About Us

Our mission is to empower San Quentin inmates through literacy. Proficiency in reading and writing enriches the lives of inmates as well as their families. It also gives them a greater chance of success on their journey toward rehabilitation.

man smiling at cameraFree To Succeed has worked successfully with San Quentin students for over 20 years. We operate Monday through Friday evenings, from 6:00 PM until 8:00 PM. Our students are hardworking, dedicated and appreciative. We inspire them. They inspire us.

Free To Succeed volunteers are everyday people – professionals, business people, a painter, a real estate agent, a programmer, a carpenter, a designer, a sales assistant, college students, an operations analyst, an accountant, an event coordinator, an administrative assistant, and yes, teachers.

We’re an all-volunteer, nonprofit working to change lives.


a man showing another man a peice of paper

“I am starting to understand more when I read the newspaper. And nowadays I’m enjoying short stories.”

a man with headphones on writing on paper

“I had tried going to night school and all the teachers said they could not deal with me because my reading ability was too low. I even had a private tutor that I was paying per day. And it still did not help me be able to read. This is a wonderful class to be in.”

Man listening to book

“It feels so good to be able to read now. I am able to take my written driver’s test and can help my kids with their homework. Also, I can go to the Bible Studies whereas before I couldn’t go. This program has really turned my life around so much that I can’t really describe it in words.”

Woman reading what a man wrote

” I am currently working at the laundry department and attend the evening Free To Succeed classes. Your continuing support helps me as well as many other inmates at San Quentin who appreciate learning to read and write.”

man reading a book while a woman listens

“Sometimes I think of this class as a sanctuary. I get a chance to cram for my pre-GED test. Trying to read in the cell is hard on my eyes. And I have to put my feet up on the walls to keep them out of the way of my cellie. It’s a pretty small cell.”

man writing on a peice of paper

“I really didn’t think anyone on the outside really cared about prisoners. So thank you again for all you have done for all the people that need help.”


A Success Story – Eli


In our 20 years working with students at San Quentin, Free To Succeed has smiled over thousands of success stories. We’re in the middle of a heart-warming success story today. Eli came to us eight months ago. Like the rest of our students, Eli mustered the courage to walk through the doors of a literacy class and say, “Hello, I need help.” Asking for help is no easy task for guys like Eli; guys who’ve never asked anyone for help before.

Eli was ready. Testing him we found he could only read a handful of words – the, yes, no, stop, America and turn. First, we worked with Eli until he could recite the alphabet. Then, we had Eli put together word-sound combinations. A smile-filled breakthrough came when Eli read his first short sentence. At 37, Eli had cracked the code; he could finally do it. He could read.

From that point on there was no stopping Eli. Longer words, then short books, longer books and finally another milestone: Eli read a book for pleasure, a concept he had never dreamed possible.

Today Eli is a reader. That’s right – a reader. He’s no longer intimidated to fill out a job application. He’s getting out in 137 days and says he really wants to get hold of some job applications. That way he’ll be able to better provide for his five-year old, Ricky. And as Eli proudly says, “I’m looking forward to helping Ricky with his homework. We’ll probably start with the alphabet.”