Rahsaan Thomas was released from San Quentin State Prison on Wednesday, more than year after he was granted a commutation from Gov. Gavin Newsom for his rehabilitation behind bars, including his work for the Pulitzer Prize-nominated “Ear Hustle” podcast.
Thomas’ supporters had advocated for his release for years. His departure from San Quentin came hours after the Times featured Thomas in a published report about dozens of people remaining in prison despite receiving mercy from the governor.
Thomas was among 123 people Newsom has granted commutations, or reductions of sentences, since he became governor in 2019. But as of January, a third of those people remained behind bars — in some cases years after the governor’s recommendations, according to data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
That’s due largely to Newsom’s decision to defer to the parole board in the vast majority of his commutations instead of using his clemency power to free them unilaterally.
Thomas’ sentence was commuted by the governor in January 2022 and he was granted parole by the board in August, but as of Tuesday remained in San Quentin State Prison.
Thomas, 52, was sentenced to 55 years and six months to life for a second-degree murder conviction and other charges after he fatally shot someone and injured another during a drug deal in 2000, according to clemency documents.
In his commutation, Newsom praised Thomas for completing college courses and an array of self-help programming saying he has “dedicated himself to his rehabilitation.” Thomas had received dozens of recommendations for clemency, including wide support from fans of his journalism covering prison life.
In interviews with The Times in early January, Thomas said he was thankful to both the governor and the parole board and that the process helped him to heal and reflect on his past. But he also criticized the lengthy process, saying that “every day matters.”
Even for those who are granted parole, release is not immediate. There is a review period of up to 150 days following a parole board hearing, which allows decisions to be overseen by the board’s legal team and the governor before they are finalized.
Thomas said he and his family were struggling not knowing when he would be released.
“I can’t curse a blessing,” Thomas said from prison in January. “My one wish is that this process, if you get a commutation, it should be streamlined. Really, it should be streamlined for everybody. … If you decided it’s safe to let me go, why drag it out?”
Thomas could not be reached for a statement on Wednesday, but a spokesperson for “Ear Hustle” said they “couldn’t be happier” about his release and called him “an important voice.”
“The ‘Ear Hustle’ team looks forward to working with Rahsaan on the outside to keep bringing audiences stories about life during and after incarceration,” a spokesperson said. “This is a special moment. We’re grateful to our listeners for their extraordinary support.”
A fundraiser had collected nearly $10,000 as of Wednesday from 137 donors to support Thomas post-release.