Canine and trainer in classroom with kids

Children watch a canine cellphone search demonstration at the third annual “My Future Starts with Me” children’s conference.

At the third annual “My Future Starts with Me” children’s conference on Saturday, 65 at-risk youth, some as young as 11 years old, attended several workshops and seminars designed to increase awareness of the power of choice and the consequences of the choices they make.

The conference at Woodland Community College was sponsored by CDCR’s Female Offender Programs and Services in coordination with Friends Care.

Throughout the day the youth, from Sacramento and Yolo counties, asked questions of inmates at Folsom State Prison, watched a CDCR canine cellphone search demonstration, and learned about online safety from a Sacramento representative of the FBI.

During the conference, the youth attended four workshops: Life Skills, Choices Have Consequences, Gang Awareness, and Chill and Spill.

In the “Life Skills” course the kids described the differences between how they feel around someone they respect and someone they fear and how to tell the difference. The class’ focus was that fear does not equal respect and to help the kids recognize when someone is using fear to control the actions of others.

In the “Choices Have Consequences” class, the students were confronted with how one choice can have a ripple effect on their lives. The message was brought home by a separate live web-stream of several Folsom State Prison inmates, facilitated by Folsom State Prison Warden Rick Hill.

The inmates talked about their crimes, how long they have been incarcerated, and how long they will be behind bars. The inmates’ response to one question – “What would you say to your children?” – resonated with the youth. Several inmates said they would tell their children not to make the same choices they had and to do something better with their lives.

illustration of bulldog

Children watch a canine cellphone search demonstration at the third annual “My Future Starts with Me” children’s conference.

In the “Gang Awareness” class, Sacramento County Sheriff Sgt. Brandon Luke presented a sobering picture of how life can end with involvement in a gang. The youth, who were still excited by the canine cellphone search demonstration, were quiet and intent on the sergeant’s images and words. The presentation left the room uncomfortable, yet extremely focused and engaged.

The fourth class, “Chill and Spill,” guided by two teachers from Twin Rivers Unified School District, gave the kids an opportunity to answer three introspective questions and express themselves. First, they examined what others thought of them. Some kids clipped and pasted images from magazines while others chose to express themselves through writing.

One young boy pasted a photo of a bulldog and wrote: “People think I’m tough.”
Then they chose items that represented how they saw themselves.

The same young boy pasted a picture of Snoopy from Peanuts. “I like to have fun and be silly,” he said.

To wrap up the day, the students gathered for a presentation about online safety. The FBI representative showed the kids how the items posted online, especially to social networking sites such as Facebook, could endanger their safety.

By Dana Simas
OPEC Public Information Officer