End of the Semester at San Quentin

Last night was the last day of class at the Q.  We were almost finished with presentations and had a few make-up tests to give, so only a few of the students showed up.  I had said most of my good-byes on Friday night, shook hands with everyone, and assured them that I’d be back.  Last night was nice though, a few of the guys showed up just to talk about things–parallels between Yoruba and Hopewell religion (!), NAGPRA, and the Navajo were all topics that were bandied about.  There was a big “feast” put on by the Catholics, and so everyone was Catholic for the night–the Muslims, the Sikh–everyone.

On Sundays we teach in “Arts and Corrections” which is the prison art room.  There are works by inmates hanging all over the walls and a few old instruments in the corner.  I have no idea what it was originally, but there are high ceilings with windows so that the prison guards that roam around on the catwalks above the yard can look in.  Sometimes I wonder if we could teach them too–but class is a haven where the students can learn and escape, and talk without reprisals.  It’s usually pretty cold in there, and last night was no exception.  So we all kept our coats on, and sat and talked.

I’m not sure what to say about prison anymore–I’ve gotten used to most of the quirks of going there.  But as I’ve gotten used to the teaching, the strident injustice, the bitter humor (one guy last night said, “take your time coming back; I’m going to be here for 17 years!”), I think my confidence in something that I felt deeply and suddenly when I first started has become absolutely entrenched–this has to end.  No more prisons.

But I’ll go back next Fall and teach something else–maybe Californian or Mesoamerican history.  We’re doing a paper on it at the Society for Californian Archaeology, and I’d like to expand that into a journal article, so we’re profiting academically, to be sure.  But the best thing that I’ve taken from this is that getting a degree in archaeology and working for social justice aren’t really all that far apart after all.

Author: colleenmorgan

Dr. Colleen Morgan (ORCID 0000-0001-6907-5535) is the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology and Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. She conducts research on digital media and archaeology, with a special focus on embodiment, avatars, genetics and bioarchaeology. She is interested in building archaeological narratives with emerging technology, including photography, video, mobile and locative devices. Through archaeological making she explores past lifeways and our current understanding of heritage, especially regarding issues of authority, authenticity, and identity.

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