The Launch of Pollen Initiative


Friends of San Quentin News, the non-profit fundraising organization of award-winning prison newspaper, unveils a new brand identity as it expands its mission

The Pollen Initiative will advance a strategic vision of personal transformation through journalism and community impact, and address the stigma of incarceration

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. (September 19, 2023) – The Friends of San Quentin News – the umbrella organization supporting the San Quentin News and dedicated to cultivating rehabilitative programs inside prisons across the U.S., with a special focus on media centers inside prisons and jails – today announced its national expansion efforts under a new name: Pollen Initiative. The new name reflects the Pollen Initiative’s national expansion and broader vision to sow the seeds of rehabilitation, journalism and filmmaking through projects across the country, including the historic and award-winning publication San Quentin News

The Pollen Initiative will continue the Friends of San Quentin News’ mission to equip incarcerated people nationwide with rehabilitative experience, including written, audio and visual journalism skills to share stories that change lives, inform policy and build communities. The organization will also continue to serve as the affiliated non-profit fundraising organization of San Quentin News, the incarcerated-run newspaper of San Quentin State Prison.

The Pollen Initiative will also continue several projects born out of the Friends of San Quentin News organization, including providing support for ForwardThis Productions, which teaches filmmaking and content creation skills to help the incarcerated share their stories through film and digital video. ForwardThis Productions is the only program in the country which offers incarcerated film crews their own platform. The Pollen Initiative will also continue to support the development and refinement of its prison media center playbook, which offers guidance to cultivate media centers inside prisons. The program uses hands-on journalism, audiovisual training and leadership programs to facilitate personal growth and transferable skills. As a result, incarcerated writers, editors and producers publish more accurate narratives for audiences both inside and outside the prison. 

The team behind the Pollen Initiative has helped launch and expand three media projects across the United States, including San Quentin News, ForwardThis Productions and Prison Media Center-in-a-Box. These programs have positively affected the lives of 250 journalism guild writers, 90 staff writers, 24 film crew participants, 300,000-plus readers across 36 California prisons and thousands of subscribers across the country and world. Since its founding, the program has generated award-winning results, including the James Madison Freedom of Information Award, Society of Professional Journalists Silver Heart Award, John W. Gardner Legacy of Leadership Award, James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism Award and California News Publisher Association Journalism Awards. The San Quentin News program proudly maintains a remarkable zero recidivism rate. 

“Today’s launch begins a new chapter in our legacy of changing lives through journalism,” said Jesse Vasquez, Pollen Initiative Executive Director and former Editor-in-Chief of the San Quentin News. “We look forward to building on our incredible work from the past decade under a new brand that represents our broad, national mission. Our program that started and continues at San Quentin will continue to grow to include more facilities. We look forward to spreading the benefits of journalism nationally to inform policy and equip those who are incarcerated with valuable professional skills.”

“The Pollen Initiative’s new brand reflects the organization’s expanded mission to multiply its success in establishing San Quentin News,” said Steve Brooks, San Quentin News Editor-in-Chief. “I am excited for the next phase of growth for this organization. The Pollen Initiative is largely responsible for supporting the development and growth of San Quentin News, which has now reached circulation of nearly 40,000 print copies and on tablets issued inside facilities across the state of California. The refreshed brand with broader reach will bring new supporters to the table for prison journalism projects like ours that report on meaningful stories that matter.” 

“When former San Quentin Warden Robert Ayers reopened the doors of the San Quentin newspaper in June of 2008, we hoped it would be relevant of the voice of San Quentin’s incarcerated people, but it has been so much more than that, in and beyond the walls of the facility,” commented former San Quentin Public Information Officer Sam Robinson. “I envision even greater impact with the Pollen Initiative, which will empower more to find their voice and be important contributors to the rehabilitative and social justice conversations across the country.”

The Pollen Initiative will continue to be led by Executive Director Jesse Vasquez. The Initiative is proud to be supported by AppLovin and a collection of committed philanthropic organizations, including the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the San Francisco Foundation and Foundation 4 Systemic Change. The Pollen Initiative will also continue to be supported by a team of skilled strategic advisors, including original Friends of San Quentin News Founder Jon Spurlock, who serves as a Senior Consultant at Slalom, AppLovin Chief Marketing Officer Katie Jansen and UC Berkeley School of Journalism Professors Bill Drummond and Lisa Armstrong.

“It is wonderful to see the Pollen Initiative expand, and we are honored to be able to support this crucial moment in the organization’s history. The extraordinary and positive results for all participants of the San Quentin News tell a powerful story of transformation and hope, and we are confident that the program can reproduce similar experiences for the next generation of reporters,” commented Richard Logan, the Executive Director of the Reva and David Logan Foundation. “Pollen Initiative has the leadership, resources and vision to deliver a new sightline for restoration to the incarcerated, their families and the community.”

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About Pollen Initiative 

The Pollen Initiative – formerly known as the Friends of San Quentin News – is an organization dedicated to cultivating rehabilitative programs inside prisons across the U.S., with a special focus on media centers inside prisons and jails. We aim to turn the stigma of incarceration into a catalyst for growth, community impact and transformation. Through hands-on journalism and audiovisual training, as well as leadership programs that facilitate personal growth and transferable skills, the projects led by incarcerated writers and media producers contribute to more balanced and grounded narratives both inside and outside the facilities we support. We support a collection of hand-picked existing prison newsrooms, like the historic San Quentin News, as well as emerging newsrooms, media projects and other rehabilitative programs across the country.


For Pollen Initiative: Jesse Vasquez, Executive Director, 

For FGS Global: Jeremy Pelofsky, Partner, 

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