Day in the Life: Senior Youth Correctional Counselor guides young offenders

Youth offenders at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility discuss ways to better themselves.

Youth offenders at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility discuss ways to better themselves.

Cushiyah Yehuda is a military veteran who is ‘making a difference’ at N.A. Chaderjian YCF

By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer

If you speak to Cushiyah Yehuda, you’ll quickly discover she loves her job.

As a Senior Youth Correctional Counselor (SYCC) at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility (YCF), she directs, counsels and supervises youthful offenders in their daily living and activity programs. Since receiving a promotion in January, she now supervises eight Youth Correctional Counselors (YCCs) as well.

There is never a dull moment. At any given time during her day, she could be responding to a disturbance or emergency, developing and implementing constructive activity program for times when the offenders are not in school or at a vocational job, or planning and scheduling a casework program for an individual or group.

The Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has a population less than 1 percent of the 225,000 youths arrested in California each year, but it is a specialized group with needs which cannot be addressed by county programs.

“I enjoy coming to work every day, no matter how rough it is. It’s my calling. I have a great relationship with my work,” Yehuda explained.

She admitted her job is not for the weak. She grew up in the inner city of Chicago, dodging bullets and seeing more than a child should, she said it probably prepared her for her current career.

“Everything I’ve ever experienced has prepared me for this job,” she said. “Had I not gone through what I did, and seen what I saw, I don’t know if I would have been prepared.”

At 17, she joined the Air Force. At 19, she was almost dishonorably discharged. It was her wakeup call. When she saw others around her receiving their two-year stripe, and she didn’t, she knew it was time to change.

“I knew I had to get it together. I was screwing up, and not focused,” she said. “That got my attention.”

Cushiyah Yehuda, a Senior Youth Correctional Counselor, works with youth offenders and N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility.

Cushiyah Yehuda, a Senior Youth Correctional Counselor, works with youth offenders and N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility.

She ended up spending eight years in the Air Force. When she got out, she took advantage of her military veteran status, and went to college and got her degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The first year-and-a half out of college, she worked for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). She left the Midwest and came to N.A. Chaderjian in Stockton in 2011 and started as a YCC.

She said it was a tough transition.

“I’m five-foot-nothing and some of these guys are men, 21, 22, 23 years old. I was never physically attacked, but there have been some things said verbally,” she said. “These guys are damaged and they’re rough”

But, Yehuda believes in what she’s doing.

She said she has seen positive results from programs like the Integrated Behavior Treatment Model (IBTM). It’s designed to reduce institutional violence and future criminal behavior by teaching anti-criminal attitudes and providing personal skills for youth to better manage their environment.

DJJ staff from every professional discipline work as a team to assess the needs of each youth and to develop an individualized treatment program to address them.

Yehuda said she’s used some of these principles on her own 15-year-old son and they work.

“If I didn’t believe in things like the IBTM, I couldn’t counsel people, and convince them and myself that they work,” Yehuda said. “They are designed to improve you as a person who’s ready to move forward in their life.”

When she wants to get their attention, the guys listen. After lunch, they’re working on Skill of the Week. It’s a 52-week agenda addressing a variety of topics. This week’s skill is “helping others.” The group is engaged and the conversation energetic.

“No one spends more time with these guys than I do, than a counselor does,” Yehuda said. “Sometimes they’ll just come into my office because I have an open-door policy. Sometimes they just need to get away from it all.”

Talking about her life as a counselor, Yehuda said, “I’m a guarded person. So are they. But if I can teach them something, or guide them through something, or sometimes just listen to them vent, and they know I’ll listen, then I like to feel like I’m making a difference.”

As for her future plans, Yehuda is focused and confident in herself and her skills.

“I’d like to think one day I’ll be running this place,” she said. “I have a plan.”

Learn more about DJJ at https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Juvenile_Justice/index.html

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9 Responses

  1. Shawn Etienne Tuesday, May 17, 2016 / 10:10 am

    Ms. Yehuda,

    I just wanted to encourage to continue strong in what you are doing for the young men in your care! I know sometimes you may feel like you are not making a difference in their lives, but I am here to tell you that you & the other YCC’s are making a difference in the lives of these young men & the reason I know this is because back in 1990-1992 I was one of those young men that was there at Chad & with all of the counselling I received I was able to be re-directed to a person that was responsible, caring, law abiding, & productive in society! Since those days I have never looked back to that life style! Keep up the good work!

  2. L.Alexander Thursday, April 7, 2016 / 10:09 am

    Keep up the good work and be safe behind these walls. God is pleased with your service.

    Correctional Officer L. Alexander

  3. Joy Tuesday, September 22, 2015 / 8:39 am

    Thank you for not giving up on these young. Their problems are complex, but you are giving them hope. Continue to encourage and guide them. You’re doing an awesome job!

  4. Y. Keehmer Wednesday, September 9, 2015 / 10:24 am

    Great job, Ms Yehuda. Your dedication and committment to the youth is evident. Being a former SYCC and YCC, I truly understand the challenges working with that population. You must have patience and a real passion for working with troubled youth and the many challenges they present. There is nothing more rewarding, however, than seeing the rehabilitation of a misguided youth. Often it is not immediate, but however small, any improvement helps change our youth and provides for a safer community. Keep up the good work. 🙂 Lt. Keehmer

  5. Debra Parkins Tuesday, August 18, 2015 / 3:58 pm

    Ms. Yehuda, your purposeful life is very inspiring. Thank you also to PIO Orlando for bring her story to our attention. I worked at Chaderjian not long after it was built before transferring to Southern California, so reading this article made me a little homesick. You seem to be the perfect hire to work with these young men and train future counselors. Congratulations on your promotion and enjoy your DJJ career. Thank you for your service!

  6. lauren.boehnke@cdcr.ca.gov Wednesday, April 1, 2015 / 8:44 am

    Inspring and great article about a CDCR employee really caring about her community and making a difference in today’s youth one kid at a time.

    • Kimberly logan Thursday, July 9, 2015 / 11:26 am

      My son he is 19 years old and is incarcerated at a CDCR fire camp near Fort Bragg. He is my only child and is my world. He got five years. This is his first time ever going to jail or prison and it’s the first time for us to be separated. I want to say to all the staff and counselors at CDCR, thank you for all your wonderful programs and training and self-rehabilitation you are giving and teaching my son. I miss him so much. It’s just me and him, but just knowing he’s in the care of the wonderful staff and counselors on a 24-hour basis, makes me not feel so alone without my son. I am very proud of him and I love him so much. Thank you.

  7. D/CMF Monday, March 23, 2015 / 10:56 am

    Meaningful work you’re doing … sounds like you have a good, balanced connection with the offenders you counsel. Thanks for sharing your story and best of luck on reaching a career level where you can utilize those plans!

  8. Ron Jenkins Monday, March 23, 2015 / 8:50 am

    Awesome commitment and inspiration to pay her life forward. A natural is what she is and it shows. Keep up the good works because the haters are on the way. I am truly inspired by this article. Nobody knows unless they are in the trenches and being a SYCC or YCC is definitely in the trenches.

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