Nerd Alert! This culturally diverse, inmate-led, self-help group is dedicated to teaching communication skills and reinforcing problem solving, literacy, and literary comprehension, using the Magic: the Gathering card game and a fun, positive, and respectful environment as its mediums.
In 1993, I was 13 years old and completely obsessed with Magic: The Gathering. Near the Mission Valley area of San Diego, there was a small hobby shop called “Game Empire” and I was a steady customer. Magic was still relatively new at the time but droves of fans would gather to play, host small tournaments, and trade with each other. I did not play much back then, preferring to collect and trade cards, but the experience was sublime and intoxicating for my young mind. I felt comfortable and at home within the group of “regulars”, many of whom had nicknames like, “Stench”, “Artifact Face”, and “Mana Burner”. It was all in fun and I loved every second.
I have many good memories of that time in my life. In 2013, after reminiscing with a friend, we decided we would try to get back into the game. Thanks to our generous administration allowing us to order and receive Magic cards and materials, we have been able to invest and cultivate an interest here on “A” Yard. “The Gathering”, an inmate-led self-help group, was created in 2016. Our first priority is establishing and maintaining a stable, diverse community of like-minded men who enjoy playing Magic: The Gathering. By using the structure and creative context of the game, we seek to strengthen our members’ critical thinking and decision-making skills. Plus, it’s fun!
Over 50 dudes are playing Magic: the Gathering on a daily basis. Occasionally we host our own tournaments, with prizes ranging from Fat Pack Boxes and Deck Boxes to Planeswalkers, card giveaways and the almighty Riot Piker. (Inside joke) Men from diverse backgrounds come together and enjoy this wonderful game, and I am proud to be a part of this group.
With the release of the new set, Aether Revolt, I will be buying a booster box, because you never know what you might get...and that’s the best part. Happy Gaming from us nerds!
Daniel Whitlow, “The Gathering” Facilitator
Each day I wake up around 4:30. I clean and try to stretch out the old muscles but mostly it is time to catch up on paperwork and plan ahead for the new day with the dogs. See, after decades in prison I have finally found something to dedicate myself to, something bigger than myself that just happens to give back to the community as well as help others save the lives of dogs and now, help in the training of dogs that will someday become Service Dogs for Veterans. Those of you who have been in prison for many years understand how easy it is to lose your faith in humanity. The days slowly blur into one long day that never seems to end, full of stupidity and the boring repetition of prison life. Then Paws For Life came along and my eyes opened up to a whole new world. It now has meaning.
Each morning I walk out to the sound of dogs barking, barking with happiness to see their trainers coming to get them. Each day I watch my Paws For Life brothers put aside whatever is going in their lives to love their dogs, to take care of them in a way that has touched even this old hardened heart. I smile as I watch men debate (yes, argue!) over the best way to brush and groom their dog! I watch men try to convince the guy who passes our dog treats how “their god” needs some more treats, or toys, for this or that very serious reason, all because they love their dog. I have watched men walk miles with their dog who would much prefer sitting and eating a honeybun or candy bar in the cell! Yes, because they love their dog!
Each day, I watch men take care of these amazing animals for hours and hours, for no pay. Most of these men, myself included, have LWOP so we are not doing this for pay and we are not doing this to get out of prison. We are doing this because we love these dogs so much that we have dedicated ourselves and our time to helping them grow into dogs that will be adopted into families that will love them as much as we do.
Karma Rescue brings dogs to us that are sometimes abused and neglected in ways that I don’t even want to put into print. So these dogs need love and a lot of attention. It is a lot of hard work, many long hours are needed to bring these dogs back to life and show to them that not everyone in this world will hurt them. I watch not just one or two but every single one of these men in this program get down on the floor with these dogs and show with their actions that they love their new dogs and earn their trust.
I have watched this, round after round, and each time a group of dogs goes out those gates, a part of me leaves with them. I admit, it is HARD watching them go, but it is their time, it is time for them to be free and go to their new homes, where they will be loved for the rest of their lives. I watch my friends and brothers in the PFL program and I have learned that we haven’t lost our humanity, it is still there, we just need a reason to let it out.