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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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.