehabilitation must occur to improve prisons to become more humane and create a cycle that is not a revolving door.
“That's why I really believe in restorative justice and healing because at the end of the day these human beings are going to be returned into our communities. They are going to be our neighbors. They are going to be in our schools, in our stores, right amongst us. So treating them as if separate when they are really not is not the solution,” Canales said.
Four times a year Canales organizes bus trips from Los Angeles to Pelican Bay for families to see their loved ones who are inside of the prison. The trip provides transportation, a hotel room, food and more, which many families wouldn’t be able to afford on their own.
The last trip she organized was on Oct. 27, but was originally scheduled for December. Canales said that she moved the trip up after getting a phone call from Marrion Hawkins, the mother of a Pelican Bay prisoner, who hadn’t seen her son in 14 years.
Jeff Hawkins, Marrion’s son, was transferred multiple times between prisons, which made it hard for her to visit him. On top of this, Marrion's work commitment and lack of proper transportation to make the long trip prevented her from visiting her son.
“I’ve prayed and longed for this. God promised me that I would see him before the leaves fall, and that was two years ago,” Marrion said. “And so it’s actually happening this year, and I’m so truly grateful for this.”
Beyond the bus trips, Canales has been interviewed by Oprah, featured in the movie “13,” worked with a number of organizations and advocated for the Pelican Bay hunger strikes.
In 2013, Lumumba was one of the 29,000 people who participated in the hunger strikes fighting against the use of solitary confinement, according to the New York Times. For 20 days, all he had was an eight-ounce glass of water per day. He describes how they worked across gang lines to initiate this change and attack the administration together.
“You can feel the camaraderie around the enemy and friends. We built a bond of unity. We put our race and our gang affiliations behind us. Let's unify. Let's go after the administration,” Lumumba said.
In 20 days, two inmates died and two months later, seven more. Some had starved to death, one had passed out and hit his head on the corner of a bed.
“That’s why we wanted to jeopardize our lives for this. We got sick of it, being classified as monsters,” Lumumba said.
Angelica Camacha, a volunteer on Canales’s bus trips to Pelican Bay, became very involved in the hunger strike when it began. Camacha writes about both the hunger strikes and the criminalization of Latinos. She, alongside others, started with random, improvised protests, press conferences and talks at universities. Camacha said she would even conduct prayer circles, doing anything to bring light to the strike.
Camacha’s interest in social justice stemmed from two of her cousins: one of whom was shot and killed, and the other who had been in and out of the prison system system since he was 16, and had been on the run from the law for breaking parole.
"When [my cousin] was shot [my other cousin] had to come back, and they arrested him at gunpoint at his funeral. That moment just really stuck with me, and we grew up together so I didn't understand how that had happened," Camacha said.
"I was trying to answer how my cousin ended up in a casket and how I ended up in college," Camacha said.
In addition to her work with social justice organizations and the Pelican Bay hunger strike, Canales is working to end solitary confinement. She and her son both spent time in the “SHU,” (special housing unit) or solitary confinement.
“[My son] stays real upbeat because he studies a lot, but one time he wrote me and he said, ‘I have no doubt that this place was meant to drive men mad or to suicide.’ He said, ‘I know because I’m living in it,’” Canales said.
Lumumba was also placed in Pelican Bay and spent time in solitary confinement. An avid artist, Lumumba drew out tattoo sketches, and when guards found his drawings they went through his address book, finding a name and number of a gang member and labeling the drawings as gang affiliated. Lumumba maintains that he had no idea of either of these things, but they put him in the SHU.
“They told me, ‘We hadn’t gotten a Black guy in a while so we had to get you,’” Lumumba said.
According to Lumumba, some guards would perpetuate prisoner stereotypes to discourage people from visiting by warning them of the unstable people inside.
“They tell the rest of society ‘Pelican Bay [is] full of the most dangerous people, just forget about them,’ [They would] even tell people who came up there to help,” Lumumba said, describing how oftentimes human rights lawyers would drive up there only to be turned around by guards warning of the “monsters” inside.
Lumumba’s many years in prison have gained him respect from fellow prisoners. He said that he had no problem getting along with fellow inmates, but prefered to stay within his distinct group of friends.