San Quentin inmates play tennis.

San Quentin inmates play tennis.

By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications

It was a beautiful day at San Quentin and the tennis courts were packed with guys lined up waiting to play. It’s not easy to get time on the court but those who have the privilege to play have earned it.

Inmate Paul Oliver said the players don’t take the opportunity for granted.

“I started out at a Level IV, did well and was sent to a Level III, and I also programmed well enough to be sent here to San Quentin and this Level II yard. All of us hope to continue to do well and eventually go home,” Oliver said.

The court, built in 2001, resembles most tennis courts at local parks. Before the court’s construction, inmates used a couple of poles, stretched some netting between them and made do.

“Tennis is good because it teaches you a lot of discipline,” said Oliver. “It teaches you how to get along with people, and it’s also nice when people from the outside come to play with us and against us. It gives us a different perspective on the game and life.”

Chris Schumacher is serving a life sentence and is involved in many rehabilitative programs at San Quentin, including tennis and a computer coding class.

“I look forward to tennis. This is a tight bunch. It’s like a community within the community,” he said.

Clarence Long has been in prison 32 years and said he’s changed over time.

“It works here because guys are trying to get home. We’re at a Level II here. Level IV is way different. I spent 19 years at a Level IV yard. I was real aggressive (and), so I decided I wanted to change my life around,” Long said. “I’m doing that and learning tennis at the same time.”

There is a dedicated group who try to play tennis at least a few hours a week.

All said they were proud of the fact there are never racial tensions on the court; all those who want to play are welcome.

“We’ve had enough peace so we can have this tennis court, so we can have tennis racquets,” Oliver said.

The tennis program at San Quentin is getting international recognition. A group from the British Broadcasting Corporation also visited the program.

“We know how good we’ve got it to be lucky enough to have this tennis court, but we have to continue to program well, get along and make the best of our time if we want to keep this going,” said inmate Noel Scott.

British Broadcasting Corporation interviews a San Quentin inmate about tennis.

British Broadcasting Corporation interviews a San Quentin inmate about tennis.