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