KALW has partnered with radio producers inside California's oldest prison to bring you the San Quentin Prison Report, a series of stories focusing on the experiences of these men, written and produced by those living inside the prison's walls.
Sandy Rasheed Lockheart is 35 years old. In 2002, he robbed four men at gunpoint outside of a Walmart store in Lancaster, CA. He was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 24 years in state prison.
Prison time hasn’t been easy. He has gotten in trouble for refusing a cellmate, contraband, cell fighting, refusing a direct order, and being involved in a prison riot. Despite that, in 2009, he was entrusted with an extraordinary responsibility.
“I've been assisting people with disabilities for a little over three or four years now. I was doing it at CMC [California Mens Colony] in San Luis Obispo,” explains Rasheed. “Down there we worked with guys that had severe either head trauma or mental health issues, guys that had stuff like severe dementia or Alzheimer’s. I had to do some studying on exactly what dementia and Alzheimer’s was, and what type of symptoms to look for.”
But most of his training came from hands-on experience. “The guys with dementia and Alzheimer’s, from the time they get up to the time they go to sleep, we're available to them in their everyday functions and basically tuck them back in at the end of the night,” recalls Rasheed.
When Rasheed arrived at San Quentin in 2012 and appeared before the unit classification committee, they offered him a job similar to the one he had at CMC.
San Quentin’s program is called the Inmate Disability Assistant Program, or IDAP. IDAP workers wear distinguishing gold smocks that contrast the standard blue shirts and jeans that the other prisoners wear. Hence, they are also referred to as “gold coats.” They are permitted to roam the prison to perform their duties. There are a total of seven IDAP workers at San Quentin.
“The gold coats have to be accessible to almost all areas of the prison where inmates are allowed to go because you never know what we might be needed for,” explains Rasheed. “So what they've done is put up signs everywhere with our pictures that say: ‘These are the IDAP workers.’”
Rasheed says the job is mostly mundane, including tasks like “making sure the guys get to where they need to be on time, taking care of the everyday things they need, like making them clean up their bed areas,” or going to get their laundry, or helping with canteen purchases. “Obviously if they are in a wheelchair they can't carry their canteen. We go with them and assist them.”
Rasheed says his work here at San Quentin is different from his former job at CMC, where the work was much more intimate. For example, he remembers one elderly dementia patient named Bob: “I remember one morning when I walked into his cell, and I smelled something.” Rasheed said the man had an issue with his bowels and had feces in his hands. When the man realized what had happened and panicked, Rasheed calmed him down and helped him sort it out. Bob was grateful. Says Rasheed, “For me that solidifies what I do, when he looks at me and says, ‘Thank you.' Everything else is irrelevant at that point.”
Still, Rasheed says it can feel challenging to do this type of work. “I can't begin to explain what it feels like to sit there with somebody and you can see the frustration on their face that they're forgetting stuff. They're able to acknowledge that their mind is slipping.”
The job pays a mere $56 a month, but Rasheed is okay with that. He says his biggest payoff is serving others, which has given his life new meaning.
“I didn't really know what humility was until I was able to help a grown man change his boxers, or get in and out of the shower, or have to get in there with a rag and wash his nuts for him,” says Rasheed. “I didn't know what it was like to have to sit there, and allow a man to chew me out and call me all kinds of names, like just in the hopes that I can still be effective in his life. I didn't know what humility was until I got put in those situations. So it's humbled me.”
He also learned some things about himself that he had not known prior to working with ailing prisoners. “It's taught me that I love to be in service to people. I think I have a calling in that regard. I've never really cared about anybody else, I've always been selfish. Now I feel like being in servitude fulfills something within me and gives me purpose. I look forward to getting up, running over and picking my guys up, getting them going, making sure that they are ready to go to chow.”
Unfortunately Rasheed's job as an IDAP worker didn't last. He recently pled guilty to a serious rule violation — he was caught in possession of a cell phone — and fired. The reason he jeopardized a job so important to him was family-related: his grandfather was dying, and he needed to mend relationships with his family.
This story originally aired on November 18, 2013.