Groundbreaking program helps young offenders prepare for re-entry

Youth Correctional Officers run the skateboarding program at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility. From left are Lee Stahlecker, Mike Roark and Glenn Abrescy.

Youth Correctional Officers run the skateboarding program at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility. From left are Lee Stahlecker, Mike Roark and Glenn Abrescy.

Teamwork, skill-building exercise helps youth rethink law enforcement image

By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
Photos by Jeff Baur, CDCR TV Specialist

A new program at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility has some young offenders preparing for life back in their communities.

Youth offenders and Youth Correctional Officer Mike Roark take part in the skateboarding program at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility.

Youth offenders and Youth Correctional Officer Mike Roark take part in the skateboarding program at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility.

I used to skateboard at home when I was younger.When I stopped, that’s when the trouble started,” said Miguel, who cheered on others as they flew over a makeshift ramp in the gym

He’s one of about 20 offenders enrolled in a four- week skateboarding program started by Youth Correctional Officer (YCO) Lee Stahlecker.

“We had about 30 guys sign up initially,” said Officer Stahlecker, “ We went through the list and didn’t focus so much on what they did to get here, but rather how they were programming, and where they’re at today.”

Officer Stahlecker teamed up with fellow YCOs Glenn Abrescy and Mike Roark to pitch the idea to N.A. Chaderjian YCF Superintendent Erin Brock.

“We discussed, at length, the idea of allowing the youthful offenders to use skateboards as a form of recreation and rehabilitation. They use softball bats for softball and they use sharp metal tools while working in their vocational trades,” said Brock. “It came down to the three YCOs being at each skateboard gathering, all still wearing their belts, and also carefully choosing those youthful offenders who were selected because they are on the right path toward rehabilitation.”

Combined, the three instructors have 45 years of experience as YCOs.

“There’s a lot of negative out there, but in here, there is peace and freedom,” said youthful offender Robinson.

Miguel agreed.

“I fell out of skateboarding, joined up with the wrong crowd, and ended up in here,” Miguel said.“But I found it again, and it’s been such a strong part of my rehabilitation. This is a brotherhood, and I’m learning we can all work together, cheer each other on and hone our craft as well.”

Juvenile offenders at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility discuss the skateboarding program before taking the floor.

Juvenile offenders at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility discuss the skateboarding program before taking the floor.

One offender said it helps preserve a calm atmosphere in the facility.

“On the outside, (rival gangs) Northerns and Southerns are always fighting, but in here, we throw all that out the window, and pull for each other. It doesn’t matter what we were, this is helping us become what we should be,” Robinson explained.

The four-week program involves three groups of six or seven young men of varying skill levels, who skate side-by-side a few times each week with correctional officers.

“That was a big deal,” Officer Stahlecker said. “They see us around the facility as this law enforcement figure. They all grew up not trusting someone with a badge. But then they see us skating next to them, encouraging them, wearing shorts and tees, and all of a sudden, it’s OK. We’re breaking down barriers.”

Nancy Campbell, the Special Master overseeing the Farrell Lawsuit against the former California Youth Authority (today’s Division of Juvenile Justice), is very supportive of the skateboarding program.

“This is an example of a creative way to structure a fun skill-building experience for the youth. What I love most about this program is that it creates a positive experience with the adults, security staff that may have to discipline the youth,” Campbell said. “For many of these youth, having an authority figure be a source of both fun and boundary setting is a new and potentially positive experience.”

For a lot of the youth offenders, skateboarding will be a main mode of transportation when they are released. They may not have a driver’s license or a car, but they can always get around on their skateboards.

To pay for all of the safety gear and equipment, Officer Stahlecker said a local skate shop contacted a representative from Skate One, one of the world’s largest skateboard producers and manufacturers.

Youth offenders at N.A. Chaderjian Correctional Facility get involved in the skateboarding program.

Youth offenders at N.A. Chaderjian Correctional Facility get involved in the skateboarding program.

“I got ahold of this guy I know, and before I knew it I was getting a call from a representative from Skate One who said, we like what you’re doing, we think it’s a good cause, let us help,” Officer Stahlecker said.

So they donated the skateboards and gear for the project.

The youth know that in order to stay in the program, they have to maintain good behavior and continue programming at the institution, according to those involved

“They know this is an honor to be in this gym. You screw up, and you’re out.  The best part is they have learned to trust us, trust those around them and trust themselves. That in itself has made this all worthwhile,” Officer Stahlecker said.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusreddit

4 Responses

  1. Pat Tuesday, August 11, 2015 / 10:33 am

    Congratulations on being persistent in bringing a worthwhile activity
    to fruition. Young people love to be active, and the skateboarding
    activity sounds just like what the doctor ordered. We thank the staff
    who brought this about, and those who are working with the youth to
    develop or continue their skateboarding skills. It sounds great!

  2. C/O Nagtalon Sunday, August 9, 2015 / 10:34 am

    This is awesome. I hope this program kicks off at other places and will be a pilot for all other types of cool, hip, updated activities. Good job, guys.

  3. lloyd Farris Thursday, August 6, 2015 / 9:05 am

    Good to see that DJJ is resorting back to more interactive and innovative ways to reach the youth. Back in the day, DJJ (formerly Youth Authority) took a more interactive approach towards reaching the troubled youth and it worked. Today, more youth activities are academic which is boring to the youth and they are not interested. As a counselor, I know the value of the cognitive training and activities. However, the youth benefit immensely from more hands-on activities. Interactive activities are a distraction for the troubled youth. Everyone needs distractions to help them deal with mundane things.
    As Gen. Douglas MacArthur said, “If you can’t beat them, confuse them.”

  4. J. Carrillo Thursday, August 6, 2015 / 8:42 am

    What Special Master Campbell said about “an authority figure [being] a source of both fun and boundary-setting” is a powerful statement. A lot of people would use those words to describe a fatherhood role, which is excellent as some of these young men in the system may not have previously had such a relationship in their lives. Great job YCOs Stahlecker, Abrescy, and Roark. Kudos to Skate One for their donations to help this fantastic idea come to fruition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *