The at-risk students watch a video feed of CCWF inmates.

The at-risk students watch a video feed of CCWF inmates.

By Lt. Brian Davi, AA/Public Information Officer
Central California Women’s Facility

What happens to the students who are transferred from one school to another based on their negative behavior or even expulsion from schools in Madera County? Many of these students are provided a second chance at Ripperdan Community Day School within the Madera Unified School District (MUSD). This “second chance,” or continuation school, has up to 60 students from grades 7-12.

The majority of the students have been assigned to Ripperdan, based on their disruptive behaviors within the local middle and high schools, and several students are on either informal or formal probation in Madera County.

Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) staff participated in a coat drive during Christmas and Warden Deborah K. Johnson and Chief Deputy Warden Sonja Bodiford saw an additional need for CCWF staff and the inmates to reach out to the students before it is too late.

Step one – The female students at Ripperdan (many of whom are on opposing street gangs in Madera) were placed in a room where a live-video feed was coordinated with the Beyond Incarceration Panel (BIP) inmates at CCWF. The BIP is a panel of female inmates who conduct live-video feeds with at-risk youth in local schools. The participation of the female students was voluntary with only one student requesting not to participate. During the live-feed, the students heard stories the inmates encountered along their road to incarceration. The inmates explain the remorse they now feel toward their victims and families. The inmates stated they wish they would have had this type of intervention prior to getting in trouble. The inmates said do not want others to follow their paths. At the conclusion of the live-feed, many of the students thanked Warden Johnson and her staff for speaking with them.

Step two – The same female students ages 13-17 were provided an informational tour of CCWF’s Reception Center to view inmates’ living and recreation areas. The students were introduced to the BIP inmates in the visiting area and were put into groups and then teamed up individually, based on their personal characteristics or their similar behavior or obstacles the BIP inmates encountered during their youth. At the conclusion of their visit with the BIP inmates, Warden Johnson met with students and she asked him or her to share one thing they will take with them or remember from their visit. One student said, “The inmate told me I matter and I have a purpose in life, I just have to find it and go for it.” Another stated, “The childhood of the inmate that spoke with me is just like mine. She gave me advice on how to better myself and to complete my time at Ripperdan and get back at my high school so I can graduate. She spoke with me for an hour and that is longer than my mom has ever set aside for me.”

Step three – Members of the CCWF Crisis Response Team (many of them local to Madera County and familiar with the schools and obstacles the students are faced with) attended a Ripperdan school barbecue, where they were able meet the male students in hopes of becoming mentors in the future.

“CCWF’s primary focus is to provide rehabilitation to its inmate population, but many of our staff and the BIP inmates, who have chosen to participate and are disciplinary free, are devoted to do whatever it takes to divert our youth from incarceration,” said Warden Johnson. “The BIP inmates have spoken with over 7,000 students in San Joaquin County and now we are headed into our own territory with Ripperdan being our main concern.”