California Model, Rehabilitation, Sports in CDCR

SQ bonds over pickleball

SQ staff standing with incarcerated for pickleball
Warden Smith and Roger Bel Air stand with San Quentin News Sports Editor Tim Hicks and San Quentin Editor and Chief Steve Brooks.

A cheering crowd and sounds of laughter echoed as San Quentin State Prison (SQ) hosted its first pickleball event.

Incarcerated members and staff at SQ participated in the event, including:

  • Warden (A) Oak Smith
  • previous Warden Ron Broomfield
  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rhonda Litt
  • SQ office staff
  • and correctional officers.

Warden Smith and Broomfield hit the pavement teamed with two residents. They brought a level of intensity and concentration that was unmatched. The crowd applauded as Warden Smith dove for a ball and stumbled into the net.

“He is not playing any games,” announced a member of the audience.

The idea came to Warden Smith as he organized his desk. He found a letter submitted by Roger Bel Air requesting to provide pickleball lessons to the incarcerated population. Warden Smith called Mr. Bel Air to see if he was still interested. Bel Air agreed and offered to sponsor the event by donating the equipment to SQ’s athletics department. 

Bel Air has brought pickleball to numerous institutions around the country. From Rikers Island to Folsom State Prison, he has volunteered his services to all incarcerated individuals who want to participate.

California Model

SQ held the event as example for Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement of the new San Quentin Rehabilitation Center. SQ is setting the foundation as the State plans to transform the criminal justice system.

Staff connecting with SQ residents for a day of pickleball exhibited a true sense of humanity.

“We want the prison environment to reflect the environment of the outside as much as possible,” said Warden Smith.

Learn more about the sport at the USA Pickleball website.

Story by Guim’Mara Berry, Public Information Officer
San Quentin State Prison

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