Imagine getting an email from an inmate in San Quentin Prison asking for your help…
Would you even reply to his request – let alone potentially agree to help someone locked up in one of the world’s toughest and most notorious maximum-security prisons?
The guy must have done something seriously wrong to end up in San Quentin!
In December of 2019, I received an unusual email from Lacy Terrell on behalf of her husband Branden Terrell, a San Quentin Prison inmate at the time. Branden requested that I send him information on my sports leadership programming.
Honestly, I wasn’t too sure what to make of it as I had never before received a request from a prisoner for my resources, nor did I ever expect to. A big part of me wanted to help but I am also embarrassed to admit that another small part of me wondered if helping a San Quentin prisoner would be bad for my business if the word got out. (Stay tuned.)
Because I had studied thousands of Near-Death Experiences, despite any misgivings, I knew I needed to Love Unconditionally, Choose Compassionately, Accept Nonjudgmentally, and Trust Completely as NDErs encourage us all to do in the 10 Life-Changing Lessons from Heaven.
I decided to trust my heart and sent a note back to Lacy that I would happily send Branden a copy of my Team Captain’s Leadership Manual to San Quentin. Shortly thereafter, Lacy wrote back saying Branden really appreciated the book and wondered if I would be willing to talk with him on the phone. We arranged a day and time and sure enough, caller ID on my phone showed a call coming in from San Quentin, so I knew it was Branden.
Very quickly I found Branden to be a passionate, driven, compelled, compassionate, and likeable person. Despite his depressing situation of being locked up with 3,300 of the toughest criminals and even spending seven months in “The Hole” of solitary confinement, Branden was super interested in helping kids find the kind of guidance, support, and mentoring he hadn’t always received as a boy while growing up. While behind bars in San Quentin, Branden wanted to put together a program for youth sports coaches called Coaching 4 Life to help them see how influential and impactful they could be on today’s impressionable youth.
San Quentin Baseball Team Captain
Further, Branden shared he was the captain of San Quentin’s Baseball team. San Quentin is one of the few prisons in the world that has an organized sports program for their inmates. The guys play internally against themselves and also occasionally have outside teams come in to San Quentin to play against them. Not only does the sports program provide the guys with some positive competition and a much-needed escape from the monotony and madness of prison, it also breaks down the racial barriers as prisons are one of the most segregated places on the planet.
Branden and I talked monthly by phone and he wanted to work with his teammates so I sent him 25 copies of our Leadership Manuals. Branden and I had hoped to have me go out to San Quentin to do a workshop but unfortunately COVID nixed that. Like the rest of the world, the virus quickly spread throughout the prison population so no visitors were allowed during the time of COVID. San Quentin did release some people early so I sent a letter to California Governor Gavin Newson in support of commuting Branden’s sentence. However, Branden was not chosen for an early release.
We continued to talk every one to two months and Branden, while still behind bars, hosted a Coaching 4 Life Workshop on Zoom for northern California youth sports coaches. Branden also used our Leadership Manuals with the San Quentin Baseball team and said the guys really responded well to them. He said San Quentin offered a lot of personal development programming but the guys really responded best to things related to sports and loved the Manuals.
Branden and his family continued to hope he would soon be paroled. As he was preparing for his eventual life after prison, Branden mentioned a non-profit organization in Denver called UPSWING Foundation that wanted to help support kids through athletic programming, especially in underserved communities. He was hoping they might have a role for him some day in Denver.
Late in the summer of 2022 Branden had high hopes he would be released. Finally, on September 9, 2022, Branden walked out of San Quentin into the loving arms of his wife Lacy, the woman who had initially brought us together via email. After 10+ long years in prison, he was finally free to be with his family again.
Branden found some odd jobs at first but unfortunately just weeks into his release his transition back into society hit a major challenge. The family whose Branden’s past actions had hurt knew about his release and were incensed by it. Around Halloween, one of the family members created flyers with Branden’s and his family’s picture on them and put them up on all the doors around their entire neighborhood warning them about Branden’s past actions and incarceration.
Of course I can understand and feel for the tremendous pain this family was in having worked with dozens of parents who have tragically lost their children, but I also knew that Branden was extremely remorseful for his actions and had committed his life to being a positive force for good moving forward. Branden said, “I am accountable, and I understand the actions and devastation I caused. I’m not going to excuse it for alcohol, I’m not going to excuse it for drugs.” Due to the tense environment after the flyers were posted, Branden and Lacy decided to move their family 2.5 hours away so their children would not have to grow up in a potentially hostile neighborhood.
UPSWING Hires Branden
Shortly thereafter, Branden shared the exciting news that the UPSWING Foundation hired him in a consultant role to help develop programs in the communities the foundation serves.
Similar to what I experienced, the team at UPSWING saw Branden’s passion for kids and his penchant for connecting with people and getting things done. UPSWING offered opportunities for athletes around the Denver metro area to participate in sports training, strength training, and rehabilitation. Based on his positive experience with his San Quentin Baseball teammates, Branden believed sports leadership would be a perfect complement to that mix.
I met with Branden and others at UPSWING to discuss how we could collectively impact the next generation of leaders in Denver and build trust in the community, especially within schools where athletes need support. Our Lead the Leaders program seemed like the perfect fit as it trains ADs and coaches at local high schools to launch and lead Leadership Academies that each impact 100 students.
The UPSWING team loved the idea, and soon the UPSWING Leadership Academy was established. While we originally planned to launch this program with one to three schools, we were fortunate to be able to expand from three to 10 eager and appreciative schools with a demonstrated need for support. Ultimately, we’ve trained 30 facilitators this summer to facilitate our sports leadership curriculum and the 10 Denver area schools will launch their Leadership Academies this September collectively impacting as many as 1,000 students.
About a month ago, Branden wrote in an email that he had gone with the UPSWING team to do some service work in the prison. I thought Branden meant they had done some service work in the local prison in Denver. When we talked later that week, Branden said he and his Upswing team members had actually traveled back to San Quentin. The founders of Upswing flew Branden and the staff back to San Quentin so Branden could go back and play against the very same San Quentin Baseball team he once captained and played for. I asked Branden if he had ever envisioned when he was locked up in San Quentin that he would be flying back there some day to play against the very same guys who were just some months ago his teammates. Of course he didn’t!
San Francisco Giants Partner with San Quentin Baseball
While this story is mind-blowing enough in its own right, it gets even better!
Branden’s passion for sports and his love for his San Quentin teammates motivated him to reach out to the San Francisco Giants. Branden cultivated a relationship with the Giants’ Community Relations Director Bobby Baksa and the organization now fully sponsors the San Quentin Giants Baseball team. The Giants provide San Quentin Baseball with uniforms, cleats, batting gloves, bats, and even access to mental health and performance resources. Why?
Because the Giants also understand that the sports program at San Quentin positively motivates the guys and the entire prison culture, demonstrates people care about them, effectively breaks down the rampant racial segregation, and successfully supports their rehabilitation and transition back into society. In short, it gives them hope – the most precious yet precarious asset of being in prison.
Why did Branden stay connected with the prison – the absolute last place you would think he would ever want to think about or return to?
He says, “After serving a decade behind bars most would wonder why I would ever want to go back. As people we were created to be relational and connected to each other. Some of my strongest relationships were built within those walls, some of my closest friends are confined within those walls.” Essentially, Branden is a loyal teammate because he still cares about and wants the best for his teammates behind the walls.
Led by Branden, the Giants celebrated this new partnership with San Quentin on August 29th with a powerful and paradigm-shifting event complete with San Francisco Giants players and staff at San Quentin Prison, a ceremonial first pitch by the warden, unveiling of the brand new uniforms, heartfelt messages of gratitude by the players, as well as field passes for the baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds that night. It was truly an honor to celebrate this special and rare accomplishment with Branden and his teammates.
From Random Prisoner to Treasured Friend
To me, this is all pretty astounding and inspirational for a guy who could have let being in prison and stuck in solitary confinement mess with his mind, harden his heart, and steal his soul.
Instead, Branden Terrell chose to overcome his past and have a positive and profound impact on 3,300 prisoners in San Quentin with the Giants partnership – AND 1,000 kids all across metro Denver in developing them into leaders for their schools and communities!
What started out 4 years ago as an unusual request from an unknown “San Quentin Prisoner” now has transformed into a treasured friendship and highly valuable business relationship with the amazing person, not prisoner, named Branden Terrell – the same guy I once almost callously considered ignoring or turning down because it “might hurt my business.”
Yes, my bank account has been enriched by partnering with Branden and the Upswing Foundation, but infinitely more importantly, my mind, heart, and soul have been enriched and expanded by meeting, learning from, and trusting Branden, the compelled human being who is now fully dedicated to doing good. I learned that no matter what anyone’s past might be, we all have much to teach; we all have much to learn; we all have much to contribute. And I learned that if we’re open to them, opportunities to Love Unconditionally, Choose Compassionately, Accept Nonjudgmentally, and Trust Completely are all around us.
Thank you, Branden, for teaching me and positively contributing to so many others – from incarcerated individuals needing hope and support in San Quentin to young impressionable kids trying to make their way in underserved communities in Denver.
You’re making a HUGE difference that will have a massive Ripple Effect!
I’d love to end with this quote as it encapsulates one of the main lessons Branden taught me:
“We’re taught that there are bad people and good people, monsters and angels. And yet the truth of the matter is that monsters and angels live in every single one of us.” Jacqueline Novogratz, Author of The Blue Sweater
Despite all of our own monsters of the past, we need to find and fulfill the angel living in us.
Once we do that, we should then find and foster the angel in others.
Like Branden did… and continues to do…
Learn More About Branden and San Quentin Baseball
To learn more about the San Quentin Giants, visit sqbaseball.com/
To learn more about Branden, visit brandenterrell.com/about/
To get your own San Quentin Baseball shirt and support the rehabilitation work of the San Quentin Baseball team, you can click here to email Branden to place an order.
Click here to learn more about UPSWING Foundation.