Interview with Randall Sondai Ellis, October 2016

Hey folks,

I recently interviewed Sondai and wanted to share it with the world. Looking forward to sharing more of this kind of stuff in the future.

Interview with Sondai, 10/9/2016

What is day to day life like at Centinela?

Life for me is actually quite busy. I work as a block worker or porter from 6:30AM till 2PM. After spending 30 years in solitary confinement, I enjoy being out of my cell and keeping the place clean. I also attend college study hall on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 12:30 PM till 3:30 PM, which gives me the opportunity to catch up on my reading and study schedule. I’m studying business administration which is pretty tough.

How has it felt to have contact visits with your family again?

It’s bittersweet, because being in prison for 35 years, since the age of 16, a lot of family has passed away. Grandmom, mom, granddad, etc. These people raised me and fought and prayed that one day I would be let out of such brutal conditions. So not being able to see or touch them again is very bitter. But it’s sweet that I’ve had a chance to touch and hold my beautiful daughter Brandy and my amazing granddaughter Bre and Ray. My girls! It’s been great.

What are your ambitions for getting paroled? What do you want to do on the outside?

Personally, I believe I should have been paroled at least 16 or 20 years ago, but I was held in solitary confinement illegally for over 20 years. But my ambitions for getting paroled are to participate in all the rehabilitative programs that are available to me and when no programs are available, to take those programs by mail or correspondence course.

My goal is to work as hard as I can to improve the things that I need to about myself, and to hopefully place myself in a position to do that in the community as well. To be able to own and operate my own business and make a difference in people’s lives in my community. And lend a constructive voice to the conversation.

How did you become a visual artist? Who influenced you? Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?

I became an aspiring visual artist as a result of sitting in isolation. Pelican Bay offered nothing by way of Birthday cards or greeting cards, and my daughter was growing up in the world without her father, and I wanted to send her cards and things to let her know how special she is to me and try to convey to ther how much I loved her. So I tried to learn how to draw. I was influenced by an old friend who could draw anything he saw.

My advice is to never say that “you can’t draw,” because I quit a thousand times before i made progress. No I can visualize and draw the picture that my mind wants to convey.

You have mentioned in our letters your meditation practice. WHat do you do and how has it changed your life?

I was introduced to meditation by my friend Sheila from London. She said meditation is about relaxing the mind and body so that one can think more clearly. It involves finding a quiet time, usually in the morning. I go from 5 am to 5.30 am.

I start by sitting with my legs crossed and my back straight (This is important.)  Then I focus on a calming object and breath deeply, inhaling and exhaling several times. ONce you learn how to clear your mind and focus your thoughts, you will experience intuitive flashes which are calming and enlightening. Meditation has changed my life because it has taught me how to relax, focus, and

What do you think prison reform looks like?

Prison reform is a system that recognizes the worth of every human being, and puts in place programs and mechanisms that will nesure that individuals realize their potential and then are given the opportunity to demonstrate their worth. As opposed to the current system that fosters revenge and hat. And then empties it into society.

During the presidential debate last night, the candidates were asked about how to mend race relations in the United States. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Yes. For 40 years America has approached its race problem from a television’s perspective. That is, it would put on a T.V. show here or there to give the appearance that things are fine. True race relations involves getting to know someone, and then taking concrete action to ensure future generations aren’t saddled with their parents prejudices. This involves being just.

On the legal front, how does your case look?

I think there are still avenues that the lawyers should be pursuing. There is no justification for my continuing to be here. I would hope that our team could continue to press the issue and pursue all legal avenues to freedom!

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