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Tribute To TLM Founder James Houston!

89e6y51aycv64ifhbdklBy Tommy Winfrey

San Quentin Sate Prison

Note from TLM: James Houston was released from San Quentin State State Prison – June, 2013 after being incarcerated for 18 years.  James is a graduate and founding member of  The Last Mile, a business and entrepreneurship program in San Quentin.  James was an inspiration to many men inside San Quentin and now he begins a new journey as a free man. We are excited about the positive impact James will have on his community in the years to come. Welcome home James. 


Recently my friend and fellow member of  The Last Mile, James Houston went home. My relationship with James evolved over a two year period. We have similar personalities in a lot of ways. We both watched each other from afar before opening up to each other. James is the kind of guy that is easy to open up to because he is so genuine, but I’m not really the guy who opens up to people.

As our relationship evolved,  I grew to admire James for the person he is. I saw the man behind the smile. I saw the man that faced the adversity in his life and conquered it. I saw the man who is the furthest thing from a hypocrite I’ve ever seen. James is a humble human being who cares so much about his fellow man that he willingly helped others inside these walls, a place where most of the people are only out for themselves.

To say I hold James in high esteem is an understatement. I will say that in my 16 years of incarceration, I have never met a more outstanding individual. I know I am describing James like he is the second coming, but that’s not what I’m trying to do. I only want to express the esteem I hold James in because I know where he comes from.

James comes from an undeserved community in Richmond, CA, a place full of vice and violence. James will be the first to tell you that he succumbed to the pressures in his community and committed an act of violence. However, James has broken the negative cycle and he is creating positive change. From counseling at risk youth to helping men in prison understand that they are not the worse decision of their lives. Now he is working toward bringing a program named “Teen Tech Hub” to help at risk youth in his hometown. James never forgot where he came from.

Because of the impact James made in this prison community, he will be sorely missed. I had the opportunity to tell James how I felt about him before he left. I told him that I looked up to him and that I have never told anyone that. I told him this because I realize you rarely get to meet someone you see as your role model, and even rarer is when you get the opportunity to tell them how you feel face to face.

I know James will never forget where he came from, but I will caution him to never forget where he is headed to. With that said I wish my friend the best in life because he is a deserving individual. Good luck my friend.


All communications between inmates and external channels are facilitated by approved volunteers since inmates do not have access to the internet. This program with Quora is part of The Last Mile San Quentin. Twitter:  @TLM

  • Moren

    Wow, thanks for sharing!

  • Kate

    That just had me tearing up. It’s a special feeling to share time with someone you look up to and inspires positive change in yourself and those around you. Thank you for that refreshing tribute

  • Heracio H. Harts

    Well spoken. I, too, hold James with high esteem. I also hold every member and supporter of TLM with high esteem and this includes you Tommy. Thanks!

  • TC

    James is indeed a welcomed role model. Having also meet him on the inside, watching, and over time -witnessing the steps in his personal growth… I too look forward to his future, to yours, and to the places that we’ll carry that torch of rehabilitation. Men of his caliber remind us that circumstances don’t dictate our future. From a genuine personal investment, consistency, and time, emerges the diamond from within.

    To see it is to know it. I am proud of you Tommy.

  • James Houston

    I am truly humbled and at the same time inspired by your words. You have taught me alot through your consistency and acceptance of who you have always been. I look forward to the day when you are with me at “Teen Tech Hub.Thank you for continuing to be an inspiration and for reminding me of why I can’t fail.

    • Naya Jackson

      Touching. I mean that with the deepest sincerity.

  • jerry

    I did not realize this type of camaraderie and respect existed in prison. I am inspired by your words and I wish James all the best as he pursues his new life.

  • kathleen jackson


    That is a lovely tribute to James Houston, someone I worked with in TLM, TRUST and VOEG. He is, indeed, a special person, and one worthy of recognition. And you, my friend, are as well. Blessings to you for taking the time to honor James in such a loving and respectful way.

  • Joy

    Hi Tommy, Thanks so much for sharing with us. Your writing is beautiful and touching. The words that “that they are not the worse decision of their lives” is so true. That’s an important lesson for all of us. I see James posted on here to. Best of luck to you. I’m sure you will continue with your great work on the outside.

  • Martie

    Wow–very moving and inspiring all the way around. Thanks to everyone for all your posts. Beautiful tribute, Tommy. Good luck, James, to you and all those working in your program with at-risk youth! It’s nice to know there are positive programs in our prisons that work. We hear so much bad and negative.

  • Naya Jackson

    This is a very moving story. To read about the inspiration Mr
    Houston has given. I know he will continue his lifes mission without a doubt.