Posts Tagged ‘SF State’

Breathe: Holistic Health

By Xpress Mag Staff

Junior Monzenat Herrera and other students of Elementary Tai Chi execute Step Back and Repulse Monkey, practiced in the for known as Chuan.

Junior Monzenat Herrera and other students of Elementary Tai Chi execute Step Back and Repulse Monkey, practiced in the for known as Chuan.


Written by Ben Tasner Photos by Lorisa Salvatin

Students rest their arms and legs as they lie on the floor of a darkened dance studio. The room is an ocean, and their bodies, like softly breaking waves, unfurl in the moonlight of the half-cracked door. The instructor, like a captain speaking to the ocean, encourages her students to relax.

Vivian Chavez, a professor of health education at SF State, leads her students through relaxation exercises intended to improve body and breath awareness. Lying on the floor, students place their hands on their collarbone, chest, diaphragm, and lower abdomen to observe their bodies as they breathe.

Practicing breath awareness is one of many ways that students can easily maintain and improve their own health. The life of a college student is stressful, which makes simple self-care health techniques invaluable when time and resources are limited.

Many college students are leaving their families for the first time to enter an environment filled with academic and social pressures. Most students juggle jobs, classes, and relationships while battling exams, aspiring for good grades, and holding on to hope that career opportunities await them.

A 2010 study of two-hundred-thousand full-time college freshmen at four-year universities, conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA found that the emotional health of college freshmen has dropped to the lowest level in twenty-five years.

“Students are stressed because they have so many thoughts,” says Jun Wang, professor of holistic health studies at SF State. “They have fears about the future, interpersonal relationships, graduation, and lack of time. When you feel like you need to do things in a compressed amount of time and when you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you get stressed.”

Over-stressed students are likely to experience depression, anxiety, various physical ailments and a myriad of other health problems. Sometimes it seems best to turn to a medical authority for help and medication, but what if you could improve your health and decrease your stress on your own? Wang says it only takes five or ten minutes to recover from the stress of the day.

But it is. Many simple self-care practices exist with roots in ancient eastern and western practices that have proven beneficial for thousands of years. All of the methods focus on body, mind, and awareness of breath. Some may emphasize one aspect more than another, but to truly increase health and decrease stress it is essential to integrate all three. Too often do we turn to a doctor for a pill or hop on the treadmill- eyes glued to the television, ignoring the connection between body, mind, and breath. Take ten minutes to try one of the holistic self-care practices outlined below and see if you notice a difference in your health.


Body: Many physical (somatic) practices are available for students to quickly relax their bodies. Physical relaxation is the first step and perhaps the most direct way to quickly decrease stress.

Wang, who teaches Chinese perspectives in holistic health, Chinese herbs and nutrition, and Chinese body-mind energetics, focuses on the development of qi (pronounced ‘chi’) as a tool to improve and maintain health. Qi can be translated as ‘vital energy’, similar to prana and cit in Hindu religion, mana in Hawaiian culture, lung in Tibetan Buddhism, and ruah in Hebrew culture. Or if you subscribe to the Star Wars philosophy it is like “The Force.”

“If you have strong qi you have a strong defensive system,” says Wang. “You can still be balanced while enduring physical or emotional stress.”

To cultivate qi you need to start by relaxing the body.

“Our mind is like water in a cup,” says Wang, analogizing the human body with a cup. “First you need to stabilize the cup.”

The effects of student life lead to an irregular lifestyle. Many students do not eat properly or sleep adequately and these habits lead to stress, which often manifests physically. Relaxation is a quick and easy way to combat the toll that stress takes on the body.

People commonly stand, sit, and even fall asleep with their shoulders

elevated. It is known as the red light reflex, or startle response, which

many people live with unknowingly. In this condition, a person’s body is hunched, their shoulders are elevated and muscles tensed in response to anxiety and fear.

Erik Peper, a professor of holistic health and director of the Institute for Holistic Health Studies at SF State, attributes this condition to an adaptation made when humans once lived in physical danger and protecting the neck was vital. But in today’s society, danger rarely presents itself in the same manner and the red light reflex has become a liability.

Progressive Relaxation is an easy self-care practice to decrease muscle tension and increase body awareness, hopefully reducing habits like the red light reflex that lead to body stress.

Start by focusing your attention on the muscles in your toes. Tense them vigorously for a few seconds and then release. You should notice a greater level of relaxation in your toes. Slowly work your way up your body, tensing each muscle group individually: your calves, quads, gluteus, abdomen, hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, and even all the muscles in your face. Make sure to breathe regularly throughout the exercise.

This exercise draws on what Richard Harvey, a professor of health education at SF State, calls the principle of opposites. He says that you have to first experience the extreme end of an issue to gain perspective on a healthy baseline.

Yoga is a physically focused practice (with mind and and breath components) that many people employ to increase health. With its origins in ancient Indian philosophy, yoga is a mind-body practice that incorporates breathing techniques. The number of Americans practicing yoga increased thirty percent between 2008 and 2012, with more than twenty million Americans currently practicing according to a study by Yoga Journal.

“Yoga is important because it stretches the tendons,” says Wang. “This allows your qi to flow more smoothly.”

Robert Gonzalez, a health education major, says yoga centers him.

“Yoga practice helps with stress, so I do not feel as nervous or stressed as before.”

Tai chi and Qi Gong are two more practices that can increase energy and decrease stress. Tai chi, which began in China as a martial art, is commonly used for health benefits. Qi gong is less aerobic than tai chi, but both exercises involve deliberate movements of the body to stimulate qi. They help develop concentration, presence, and balance yin and yang energies. In Chinese medicine, all illness, whether it is physical or emotional, is attributed to an imbalance of yin and yang energies.

Yin can be equated to the physical nature of existence, and yang the transformative. On a grand scale, earth is the yin and the sun is the yang. Food (yin) becomes energy (yang). According to Chinese medicine, everything we experience is due to an interaction between yin and yang.

By developing qi and balancing yin and yang, tai chi and qi gong are two physical exercises that relax the body and quiet the mind.

“It is very important for you to relax your body,” says Wang. “When your posture is correct then you can relax your mind and cultivate qi.”

It is important to foster physical relaxation, especially for students who spend countless hours sitting in class and in front of computers. Even if you do not embrace any of the practices mentioned above, you should apply some sort of physical practice to your daily routine.

Stretching and massage are other useful tools to relax the body. The holistic health network on campus hosts a massage hour that meets regularly each week. Led by certified massage therapists, students give ten to twenty minute massages free of charge to anyone that stops by.


Mind: Many of the mentally focused practices that students can adopt to improve health and decrease stress revolve around various forms of meditation. Meditation is a modest practice that can be accomplished sitting, lying, standing, or walking. A student does not need to become an expert in meditation to experience the benefits. By simply practicing meditation, a person is accomplishing the task.

Meditation can be a closed-focused experience, like focusing on the flame of a candle, or more open-focused, like observing thoughts and judgments.

Meditation techniques like mantra meditation, mindfulness meditation, Zen Buddhist meditation, and others derived from religions and spiritual practices. Many people use them today to increase health without religious association.

Previous research has found that meditation can reduce depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. More recently, a 2011 study published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, found that meditation also increases gray matter concentration in the left hippocampus of the brain. The left hippocampus is involved in learning, memory, and emotional control.

Chris Hambelton, a holistic health student at SF State, says that mindfulness meditation has helped him observe when his mind is judging.

“I notice when my thoughts are beating on me for no reason,” he says. “(Meditation) helps you learn to be a better friend for yourself.”

He’s referring to the all-too-common act of self-judgment. Too often people degrade themselves with judgments they would never cast on another person, and the negative self-talk has serious health repercussions. Dwelling on past mistakes and fearing the future is unhealthy. Depression is a result of focus on the past, and anxiety is a focus on the future. Meditation helps draw the practitioner back to the moment. Learning to observe the present and decrease thoughts about the past or future has enormous health benefits.

Wang says she experiences stress just like her students. She practices meditation every morning and experiences wonderful benefits. It helps her still her thoughts.

“I can maintain a calm way to deal with an insane world,” she says.

Components of meditation include imagery and visualization. By imagining what you want and visualizing it as a reality you will increase optimism and experience a direct physiological benefit.

Imagery and visualization can be practiced as part of meditation, or as individual exercises. Many professional and Olympic athletes use visualization prior to performance to increase results. Researcher Angie LeVan says that the brain acts similarly during visualization as it does during the actual physical act, which means that the brain is training during visualization.


Perhaps most integral in self-care is breath because it is a doorway between the conscious and the unconscious. Breath is something we can intentionally control and it is also a natural which cause a person to hold their breath unconsciously. Shallow breathing limits the body’s ability to carry oxygen to cells, and in turn can make a person feel short of breath and anxious.

When a child is acting out of control they are told to count to ten, a strategy that draws on the principles of deep breathing.

“When you count to ten, usually by five, your mind and reactivity has changed due to awareness of breath,” says Chavez.

Sabreen Khalil, a psychology major at SF State, uses breathing techniques before an exam. “It helps me bring my stress level down so that I can focus on my test because it really cools your body down and brings you back to the present.”

Whitley Lucas, a health education major at SF State, has applied deep breathing to her daily routine. “To actually breathe and relax your mind is so powerful because it can help reduce stress that may be bothering you,” says Lucas. “In my down time during the day I do stretches and breathing techniques to get my mind and body together.”

In addition to his research on the red light reflex, Peper is interested in the physiology of breathing. In his book “Make Health Happen,” he wrote that extended computer use and long hours of poor posture exacerbate poor breathing habits. He helps students train their bodies to relax so that they can perform better on exams.

He says that people who habitually engage in shallow chest breathing may experience panic and symptoms associated with hyperventilation. He recommends students to breathe with their diaphragm to decrease tension, increase oxygen flow, and improve their test scores.

To test your breathing habits, start by placing a hand on your chest and your abdomen. Peper says that a deep breath should begin with a full expansion of the diaphragm, followed by expansion of the lungs and chest. Peper and Chavez encourage students to practice deep breathing by finding a quiet place and counting each breath. Chavez says that counting brings awareness to breath and limits distracting thoughts.

When she has trouble sleeping, Chavez counts her breaths up to ten and then back down. She is usually asleep before she gets back to one.

In the darkened dance studio she wants students to take what they need from the breathing exercise. Occasionally someone falls asleep during the practice, which is fine with her.

“Every direction that I give you is an invitation only,” says Chavez quietly, embracing the darkness. “If you want to do something different, do it. This is your class.”

Sometimes what is needed most is sleep. It is a perfect combination of body, mind and breath relaxation.

Note: Many other self-care practices exist that can quickly increase a student’s health. Stop by the Holistic Health Learning Center, in HHS 329, and check out the unique library of resources.

Faces of SF State

By Xpress Mag Staff

Written by Mariana Barrera
Photos by Rebekah Didlake

From pizza lovers to commuter-students, meet the spectrum of people that roam our campus.

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  • Beril Bosnalier, 23, International Relations

    What is the biggest difference you've seen between Turkey and San Francisco?
    "I’m used to seeing animals on the street, but here there are people on the street. That’s the biggest difference."
  • Danny Posadas, 21, Biology

    Why did you decide to study at SF State?
    "I live here, I grew up in San Francisco and I didn’t want to move. I’d be a little home sick and it’s just easier, I don’t have to pay for boarding."
  • Brian Smyth, Marketing

    Have you found anything cool while exploring the city?
    "The Mission District. Me and my friends walked up and down it and at the very end almost towards the excelsior we found a really cool record store, and that was probably the coolest part of the exploration."

    "I’ve never been photographed before, I don’t know what to do. Should I include the pizza? Pizza is tight."
  • Gibran Leon, 23, Criminal Justice

    "There’s a school magazine?"
  • Emerald Wisner-Johnson, Criminal Justice

    "It’s a big move coming up here to Northern California, being from SoCal it’s not bad or anything. People are different, but I’m open to change and everything."

    Do you feel like you’ve changed since you moved out here?
    "I haven’t changed one bit. I’m still trying to find my niche here. I don’t think i’ve changed and it hasn’t changed me."
  • Shahne Belveal, 23, Geography

    What is your biggest struggle at the moment?
    "Dealing with transportation and not living walking distance. I have a car ­and its a drain on my wallet having to drive, and the parking sucks."
    What is the coolest thing that’s happened to you at SF State?
    "The coolest thing that’s happened to me is the organizations. I’ve joined Hermanos Unidos and La Raza."
  • Jose Leon, 24, Marketing Management

    Are you originally from San Francisco?
    "I was born in Panama. My parents are immigrants, and we came here in 1999."
    What has been your biggest struggle as an immigrant student?
    "Probably adapting to the language barrier when I first came in. I remember going to the ELD and ESL classes. Just adapting the way people do things differently here than in Latin American Countries."
    What are some barriers you’ve had?
    "It was pretty hard, I needed to take things step by step in junior high, high school and now college. It’s a barrier everyday, just getting up is a struggle coming here, trying to pass your classes, going to work, and paying for your tuition it’s pretty expensive. With your parents especially, that's probably the biggest struggle. You don’t want to let them down or disappoint them."
  • Cynthia Munoz, 18, Nursing

    "I commute, but I want to move out, hopefully soon. I haven’t found the right place that I’m looking for yet so I’m still looking around."
    What is your biggest struggle as a commuter?
    "I just get lazy sometimes, but I still come to school everyday so it doesn’t get in the way."
  • Sherilyn Trach, 18, Cell and Molecular Biology

    Are you in a sorority?
    "Fraternity actually. It’s a co-ed service fraternity and we just do community service. We meet lots of people from other schools. While we’re doing all that community service and social events we like to help other students refine and develop more leadership skills."
    What’s your favorite thing about the fraternity?
    "I really love the people, I love how outgoing and open and everybody is. Everybody is welcome, nobody will be shunned because of who they are. That’s what I really like, everybody is safe."
  • Donna Soutar, 25, Art Education

    What do you want to do after you graduate?
    "Teach, so I’m going to get my credentials in SoCal, substitute while I do that, and then I will go to grad school while I teach."
    What is your favorite thing about SF State?
    "How tight knit the art department is."
  • Kath Olivares, 20, Anthropology

    "I just came back from a journey, I’m kind of tired."
  • Ipek Akin, 22, Sociology and Psycology

    "I like the city very much, it has really different dynamics."

Between The Sheets

By Xpress Mag Staff

Screen Shot 2014-02-14 at 4.08.32 PM
Written by Jourdon Ahn

Welcome to a new kind of sex column, where we believe in a safe space for (a)sexuality that encompasses all peoples and their beautiful pussies and penises.

I’m seeking to accurately reflect the diversity seen everyday on the bus, at school, work, or on the street. Between the Sheets is an attempt to provoke knowledge, share experiences, affirm sexualities, create conversation, and perhaps alleviate horny curiosities.

This isn’t your mother’s sex column. It’s just as much for straight males and females, as it is your gay roommate, queer professor, transgender coworker, non-binary classmate—it’s for us all.

Maira McDermott, a gender studies major at SF State, agrees that “We live in an incredibly fluid society, especially in San Francisco and at SFSU. Our student body is so full of variance in sexual orientations, genders, and political views, that I think having a different kind of sex blog would be eye opening, or at least more comfortable for a large population.”

Now maybe you’re wondering who I am, the voice inside the font, and why I’m the author of this column. It could be because I’m a pansexual cis female or because I’ve got a lot of opinions. But, mainly it’s because I seek out this kind of discourse in order to understand myself, feel natural and find empowerment, just like many of you.

Our culture is both sex-negative (or sex-critical) and sex-positive, and most people fall into one category, though there is a gray area. Neither identifier is the good or bad choice; it’s simply a difference.

Brooke Glasky, Director of the ASI’s Women’s Center identifies as a sexually empowered and positive woman because to her, “being able to not only have the freedom and right to be sexually empowered, but also gifted in the sense of being able to say no, is something [she] personally cherishes everyday.”

Sex-negativity expresses a different sentiment. Olivia Mendez, a heterosexual, cis-female student explained, “I don’t always find sex empowering and don’t think it has to be. I think the implications of sex-positivity are one’s that do not include room for people that have suffered sexual trauma or are questioning their own sexuality.”

McDermott acknowledges the gray area though she identifies more with sex-negativity, “This is not to say that sex is not wonderful, however, a lot of sex-positivity that I’ve seen has been problematic…it ignores survivors of sexual assault, imposes compulsory sexuality, and ignores trans individuals. Sex-negativity doesn’t necessarily cover these aspects, but it at least feels more critical and inclusive.”

Although most like to believe that sex is inherently private—it’s not. Sex- positivity, negativity, and the gray area are only pieces to the neverending stimulation of sex, so let’s talk about it.

If you want to share experiences, suggest topics, critique, flirt, or cry—tell me more at

Photo by Michael Glogowski-Walldorf / Flickr

Inside San Quentin

By Bek Phillips

Photo by Michael Glogowski-Walldorf / Flickr

Photo by Michael Glogowski-Walldorf / Flickr

Written by Bek Phillips

The door clangs shut behind me and a guard behind a window asks for identification. The buzzer sounds as a second door opens and I take my first steps behind the walls, into San Quentin.

But the inside looks nothing like televised prisons.

Tall palm trees, luscious gardens, and a large stonework fountain are reminiscent of ritzy country clubs. Today the atmosphere is completely transformed as sounds of laughter, children’s voices, and a year’s worth of stories permeate the air.

Today is Family Day—a chance for the workers of San Quentin to bring family and guests to explore the world that they encounter day-in and day-out.

As families gather outside the prison walls, children linger close to their parents. A middle-school-aged boy looks like he is about to burst with excitement, but his father’s hand rests protectively on his back as he tells his son stories and gets him ready for the tour. To bring your child into the prison, they must be at least twelve years old. This is his first time visiting and I hear him excitedly tell his sister that he cannot wait to see the gas chamber.

For many people, “bring your child to work” day tends to be centered around the office. Wide-eyed children play on the floor while their parents are typing up reports or busy with other official business. They get led around and bragged about to all the other employees. But for San Quentin, Family Day is a day of celebration as well as giving family members the chance to experience what their loved ones go through on a day-to-day basis.

Fernando Palazio, 25, is also here for the first time. His aunt, Evelyn Rizzo, works as a nurse’s assistant with level three security clearance. Tall with dark curly hair and the shading of a beard, Fernando has an infectious smile and a tendency to speak his mind.

He has heard his aunt tell numerous stories, ranging from the history of the three-wall Diego Rivera mural in the dining hall to the story about an inmate who is renowned for swallowing razor blades and who, at one time, was unable to have one surgically removed and had to pass the blade naturally. But now inside for the first time, he struggles with his expectations and the reality he is surrounded by.

“It’s like it’s a movie,” he murmurs.

The dichotomy between the reality of prison life and the appearance from outside the cells is astounding, a feeling of dual realities clouding the mind. Even as I stand in a beautiful courtyard, the conversations of the tour guards fill the air with despair as they recount the deaths that had occurred right where we were standing.

Talks of prisoners in the Adjustment Center, where the most loathsome and dangerous condemned  prisoners are held bring alive images of them flinging their feces in the guards face, doing everything they could to spite the ones that kept them from freedom. Now, the cells in the Adjustment Center have been remodeled for the protection of the guards, everything has changed—down to the underwear the men wear—no elastic.

At San Quentin there are one-thousand four-hundred-eight employees, one-thousand two-hundred seventy-two who work in non-medical fields. The total inmate population totals four-thousand two hundred fifty-nine, with seven-hundred twenty-two of those living in Death Row. San Quentin is the only prison with a Death Row in California.

The levels of security for a prison are ranked one through four, and maximum security. At this time, there are no level four inmates housed. It’s mainline is level one and two. This means that without Death Row, San Quentin would not be considered a maximum security prison.

Outside, the party atmosphere is complete with a vendor, free t-shirts, burgers, hotdogs, chips, soda—everything you would expect for a perfect barbecue. The prisoners are shuttled back into their cells early so the families have the freedom to explore every aspect of their lives.

The lone vendor selling bundt cakes stands out amidst the festivities “Nothing Bundt Cakes”—the name itself a play on words. But it is more than that. The idea of turning a profit from selling to the families of workers, the prisoners themselves an attraction, leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Soon though  the sounds of barking dogs, rehabilitated by the inmates, and the sound of laughter as gaggles of teenage girls walk by, bring me back to the festivities.

But despite the open, beautiful outdoors, the oppressive nature of life in San Quentin could not be escaped so easily.

The walls making up the outdoor corridors to fields and exercise areas are lined with barbed wire, some collapsible so as to entangle any escapee who tries to maneuver through the weighted snares.

A mural painted in bright colors with hands cradling a world says “we are the curators or life, we hold it in the palms of our hands,” but close by on ancient iron doors the word “terror” is etched with the year “1950”.

Other stark contrasts are the work spaces compared to leisure or study space. The work room for carpentry, displaying a sign forbidding hobby work, is spacious.  It spans the entire floor of a large factory-size building with different areas for carpentry, sewing, chair making, and other such projects. Despite the sign forbidding personal craft, little bits of personality can be found scattered in the form of chair covers with favorite football teams or projects made for the guards.

Conversely, the library, art and music rooms are tiny. The art and music room, with well worn furnishing that looks past its prime and in need of replacing, could be the same size of an average teenager’s bedroom. The library, a diminished small building has about six shelves filled with books and a wall lined with four computers.

The librarian, a friendly elderly gentleman, explains in his soft voice that most prisoners come here for legal work, and to read crime novels, Ann Rule a favorite author.

Despite the small rooms, the creativity displayed by inmates is breathtaking. Expansive and detailed artwork lines the walls of the art room. One spirited female guard, who has worked in San Quentin for six years, explains to wandering tour groups that the inmates operate their own print shop as well, putting out calendars and newspapers, a practice in danger now that the overseer is retiring. For her, the art and music room is refreshing.  In a place where everything is highly structured and tightly scheduled, it provides a break in monotony.

“The environment dictates a lot,” she says. “Here it is a brand new place every day, you never know what you are going to walk into.”

The inmates are allowed a break when they play their weekly baseball games. Over the field the sign reads “San Quentin A’s” in large green sprawling letters, underneath in smaller letters the “San Quentin Giants”. I find myself grinning, thinking “Go A’s!” Looking over the field the mountain and trees are black against the sunset, a scattering of clouds causing the brilliant colors to stand out. A family of twenty to thirty geese live on the field during the off days, guard dogs implemented when it is time to play.

But the openness of the outdoors can be deceiving. Walking into the dining room, the Diego Rivera wall mural—one of three—spans the length of the room. The image depicts life on a ship, temporarily docked, with people bustling about, the image itself  teeming with life. The artistry creates an illusion that no matter where you are, you are in the center, the boat following you.  But what follows the inmates are rules, guards, and structure.

Even Fernando cannot escape from the overwhelming feeling of structured confinement.

“The social places, where they eat, it was almost like they’ll give you such a small small window to feel free. The whole point is that you’re an inmate and everything else is big except for where these people can express themselves or learn,” he says.

Outside, the food is still being served. Dogs, sick or misbehaved that have been sufficiently trained and attended to by inmates, are displayed for adoption in mini cages made up of chicken wire. And for the first time ever, a simulated hostage demonstration by the warden’s office was being held by the Specialized Emergency Team.

Inside, the tour goes on.  The open light air of the bay is being left further and further behind and the darker side of San Quentin continues to emerge. In General Population, where the majority of prisoners are housed, four inmates have allowed for their cells to be put on display for the families of those who police and monitor them.

The cells are stacked five stories high, the rows seemingly endless.  The air immediately gets thicker and waves of claustrophobia come crashing down.

Women wearing close to nothing and posing provocatively are in images that cover the walls. A small shelf on the wall by the toilet are only places for personal belonging. On one shelf are bottles of vitamins. Bunk beds fill the majority of the room, the walls close enough to touch with outreached arms. Not even enough room to do push-ups.

Walking down the hallway, I suddenly feel that eyes are peering back at me as I strain my vision, looking into the darkened cells. Embarrassed, I avert my eyes, trying not to see. As I keep walking I can feel the stares.  One cell opening is covered in a sheet, a silhouette of a man reading filling the small space. The next cell holds in it a middle-aged black man, sprawled across the bed, earphones blasting music as he drowns out the noise of people passing by.

“Afternoon ma’am,” one inmate says. “How is your day going?” He is standing by the barred door, his eyes kind and hair graying.

Before the conversation can go further, a female guard quickly cuts in calling out “No talking inmate,” as she walks towards me explaining that communication is highly discouraged.

“Oh, no, don’t pet the rhino,” Palazio says close by. “They are treating the event like its a day in the zoo, look but don’t touch.  And don’t talk.”

Family day. A day where all can see a friendly facade of prison life—the art, the baseball field, the tennis courts, the jobs in the factory—and yet the reality is lurking in the shadows, reflected in the eyes that stare back for only a moment before shifting away, and back into the darkness.

One guard who oversees inmates in the furniture factory, respects not only the inmate’s craftsmanship but the person’s as well. His voice gets excited and his eyes shine as he talks about them and their craftsmanship.

But, as he tells it, family day is hard for the prisoners with early curfews, and families parading their friends and children by.  He would like the people to see the inmates as he sees them the other three-hundred-sixty-four days he is here.  “On days like this, the inmates feel disrespected,” he says.

“I know a lot of the guys, a lot of them are really smart, smarter than me. They just made a mistake, and it’s behind them. They are people and they can make just about anything in here.”

Lt. Sam Robinson has been at San Quentin for seventeen years, and thinks that focusing on the inmates takes away from what family day is all about.  He believes that the focus should be on the families and giving them an opportunity to connect their loved ones with a job everyone considers essential.

“It is a mechanism to boost moral, you share the stories with loved ones, it’s a win-win to see the challenges that go on and how they overcome them,” Robinson says.

As far as the affects it has on the inmates, Robinson is convinced that there are no hard feelings.

“Prisoners take it two ways. Some would prefer to be outside, but you are not disconnected from the prisons. The event brings humanity in that they are sharing the loved ones with them, saying we trust you enough to bring the people we love most around you,” he says.

But no matter the justification, it is all about family to him.

The people I work with are my family and the people they are bringing are extended family, your sisters and nieces. You hear stories about them all year long and it is a chance to see them.”

Overall, he maintains that the event is “perfect as it is.”

The tour is winding down, the mountains are black against the setting sun, and with a final glance at a Diego Rivera mural in the dining hall, I start to take the final steps back out to freedom.

A single room remains on the prison side of the gates with a sign that reads “Parole Hearing.”  I stare turning my head as the first heavy door clangs shut behind me. I wonder how many times inmates stared at the double gates.  The idea of freedom so tangible, the outside world not even forty feet away.

But as I leave the prison behind me, there is one last place to visit, the air now crisp and chilly with nightfall.

The gas chamber. Painted in a bright green, the octangular room instantly stands out. Two chairs with straps dominate the space. Since 1937, dozens have sat in a similar room. This one is brand new. Currently there are more than twelve people waiting for execution, all their appeals have run dry. The soonest execution could be next year.

“Please keep arms and legs inside at all times,” someone jokes. “It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”


Lulu: Whether You Like It or Not

By Rhys Robinson

Written by Rhys Robinson
Photo by Philip Houston

Let’s be honest for a moment, fellas. At one point or another, we’ve all been stood up. Maybe the smoking hot blonde you chatted up in history class bailed on you at the last-minute. Or the Latin cutie you danced the night away with never returned your calls.

The reasons behind these tragic tales of puppy-dog-heartbreak vary. But what if I told you that one of the reasons you’re striking out could be due to your reputation on Lulu. What is Lulu you ask?

Lulu is a new female-friendly and controversial mobile app that allows women to anonymously rate their male Facebook friends on a number of attributes, including their appearance and sexual prowess.

Synched via Facebook, a man’s appearance on Lulu is completely involuntary. Women can log in and declare whether they were in a relationship with the man, a hook-up, a crush or just a friend. Thereafter, they rate the guy’s humor, attractiveness, ability to commit, manners and ambition on a scale from one to ten. The ratings are averaged out to produce an overall score that appears below the man’s profile photo.

In addition, women can apply a number of hash tags on a man’s profile to paint a more descriptive picture. Such hashtags include #Big.Feet #WeirdDirtyTalk, #ChangesSheetsRegularly, #LovesLoveActually, #BragsAboutAlcoholConsumption, #F—-dMeAndChuckedMe, #WouldVoteForAFemalePresident and #TotalF—ingDickhead.

“I think some of those hashtags are pretty hurtful,” says San Francisco resident Sander Idelson. “I for one would not like to be called a total fucking dickhead.”

Co-founder and CEO Alexandra Chong created the app to give women a safe zone to conduct extensive girl talk. Launched on Android and iOS in June of 2012, the app has been quite successful, as over 80 million profiles have been reviewed since mid-January.

To the guys receiving positive reviews, the app’s emergence has been a pleasant experience.

“I would be really excited to see what an ex would have to say about me,” says San Francisco State student Ryan Kinlock. ”Even if the review was negative, I think it is an easy thing to blow off.”

Additionally, some women are thrilled to have an app that provides insight on prospective boyfriends. The ability to see what their fellow sistren have said is a somewhat useful (even if unreliable) dating tool.

“I like the app because I think it empowers women,” says Elyse Guzman, an Otis College student. “It allows them to be in control of what rank these guys fall in. To be honest, it’s nice watching guys squirm over what their ratings are.”

On the other hand, some women are a bit turned off to the idea, classifying the app as creepy and classless. Whereas some men are none too happy about the creation of a potential social-media monster.

“I find it to be an unreasonable invasion of privacy and trust within a relationship,” says San Francisco State student Ryan Thorp. “If an ex rated me I’d be nervous, because I don’t believe all users would be impartial and fair. I find the whole idea to be crass.”

Conversely, other men don’t care about the potential threat Lulu imposes on their dating reputation, viewing the app as just a silly gadget girls use for gossip.

“It’s a good way for girls to blow off steam,” says Kinlock. “I’m not sure how helpful it is for girls to compare guys to one another but I thought it was a good way for them to vent.”

Earlier this year, Chong was quoted in the Huffington Post saying, “Should a guy not do well in a particular category, then they can change their behavior.” However, guys are unable to view their profile, as Lulu processes their gender status through Facebook and blocks them if they’re not female. Therefore, even if a guy grades out poorly in a category, he’s unable to find out unless he lurks from a female friend’s account.

Some men and women alike believe Lulu users are employing a double standard, as the app is blatantly sexist during an era when such sexism would be frowned upon if the app were targeted toward male users.

For instance, if a man’s version of Lulu was developed that included such hashtags as #Waxed, #OnlyWearsGrannyPanties and #DoesntGiveBJs, what would the public reaction be?

“It would scream misogyny,” says Idelson. “But the difference between men and women is that when men hear something misogynistic, they typically shrug it off.  Whereas women start a feminist movement to publicly shame the offender.”

On top of that, some believe Lulu is inherently flawed as the users are naturally biased. If a woman had a pleasant relationship with an ex-boyfriend, would she really take time out of her day to boost his stock with a glowing Lulu review?

“Posts are anonymous,” says SF State graduate Ariel Urlik. “It is tempting to see what other people are saying about you. It can either be an ego boost or a blow. But again take it all with a grain of salt. Remember these ratings can be written in a moment of anger or passion.”

If a relationship is successful, then there isn’t much incentive for a woman to provide positive feedback. As such, reviewers are mostly limited to those engaged in a platonic relationship, hookups, or bitter ex-girlfriends with a vengeful agenda.

Furthermore, according to the app’s terms and conditions, men who don’t want to have a profile on Lulu must send in an email with their Facebook username attached demanding to be deleted.

Subsequently, any man whose name has been publicly defamed must go through an annoying process to eradicate himself from a mess he did nothing to get himself into.

Photo by Ben Kamps / Express

Sikh-ing Answers

By Nicole Dobarro

Photo by Ben Kamps / Express

Photo by Ben Kamps / Express

Written by Nicole Debarro
Photos by Ben Kamps and Amanda Peterson

According to study conducted this September by the Stanford Peace Innovation Lab, more than seventy percent of Americans can’t identify a practicing Sikh. Almost half of the population thinks Sikhism is a branch of Islam. And many associate a turban with Osama Bin Laden.

Twelve years following the tragic attacks on this country, Americans have continuously mistaken Sikhs for Muslims, terrorists, and even members of Al-Qaeda. These misconceptions seem to wrap around the turban. Like so many conflicts, this one seems based on a knowledge gap. As one of the five articles of faith, Sikh headwear represents equality and nobility, not to mention protects hair, considered to be one of God’s perfect creations.

Americans who assume that Sikh values can’t be American values might be surprised to learn they are quite parallel. Sikhs believe in creating and preserving community, while building strong and independent families and lifestyles. Aren’t those things what Americans want too? Originating in the Punjab region of northern India, this five-hundred-year-old religion encourages individualism while maintaining a balance with spirituality. Even so, the unique appearance and history of Sikhs have made them targets of hate crimes. This isn’t a recent development, yet Sikhs weren’t included in the F.B.I.’s hate crime statistics until August of this year. Following the horrific 2012 mass shooting of six Sikhs at a Wisconsin temple and the brutal beating of Dr. Prabhjot Singh, a Harlem professor, has the government finally taking notice.

In spite of such hate crimes, Sikh Americans are coming out on top, representing their community in technology, business, and less expected domains such as fashion. In part because of a fashion blog geared towards Sikh men, Singh Street Style, some are becoming style icons. They’re also posing in global fashion campaigns with Kenneth Cole and most recently GAP, featuring Waris Ahluwalia. In a world where image can be everything, Sikhs have adapted and established their identity. While rocking everything from Topman to BBC to Stussy, Sikhs have stuck to their roots, updated their turbans, and continue to represent their culture.

Below, a few young Sikhs chat about what it’s like growing up turban-ed in America. Gurmehar Dev, Gurjot Singh, and Mandeep Sethi agree that they definitely don’t have it easy in this society where they are often ignored or shunned, even as they strive to be their best self. Undeterred and driven by deep-rooted beliefs and strong sense of identity, they emphasize the importance of perseverance, compassion, and just being the best you can be.

The Best Of San Francisco: SF State Edition

By Xpress Mag Staff

Photo by Amanda Peterson / Xpress

Photo by Amanda Peterson / Xpress

Written By Xpress Magazine Staff

San Francisco is 47 square miles. Within those miles cage between skyscrapers and Victorian architecture, there’s a plethora of hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants and knick-knack stores. Some of which are noteworthy; others are unexceptional. Our Xpress Staff has embodied the City by the Bay and is showcasing why this city reigns supreme. Here is the Best of San Francisco: SF State Edition.

Stretch Out The Stress

By Thomas Figg

Photo by Giuseppe Savo / Flickr

Photo by Giuseppe Savo / Flickr

Written by Thomas Figg-Hoblyn
Photos by Ryan Leibrich

It’s that time of the semester again Gators –research papers, essays, finals – cramming.

But it’s time to consider the damage done to one’s body from cramming for hours on end, banging away on a keyboard, jacked on caffeine, hunched over a laptop or PC like a starving man over a bowl of soup.

Slouching, twisting, and folding painfully as one pimps out the body for that grade – sacrificing health. It doesn’t have to be that way though.

Step back from the computer, take a deep breath and give your health a boost by taking a stretch break.

Taking breaks and stretching on cue, to the guidance of a software program is now a viable option for SF State students thanks to the effort of Erik Peper Ph.D., professor and co-founder of SF State’s Institute of Holistic Health Studies.

rik Peper, Professor of Holistic Health at SF State. Photo Ryan Leibrich / Xpress

Erik Peper, Professor of Holistic Health at SF State. Photo Ryan Leibrich / Xpress

Peper, a smiling Dutchman with a keen sense of humor and a penchant for healing, is an internationally recognized biofeedback expert and successful author. His list of articles, books, projects, and innovations in healing reads like an unedited Jack Kerouac novel.

Peper has made Stretch Break Pro, an ergonomic software program that helps reduce stress, increase productivity and prevent computer related injuries by gently reminding the user to take periodic stretch breaks while using the computer, available to the SF State community. The program also provides healthy computing tips and suggests specific stretches, with written and visual directions for their performance.

While working with the software’s distributor Para Technologies, Peper swayed them to give SF State access to the program.

“It’s about a $140,000 donation,” Peper says.

The campus community is invited to download and use the computer program Stretch Break Pro at no cost.

That’s right folks – increase productivity, and pamper your body, for FREE! Peper invites all students, faculty and staff to download the software  and install it on their work and home computers.

According to Peper, taking frequent breaks and remaining active while working is another vital component of computing health. “Taking many breaks really reduces exhaustion and illness,” Peper says. “People who take many breaks have much fewer symptoms.”

Taking frequent breaks from work may seem counterintuitive, but according to Peper, your productivity doesn’t go down, it goes slightly up.

Stretch Break Pro runs in the background, prompting the user to take breaks at chosen intervals. Once the “Time to Stretch!” reminder appears on the screen, the user can click through to hear relaxing music and see an animated demonstration of a stretch or series of stretches to perform.

After noting the effectiveness of Stretch Break Pro in research studies, Peper  made arrangements with Para Technologies to donate a license of the software to SF State.

Para Technologies President Arthur Saltzman said the donation was the result of collaboration with Peper on the latest version of Stretch Break. “He gave permission to incorporate his Healthy Computing Email Tips into the program and I agreed to donate a license to SF State,” he says.

So go ahead and get back to your cramming. Get jacked on energy drinks, coffee, tea – or whatever your flavor is and get cracking. But, download Stretch Break Pro, and get better results, and take those stretches and breaks so you don’t injure yourself.

“When you actually do it, I can promise you an improvement in energy by the end of the day,” Peper says.

It might not be as fun as the seventh-inning stretch at the ball game, or the Chicken Dance, but hey, one never knows.

To download Stretch Break Pro, visit and follow the directions.

Windows users can download Stretch Break at

Mac users can get their copy from

For both versions, the user name is “bringit” and the password is “home63″.

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