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San Quentin inmates find community through tennis

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San Quentin inmates find community through tennis

INSIDE SAN QUENTIN STATE PRISON, Calif. (AP) — Stefan Schneider needed a nickname, or a handle as they call it in prison.

So the inmates quickly began brainstorming for the college tennis player making his first visit to San Quentin.

“Finesse,” offered 22-year-old Braydon Tennison.

“Twinkle Toes,” suggested another inmate named Kenny, who preferred not to give his last name out of respect for his victim’s family.

A winner — Twinkle Toes immediately stuck.

“Twinkle for short,” Tennison said with a grin. “We couldn’t give him a hardcore one because he looks like such a nice kid.”

Later, “Ten” beamed and clapped as the now-20-year-old Schneider showed everyone his strong game.

“See, I knew you were taking it easy,” Tennison said emphatically.

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For a few hours, these prisoners were just tennis players out for some competitive fun and a chance to forget their life behind bars for a little while — even with the cell blocks in view at every direction.

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Hundreds of inmates fill San Quentin’s sprawling exercise yard every Saturday morning to work out in all ways — walking lunges, chin-ups, pull-ups and pushups, jabs into a punching bag, abdominal moves, even bench-pressing picnic tables. There are basketball and baseball games going simultaneously in the space some three football fields in size.

Every corner is filled with activity and energy. Others wait their turn for haircuts or to play checkers, dominoes and horseshoes.

A single tennis court sits on one side of the grounds, its back fences so close to the lines that a well-placed lob will send someone crashing into the chain links with little chance at keeping a point alive. A half-dozen regulars start playing at straight up 8 a.m.

“Are you ready, Ten?” hollered inmate James Duff, beaming. He picked up tennis only last August and already is a highly skilled player.

Tennison — who notes “you’ll never believe my last name, I was meant to play”— cherishes the chance to be back on the court. The 6-foot-3 lefty began playing tennis in high school at 16.

“I would have kept playing but I got into legal trouble,” said Tennison, who also writes poetry and performs in prison Shakespearean plays. “I just have a supreme love for it, I love it. I’m just grateful to be somewhere I can play.”

The close-knit tennis crew gathers at every chance, many of them aiming to get out on the court every day, typically after their work shifts or college courses. They are thrilled to be outside again after almost constant lockdown for 2 1/2 years during the pandemic.

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“It gives us a piece of community to get out of the mode of prison drudgery,” said Earl Wilson, San Quentin’s tennis team captain who has been incarcerated since 1985 — about 37 of his 60 years. “It gives us a sense of family. People love coming in and say it’s better coming in here because we don’t argue.”

That’s because they have their own tennis etiquette: Any close balls are typically called in to avoid confrontation.

That’s not to say there’s no trash talk. When he’s not playing baseball nearby, Kolby Southwood might join the tennis group and razz Matt “Doc” Montana by calling him “Grandpa” and slicing a short ball to make Montana run.

An ex-tennis pro and key leader in the players’ improvement, Montana easily holds his own. The 67-year-old former chiropractor is from the Bay Area and taught for 30 years. He has spent countless hours with some of the inmates, guiding them in fundamentals while always sending newcomers to the hitting wall so they can develop some rhythm on their own.

“I give these guys some tips to try to help them out,” said Montana, who stretches and does yoga on the court, too. “It’s been very difficult with the pandemic. We’ve had lockdown after lockdown.”

Montana, who has been in San Quentin for 3 1/2 years and takes sociology and psychology classes, is so grateful to have the court.

“When the bus came here and I saw the tennis court, I was like, ‘Ahhh,’” he recalled.

Patrick Leong helps run the “Inside-Outside” program by coordinating those volunteer visiting players like Schneider to play doubles with the San Quentin inmates. An English professor at Diablo Valley College, Leong also plays. He sports an old-school headband, and the inmates cheer fondly for their friend “Alley Pat” — the handle a nod to his precise accuracy down the lines.

Schneider and his mother, Margie Moran — a longtime tennis player from the East Bay suburb of Alameda who plays on several USTA teams at once — were some of the first visitors allowed into San Quentin for this program as pandemic restrictions lifted.

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These unique sports programs aren’t new. Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers played inside San Quentin five years ago, a tradition of the team’s employees taking on the inmates. San Quentin also has hosted athletes in softball, soccer, flag football and a 100-mile running club.

The experience for those who are invited into the prison to participate is often life-changing, providing a profound glimpse into what it’s like for a population that is largely forgotten.

“I wasn’t expecting anything like that … there are so many of them all in one place,” Schneider said. “I really liked how they found a community for tennis with those 10 guys, and it seemed like they were having a lot of fun. They obviously are really good for the amount of time they’ve played, so it was pretty cool to see.”

Wilson restrings the rackets, runs tennis team tryouts and is accountable for equipment.

He loves the days when players come in to give the San Quentin team much-needed competition. It brightens up the monotony of prison life.

Wilson’s mom introduced him to tennis at around age 7. Yet he always stuck with the major sports growing up — football, basketball and baseball, which “conflicted with tennis” in the spring. Wilson hopes to one day play beyond the walls again.

“Keep learning, keep healthy and get to my mother before she passes,” he said of what keeps him going after nearly four decades inside. “She’s my rock.”

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“Whoa! Good shot, Stefan!” Wilson hollered.

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“Yay, Kenny! Nice get!” cheered Moran.

Fist bumps. Rackets clinking to celebrate good shots or to encourage for the next chance. It felt an awful lot like a friendly day of tennis that could have been at any public park instead of inside these prison walls.

At the end of a 2 1/2-hour session on that sunny and warm mid-August morning, with a modest speaker under the bench quietly playing classic rock, Wilson brought the group together for a team huddle: “One, two, three, Inside-Outside tennis!”

They said their goodbyes, and the visitors made their way out the prison gates, only to see each other again in two weeks.

By then, Ten had practiced to take on Twinkle Toes — and the inmate proudly hit an ace serve past Schneider.

“I accomplished my goal! I aced Stefan!” he announced.

“It made his day,” Moran said, overjoyed for Tennison’s feat.

So, how about a nickname for Twinkle’s mom, Moran?

A smiling Ten just shrugged, put a finger to his head as if pondering, then exhaled, “These things take time.”

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McCauley, a former collegiate tennis player who returned to the sport competitively in 2021 after more than two decades away, was invited to participate in the program by Leong as a tennis player. San Quentin officials allowed her to write about the experience.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Lawyers for the US tell a UK court why WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange should face spying charges

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Lawyers for the US tell a UK court why WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange should face spying charges

LONDON (AP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange won’t find out until next month at the earliest whether he can challenge extradition to the U.S. on spying charges, or if his long legal battle in Britain has run out of road.

Two High Court judges said Wednesday they would take time to consider their verdict after a two-day hearing in which Assange’s lawyers argued sending him to the United States would risk a “flagrant denial of justice.”

Attorneys for the U.S., where Assange has been indicted on espionage charges, said he put innocent lives at risk and went beyond journalism in his bid to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified U.S. government documents.

Assange’s lawyers asked the High Court to grant him a new appeal — his last roll of the legal dice in the saga that has kept him in a British high-security prison for the past five years.

The judges overseeing the case reserved their decision, and a ruling on Assange’s future is not expected until March at the earliest.

If judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson rule against Assange, he can ask the European Court of Human Rights to block his extradition — though supporters worry he could be put on a plane to the U.S. before that happens, because the British government has already signed an extradition order.

The 52-year-old Australian has been indicted on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified U.S. documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege Assange encouraged and helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published, putting lives at risk.

Lawyer Clair Dobbin, representing the U.S. government, said Wednesday that Assange damaged U.S. security and intelligence services and “created a grave and imminent risk” by releasing the hundreds of thousands of documents — risks that could harm and lead to the arbitrary detention of innocent people, many of whom lived in war zones or under repressive regimes.

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Dobbin added that in encouraging Manning and others to hack into government computers and steal from them, Assange was “going a very considerable way beyond” a journalist gathering information.

Assange was “not someone who has just set up an online box to which people can provide classified information,” she said. “The allegations are that he sought to encourage theft and hacking that would benefit WikiLeaks.”

Assange’s supporters maintain he is a secrecy-busting journalist who exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have long argued that the prosecution is politically motivated and he won’t get a fair trial in the U.S.

Assange’s lawyers argued on the first day of the hearing on Tuesday that American authorities are seeking to punish him for WikiLeaks’ “exposure of criminality on the part of the U.S. government on an unprecedented scale,” including torture and killings.

Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said there is “a real risk he may suffer a flagrant denial of justice” if he is sent to the U.S.

Dobbin said the prosecution is based on law and evidence, and has remained consistent despite the changes of government in the U.S. during the legal battle.

She added that the First Amendment does not confer immunity on journalists who break the law. Media outlets that went through the process of redacting the documents before publishing them are not being prosecuted, she said.

Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted, though American authorities have said the sentence is likely to be much shorter.

Assange was absent from court on both days because he is unwell, WikiLeaks said. Stella Assange, his wife, said he had wanted to attend, but was “not in good condition.”

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Assange’s family and supporters say his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

“Julian is a political prisoner and he has to be released,” said Stella Assange, who married the WikiLeaks founder in prison in 2022.

“They’re putting Julian into the hands of the country and of the people who plotted his assassination,” she added, referring to unproven claims by Assange’s lawyers that he was a target of a CIA plot to kidnap or kill him while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Supporters holding “Free Julian Assange” signs and chanting “there is only one decision — no extradition” protested outside the High Court building for a second day.

Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. In 2012, Assange jumped bail and sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy.

The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested and imprisoned him for breaching bail in 2012. Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed.

A U.K. district court judge rejected the U.S. extradition request in 2021 on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions. Higher courts overturned that decision after getting assurances from the U.S. about his treatment. The British government signed an extradition order in June 2022.

Meanwhile, the Australian parliament last week called for Assange to be allowed to return to his homeland.

Andrew Wilkie, an Australian lawmaker who attended the hearing, said he hoped that sent a strong message to the U.K. and U.S. governments to end the legal fight. “This has gone on long enough,” he said.

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Associated Press video journalists Kwiyeon Ha and Jo Kearney contributed to this report.

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Biden to create cybersecurity standards for nation’s ports as concerns grow over vulnerabilities

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Biden to create cybersecurity standards for nation’s ports as concerns grow over vulnerabilities

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order and created a federal rule aimed at better securing the nation’s ports from potential cyberattacks.

The administration is outlining a set of cybersecurity regulations that port operators must comply with across the country, not unlike standardized safety regulations that seek to prevent injury or damage to people and infrastructure.

“We want to ensure there are similar requirements for cyber, when a cyberattack can cause just as much if not more damage than a storm or another physical threat,” said Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser at the White House.

Nationwide, ports employ roughly 31 million people and contribute $5.4 trillion to the economy, and could be left vulnerable to a ransomware or other brand of cyberattack, Neuberger said. The standardized set of requirements is designed to help protect against that.

The new requirements are part of the federal government’s focus on modernizing how critical infrastructure like power grids, ports and pipelines are protected as they are increasingly managed and controlled online, often remotely. There is no set of nationwide standards that govern how operators should protect against potential attacks online.

The threat continues to grow. Hostile activity in cyberspace — from spying to the planting of malware to infect and disrupt a country’s infrastructure — has become a hallmark of modern geopolitical rivalry.

For example, in 2021, the operator of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline had to temporarily halt operations after it fell victim to a ransomware attack in which hackers hold a victim’s data or device hostage in exchange for money. The company, Colonial Pipeline, paid $4.4 million to a Russia-based hacker group, though Justice Department officials later recovered much of the money.

Ports, too, are vulnerable. In Australia last year, a cyber incident forced one of the country’s largest port operators to suspend operations for three days.

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In the U.S., roughly 80% of the giant cranes used to lift and haul cargo off ships onto U.S. docks come from China, and are controlled remotely, said Admiral John Vann, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s cyber command. That leaves them vulnerable to attack, he said.

Late last month, U.S. officials said they had disrupted a state-backed Chinese effort to plant malware that could be used to damage civilian infrastructure. Vann said this type of potential attack was a concern as officials pushed for new standards, but they are also worried about the possibility for criminal activity.

The new standards, which will be subject to a public comment period, will be required for any port operator and there will be enforcement actions for failing to comply with the standards, though the officials did not outline them. They require port operators to notify authorities when they have been victimized by a cyberattack. The actions also give the Coast Guard, which regulates the nation’s ports, the ability to respond to cyberattacks.

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Jill Biden is announcing $100 million in funding for research and development into women’s health

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Jill Biden is announcing $100 million in funding for research and development into women’s health

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden on Wednesday announced $100 million in federal funding for research and development into women’s health as part of a new White House initiative that she is heading up.

The money is the first major deliverable of the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, which was announced late last year. The money comes from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, which is under the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The first lady announced the ARPA-H Sprint for Women’s Health during an appearance in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Biden has said women don’t know enough about their health because the research historically has been underfunded and lacking. The White House initiative aims to change the approach to and increase funding for women’s health research.

The $100 million will be used to invest early in “life-changing” work being done by women’s health researchers and startup companies that cannot get private support, Biden said.

“We will build a health care system that puts women and their lived experiences at its center,” she said. “Where no woman or girl has to hear that ‘it’s all in your head,’ or, ‘it’s just stress.’” Where women aren’t just an after-thought, but a first-thought. Where women don’t just survive with chronic conditions, but lead long and healthy lives.”

President Joe Biden created the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health in 2022 to work on advancing solutions to health issues. The agency is part of what he called his “ unity agenda.”

In the coming weeks, the agency will solicit ideas for groundbreaking research and development to address women’s health, according to the White House.

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The first lady said last year when the White House initiative was announced in November that it grew out of meeting she had had with Maria Shriver, a women’s health advocate and former California first lady. Shriver, Biden said, spoke of the need for a public-private effort to close the gaps in women’s health research. Shriver also participated in Wednesday’s announcement in Massachusetts.

The White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research is led by Jill Biden and the White House Gender Policy Council.

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