DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: The transformation of a life

“I’m 30 days out today,” was the first thing Greg Steen said. As in out of prison — the Clallam Bay Corrections Center — where we met nearly six years ago.

I was a volunteer yoga teacher there, and he was serving time for multiple robberies.

Due to the Three Strikes law, Steen’s sentence was life without parole.

Back in early September, I learned he’d been released. Steen was to be a featured speaker at a benefit for Yoga Behind Bars (YBB), the Seattle-based organization that trains volunteers like me.

I emailed YBB in hopes of reaching Steen for an interview for this column; weeks passed and I gave up hope.

Then, one morning last week, Steen’s name appeared on my phone’s caller ID.

Next thing I knew, I was listening to the gobsmacking good news: Senate Bill 5164, signed into law in April, changed the list of offenses considered “strikes.” Steen’s second-degree robbery was no longer on it.

He worked with Seattle Clemency Project lawyers to seek resentencing.

On Aug. 27, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office heard his testimony, and did just that.

“I woke up that morning with a life without parole sentence. Seventy-two hours later, I was a free man,” Steen told me.

During his 13 years behind bars, Steen transformed himself.

I know this because I practiced yoga with him; then I watched him become a yoga teacher, trained in YBB’s program for inmates.

Steen also earned an associate of arts degree.

He developed a meditation practice.

He wrote a memoir.

I didn’t know all of this was going on, mind you, when I was making the trips to Clallam Bay.

I did know he turned into an excellent yoga instructor; I can still hear him telling the class, “Check in with your body. See what’s goin’ on.”

When, a month ago, Steen walked out of the Clallam Bay Corrections Center, a friend was there to pick him up.

They went to his home city of Seattle, where the sun was shining like Steen hadn’t seen it do in a long, long time.

The time since has been given over to reconnection with his family.

When Steen met his 3-year-old granddaughter, he told me, they hit it off like they had always known each other.

“It has been one great day after another,” he said.

On the phone, I was speechless, so it was fortunate Steen kept on talking. YBB, Peninsula College, Seattle Central College and an organization called Seattle Weld, which connects released prisoners with housing, all helped him get to this place.

And yes, Steen will share his story during YBB’s online fundraiser this Thursday.

It’s called “Power of Community,” and it’s open to the public at 5:30 p.m. via yogabehindbars.org.

This is living proof that sometimes, the network of nonprofit organizations, alongside the justice system, work. They save the life of a man such as Steen.

“It is amazing. There is so much help out here,” he said.

Out here, Steen has plans.

With his A.A. degree, he’s on the path to becoming a chemical dependency counselor, with just 13 more courses to complete toward that certification at Seattle Central.

Publication of his memoir next spring and an interest in recording audio meditations are also on his agenda.

This past March, Steen got vaccinated against COVID-19.

He had watched the coronavirus take hold at Clallam Bay back in December 2019.

“A lot of people were really sick and couldn’t get out of bed,” he recalled.

When the opportunity to be immunized came, Steen, 56, took it.

“I wanted to live, to get out,” he said.

“I wanted to make it to the resentencing hearing. I wanted to get the best possible chance to live.”

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected] peninsuladailynews.com.

Her column runs the first and third Wednesdays of the month, with the next one to be published Oct. 20.

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