By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications
Inspiration to create change in other people’s lives is accomplished in some of the most unlikely ways, particularly for a former inmate.
Robert Mosqueda spent 11 years behind bars, the last three at a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) facility.
Jessica Ramirez has a cousin who was incarcerated and she said he never really got the help he needed, so she decided to do something about it.
Mosqueda, a sociology major at University of the Pacific (UOP) campus in Stockton, and Ramirez, a child development major at California State University, Sacramento, are two of the six volunteers who have committed two hours every week for seven weeks to instruct youthful offenders at N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility (NACYCF) in a program called Reintegration Academy.
“Education is hope, and it opens new avenues for these young men,” Mosqueda said.
The Reintegration Academy is a seven-week course that includes study circles with discussions ranging from a student’s background to his/her academic interests, hobbies, public speaking and in-depth conversations on college life.
Cal Poly Pomona Professor Renford Reese created the program that is funded and supported by four foundations, at no cost to taxpayers.
There are 22 young men in the program at NACYCF.
Christian, a youth offender, was enrolled in a community college when he was sentenced to CDCR’s Division of Juvenile Justice.
“I’ve still got time to do, but since I already started the process, this is a good refresher to prepare me for when I do get out. I know I’m going to college, so why not soak all this up so I can hit the ground running?” he said.
The topics discussed in the study circles include taking proper notes, developing outlines, essay writing and writing mechanics.
Ramirez works with the youth on their note taking. She covers four different note taking systems; the Cornell Method, outlining method, split page, and discussion columns.
“Which is the most common method?” one of the youth asked.
“I can tell you at the college level, most the people I’ve dealt with use the outlining method,” Ramirez said.
In another study circle, Stan Gonzalez, a Sociology major at UOP, along with fellow instructor Ann Arroyo, a Criminal Justice major at California State University Stanislaus (CSUS) in Turlock, are working with the group on outline writing.
“How many of you know what an outline is?” Gonzalez asked.
No one in the group raised their hand.
Gonzalez explained, “These universities want to help you out, but you have to know how to ask for help and how to get along with the written word.”
The youth offenders like the small groups better than the large gatherings they’re used to in a classroom setting.
Christian said, “The first time we all met, it was all of us together. Since we’ve broken up into smaller study groups, I feel like I’m learning more, and there are fewer distractions.”
Instructor Tou Lee is a Criminal Justice major at CSUS.
“There was a weird vibe when we all met for the first time. We didn’t know them, they didn’t know us. But over the past few weeks, we’re starting to connect,” Lee explained.
When asked if he can connect with the youth because he’s done time, and has been in their shoes, Mosqueda said,” I think they accept me more because they can relate to me. They are all willing to learn. We just plant the seed. Now they need to nurture it, and help it grow.”
Miguel, a youth offender with three years left on his sentence, said: “On the street your mind is too busy, everything is racing, but in here, you have time to reflect on things. This college prep that we’re getting and learning is great. College is a big deal to me and I will be going.”
Youth offender Noah graduated from high school two years early and hopes to parole in two months.
“I have solid plans, a five-year plan. I’d like to be a therapist helping people with mental disorders,” he said.
“This is a great program because it’s set up to help you and prepare you for college. These people are giving their time to help us succeed, we need to respect that and honor them with our success,” Noah added.
Dainette Bowen, the Reentry Coordinator at NACYCF, says the Reintegration Study Circle program has been very successful and the students who are participating have been telling others about it and the word is spreading.
“Any opportunities we can provide these young men as they work toward release can only help them and help their communities in an effort to make them better citizens and contributors to our society, “ Bowens said.