J298: Editing the San Quentin News

Meeting time: Sundays 2-5 p.m.

The San Quentin News Editing Project gives students hands-on experience working with prison journalists to publish the only newspaper of its kind in the country. Now entering its 12th year of existence, the class has not only sharpened the editing and writing skills of many Berkeley students, the class has also made a difference in their lives, because they come face to face with the phenomenon of mass incarceration. They have to work through their preconceived notions of crime and punishment. They have to work cooperatively with people who have spent many years behind bars and are serving prison terms actions that many people will find upsetting.

If you are not ready for this experience, please do not consider taking this course.

The benefits include working in the most diverse newsroom in California, exploring one of a profound political issues in society and meeting some pretty cool people. San Quentin News has evolved way beyond the printed newspaper in the last several years. It has created partnerships with media organizations outside the prison walls. The men in the SQ Media Center are now producing radio broadcasts, podcasts, a print magazine, multimedia stories and TV reports. In addition, the paper maintains its own web site (sanquentinnews.com), a Twitter account and Facebook page.

It publishes articles in Spanish.

Its reach is constantly expanding. Earlier in April, a media center was opened at the Central Valley Women’s Facility in Chowchilla. Some class members will work with the female writers at CVWF, the largest women’s prison in the world. (Details are being worked out concerning how the Cal students will be engaged in this training.) The newspaper reaches all 36 prisons in California, offices of Legislators in Sacramento and throughout the state government. It is read by prisoners themselves, even those far from San Quentin.


No matter what the J School student’s specialty (audio, video, computer science, sports, print or web), opportunities are available to work with SQ journalists.

The Media Center is home to the award-winning Ear Hustle podcast, KALW-FM’s radio program Uncuffed and a video production team that calls itself Forward This. A UC Berkeley crew is working with San Quentin producers on a documentary linking homelessness and incarceration.

Each student must be cleared by the Warden’s office to enter the prison and must promise to abide by prison rules. Please read the rules carefully. The prison culture is different from campus culture. The dress code is strictly enforced. Clearance requires tedious formalities and a TB test, as well as proof of Covid vaccination.


The class meetings are ALL held in the prison. Each student is expected to spend 90 minutes per week in the newsroom. In addition, the class will meet once a fortnight, usually for lunch at the Faculty Club, to hear a guest speaker and discuss experiences.

Each student would be required to do the equivalent of a 1,500-word paper at the end of the semester detailing his or her experiences in order to receive a grade. Blog posts or other modalities would be acceptable with the advice and consent of the instructor.

Given clearance formalities and travel time, each San Quentin visit would require a 3-hour time commitment from portal to portal. The scheduling of the actual visits will be based on the availability of car pools and schedules of those enrolled in the class. Often the SQ visits take place on Sunday afternoons. Wednesdays are also an option, 1-4 p.m.

Entry into the San Quentin newsroom for this class is not, repeat NOT, a reporting opportunity for the J School student. If a student wants to do a story about San Quentin Prison, the student must make that request separately of the public information officer, Lt. Berry.

Many students say the San Quentin class was their most memorable experience at UC Berkeley:

“All the men around me are dressed in blue. Aha, that’s why I could not wear jeans or blue colors. Bill tells me the amount of prisoners living here. It’s about 4 times the amount of people that live in the village I’m coming from. Looking at all those men, playing basketball, sitting outside, I wonder about their stories. As soon as I enter the editing room, there is no time to ask any questions.”

“It was an environment in which we were with peers to produce the best final product of an article we could. It also never felt like community service, so my fear of coming across as patronizing was also assuaged upon my first visit to SQ.”

“One of the biggest surprises I’ve encountered so far, which I’m a little ashamed to admit, is the intelligence and commitment of the SQ News staff. I don’t know why I expected their writing to be much worse, or their knowledge of the outside world much more limited. Juan and Arnulfo, particularly, surprise me every trip — Juan with his stringent determination and work ethic, and Arnulfo with his unfailing cheerfulness.”

“I went in not knowing much, but I did know one thing for sure: I would learn far more from the prisoners than they could learn from me. I was right.”

“I don’t think one can get reporting more honest about the correctional system than the reporting from San Quentin because it is done by people who have lived it. And I think the ability to do that, to provide a record of experiences and issues related to those who may be misunderstood, and to create the opportunity for people to do something that may better society are, I think, values of good journalism. And those are values that I learned at San Quentin.”

The real test of the value of the San Quentin class experience is that several students continue to return to work with San Quentin News even after the semester is over, and one ex-J Schooler continues to play a role even after she has graduated and must travel more than 800 miles to visit the prison.

As mentioned, admission to the class would be contingent on obtaining a clearance to enter the prison from the Warden. Some factors that might exclude you include previous felony conviction within five years, a DUI conviction, or having a close family member incarcerated at San Quentin. You would be required to submit to the Warden your DOB, Social Security number and your drivers license number in order gain your clearance. San Quentin has permitted several formerly incarcerated persons to enter the prison as volunteers. The decision is made on a case-by-case basis. If you are uncomfortable working with people who have been convicted of serious crimes, please do not take this course.

The learning expectations go beyond sharpening editing skills. The student reporters would also gain understanding of the issues of mass incarceration in the United States and California in particular.




Time:  Sun, 2pm-4:30pm

Location:  To be determined

Class Number:  33642

Section:  006

Units:  3

Length:  15 weeks

Course Material Fee:  None

Enroll Limit:  12

Restrictions & Prerequisites