San Francisco is known for its baseball team, the San Francisco Giants. But behind the prison walls of the maximum-security prison, San Quentin is the San Quentin Giants. This is a baseball team made up of hard-core convicts doing serious time in one of the country’s most notorious prisons.
The baseball diamond field is housed on the grounds of San Quentin and for four months out of the year, the players of the San Quentin Giants get to be part of a team – something that they do not get to experience in their lonely and desolate lives locked up in prison.
Inmates of San Quentin prison have been playing baseball within the compound since the 1920s, however, in 1994, inmates began playing against players from outside of San Quentin. The games occur twice a week during the summer. The team is named in honor of the San Francisco Giants and they have donated uniforms to help boost the spirit of the baseball players incarcerated.
Many prison officials believe that these fortunate inmates that get a chance to be part of this team feel that this is a good way for the inmates to stay occupied, but more importantly, it is a good lesson on getting along as baseball is such a team sport.
“Baseball can change people because baseball can humble you if you have too much pride,” Smith explains in the film. “It gives a guy a chance to see that your failures don’t have to keep you down. Your failures don’t have to identify you.”
Twenty-four ball players are picked out of the 6,000 inmates incarcerated at San Quentin. Coaches are volunteers and feel strong convictions in helping build strength and confidence in the players.
In 2007 filmmakers Tiller Russell and Loren Mendell chronicle the team’s 2004 season which was the last one coached by Earl Smith who was a former San Quentin chaplain. He wanted to emphasize to his inmate/players the value of winning–as in winning if you obtain a GED, or winning to get job skills, winning to stay out of prison.
Smith’s belief, the film shows, is that the discipline and practice of baseball can make prisoners better people and ready them for the outside world, should they be given a chance.
Beyond building bridges, inmates say playing on the team can help keep the demons away. Steven Washington, a 49-year-old former college baseball player nearing the end of an 11-year sentence for selling drugs, said, “When you got baseball in your head, it stops you from something” that you might otherwise do. “They are helping us with structure.”
The film depicts life behind bars and how it took quite a bit of time for the filmmakers and crew to gain the confidence and trust of the inmates.
The film, Bad Boys of Summer won big at The Slamdance, Newport, Pacific Palisades, and Thessaloniki film Festivals in 2007. The film will be showing in March of 2012 at the Tiburon International Film Festival held in the Bay Area of California.