Film focuses on prisoner to poet journey

“A Place to Stand,” a movie about Jimmy Santiago Baca surviving prison and coming out a poet, was played in a pre-release screening Wednesday night in Los Medanos College’s Little Theater. The movie was inspired by Baca’s memoir of the same title.

Before the movie began, LMC English professor Michael Yeong asked members of the audience to close their eyes. With the lights out, the crowd was relaxed. Suddenly, he blew a loud whistle and everyone jumped in shock.

“Did that scare you?” Yeong asked. “That’s nothing compared to what you’re about to see.”

He was right.

In his narrative, Baca took the audience through his rough Indio-Mexican upbringing in New Mexico with an alcoholic and abusive father and a mother who left early on in his life. With nowhere to go, he was orphaned.

After many beatings at the orphanage, he ran away to a life of drugs and mischief, only to find himself in prison after a member of the Drug Enforcement Agency was shot in a drug deal gone wrong.

Baca described walking into Arizona State Prison with the knowledge that he was entering an “epic nightmare.” He said he was playing a new game, and “this game was called hell.”

He then gave an eye-opening account of how prison really was in the 1970s and told the story of how poetry changed his life.

“For the first time in my life, at the age of 22, I felt human.” he said.

He taught himself how to read after a book in his cell pulled at his heartstrings. He didn’t know how to read but he knew he wanted to. Later, a man named Harry Gould, a Good Samaritan from a soup kitchen, wrote Jimmy and asked him if he needed anything. Jimmy asked for a dictionary and his life changed the moment he got one.

In the movie, he told the story of how he had gone from a prison life of stabbing fellow inmates and being beaten by guards to one of learning to read and eventually writing his famous poems, which were later published in a book titled “Immigrants in Our Own Land.”

The story of Baca’s life is a pure example of overcoming all odds.

He was released from prison in 1978 after spending four of the most transforming years of his life there.

After the movie, Yeong told the audience Jimmy called him at 3 a.m. one morning asking if he had showed the movie yet, as he was eager to know what people thought of it. Then Yeong had a short time for students to give feedback about the film.

LMC student Diana Cobian said that the movie was everything she expected it to be.

“I loved it,” she said. “It’s like he knew he wasn’t meant to be there” and he overcame every obstacle to get out.

Numerous other students also said the movie was inspiring, and Michael Yeong admitted that the story of Baca’s life was so powerful that it “moved him to tears” at one point. The sniffles in the audience during the movie echoed his sentiments.

You can learn more about Baca’s life, works and how he found his place to stand online at