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Updated: Mar 11, 2020

On August 24, 2018, Damon Azali-Rojas returned to California State Prison (CSP) in Lancaster to meet with the 26 men who had attended a 2-day Coaching Essentials workshop in January of 2018. He reflects on his visit and the potential for more work with the leaders of Yard A.

By Damon Gbuduala Azali-Rojas

Imagine trying to describe a rainbow to someone who has never been outside. Pretty hard to do, huh? Now try to describe the multi-colored hues of a fully actualized human being in the California State prison system to someone who has never been on the inside (of a prison). This is my dilemma. 

Yesterday I returned to CSP Lancaster, 8-months after my colleague Amanda Berger and I delivered an introduction to coaching workshop to 26 men on Yard A. (Yard A is an honor yard that was created by Ken Hartman while he was incarcerated there. Incarcerated people in Yard A give up prison politics, have random mandatory drug testing and are required to go to educational programing.) I’ve easily facilitated the same 2-day training a couple dozen times over the last 3 years and that January training was by far the most transformative training that I have ever experienced. 

I can describe many things that happened inside the walls of that education room last Friday, but I will focus on just one person. Let’s call him Joey. When we did the training in January, Joey sat next to me both days. He was on my left. My wife and I are looking for childcare for our 4 and 10-year-old sons and honestly and truly, Joey would be someone that I would hire way before the other folks that we have interviewed. Joey is gentle and kind despite the fact that his life was a horror movie that each time the question “Could this get any worse?” was asked, the answer was always “Yes.” 

Joey went to prison at age 16 and has been in prison for 19 years for protecting himself and his younger brother from years of repeated sexual assaults by a person close to the family. While in prison, Joey has gotten multiple certificates, finished high school and gotten a BA in Business Administration. 

It had been 8 months since I saw the men. I went back with my other co-facilitator in the project, Nancy Smyth, who is a brilliant coach and coach trainer, to introduce her and to let the men know that we had created an organization, got fiscally sponsored by a 501c3, raised $27k towards our $44k goal, that Ken Hartman (the incarcerated person who first started the “honor yard”) was going to do our 9-month coach certification program starting in September on the outside; and to let them know that dozens of people were supporting them.


The week before we reunited, Joey got the call from the Governor of California who gave him a commutation on his sentence. In the circle with the men, when it came time for Joey to share he said something like this…(I didn’t write it down exactly because I was so moved) “That two day training that you and Amanda gave us in January helped me find my purpose. Those skills helped me during the interview for my release. I could answer the questions powerfully from a place of needs and values.” 

When I asked Joey what his purpose was, he said… (actual quotes here) “I am going to be a coach.”

After a commutation it still takes 3-4 months for the person to be released. I plan on being there when Joey gets out. One thing I know for sure is that after Ken Hartman gets certified as a professional coach, Joey will be the second that we certify and no doubt, he will soon be joined by some of his friends.

For those that know about coach’s stands, this was the coach’s stand that Joey created during the workshop in January:

Commitment: All humans have the ability to overcome all hardships and challenges 

Metaphor/image: The long road that leads home

Physical stand: Hands together representing completion of a task

Coaching for Healing and Non-Violence Training is fiscally sponsored by Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs. To make a donation please visit:


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