CDCR empowers offenders to make positive life choices through community-based programming

By Holly Stewart, Associate Governmental Program Analyst
CDCR’s Office of Public and Employee Communications

(Editor’s note: Some websites and links listed below may not be accessible from a CDCR computer.)

The definition of rehabilitation is “to restore to a condition of good health or restore a good reputation.” Offenders often struggle to reintegrate into communities due to existing barriers, such as lack of housing, lack of employment, and/or lack of social capital.

CDCR’s Mission is to enhance public safety through safe and secure incarceration of offenders, effective parole supervision, and rehabilitative strategies to successfully reintegrate offenders into our communities.  Through outreach, partnerships, and the shared common goal to help offenders succeed, CDCR seeks to develop meaningful programs and processes to promote shared responsibility for community safety.

One method CDCR utilizes to empower offenders is through the use of community reentry programs across California such as STOP, Specialized Treatment for Optimized Programming.  STOP provides comprehensive, evidence-based programming and services to parolees transitioning into the community within their first year of release. In order to support a successful reentry, STOP includes access to services such as substance use disorder treatment, general health education services, anger management, community and family reunification services, employment and educational services, and sober living and/or transitional housing.

One Sacramento based organization under the umbrella of STOP, is the Freedom Through Education (FTE) Campus.  FTE promotes #TransformationTuesday every day.  While the popular Tuesday hashtag trend is geared toward fitness, fashion and life achievements, FTE recognizes noteworthy life achievements daily.

For some, rehabilitation may mean focusing on personal and professional development, while for others, the focus may be on creating quality habits. An example of creating a quality habit might be meditation. Think of a happy place, close your eyes with palms facing up, relax your mind, take a deep breath, and inhale through your nose, exhale and release. Then repeat. Does this feel or sound familiar? It’s an example of engaging in mental exercise for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness. Whether it be physical or mental exercise, reading before bedtime, meal-prepping on Sundays, setting your clock ahead to make you get places earlier or saying “Wed-nes-day” phonetically to help you spell it, everyone has created and reinforced a new habit (good or bad) at one point in their lives.

Parolees participating in a STOP platform create a solid stage for success. The FTE Campus has served over 100 men in just over a year.  During this time, there have been offenders who reunited with their families, earned stable employment, and moved into their own home. FTE seeks to lay the foundation for transformation across the grid.

FTE, or Freedom House-MLK, is a 10-unit apartment complex that has been fully renovated into a clean and safe sober living environment for men to change their lives. Additional provisions include food and toiletries for each client, transportation to treatment and other necessary appointments, and FTE staff living on site.

Bill Lane, Ph. D., president of the nonprofit organization that runs the FTE Campus, is hard at work every day – offering his participants a new lease on life and making a positive impact in the surrounding community of South City Farms. As one of the top consultants in the nation for high-risk youth and adults, Lane has an extensive background working with the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated adults and juveniles for 30 years, making him an exceptional STOP subcontractor for CDCR. Lane unceasingly takes all of his participants under his wing, holding them accountable and elevating them toward a higher purpose. Within this responsibility come many opportunities, spotlighting opportunities for participants to revive and reinforce family bonds, establish themselves in the community and engage in employment services.

As fate would have it, former prison cellmates Dennis and William found themselves close neighbors once more at the FTE Campus. Although each has a different perspective and story to tell, both have demonstrated dynamic transformations in their lives thanks to Lane’s program.

Dennis has been in the program for six months, soon to graduate from the FTE program.

“All the FTE participants are very encouraging and willing to share knowledge with each other. The receiving networks are very powerful and it’s the best time to get out of prison,” he said.

His program participation has proven profitable, as he completed a 40-hour HAZMAT course while earning his AA degree and recently accepted a supervisory position at a technology company. Not only has the FTE program allowed stability for Dennis professionally, it stimulated a reconnection with his daughter who graduated high school earlier this year. He attributes his personal and professional progress to Lane’s support and resourcefulness in connection with services provided at the FTE Campus.

“Bill is approachable and resourceful with countless connections in the community,” Dennis said.

William had been in the program for three months before parting ways with FTE. Explaining the decision, he recalled, “During my time here I had some issues with other participants due to stupidity on their end. I was ultimately discharged due to bad behavior.”

William was discharged from prison in spring 2016 and immediately started his FTE programming, setting objectives and accomplishing goals right away.

“I earned a job within the first three weeks and became a certified electrician. I am fortunate to be able to take my son to work with me and show him what a great work ethic looks like,” he said.

Not only have the family bonds between father and son been restored, but his family ties with his nearby sister have been re-established; making him feel appreciated and loved that much more.

“That love pushes and motivates me every day. Lifestyles lead to prison – success is making the decision that I’m never going back,” he acknowledged.

In combination with influencing participant success, the FTE Campus is community conscious. Their efforts are positively impacting the South City Farm community by actively contributing to ventures such as the Community Clean-Up day for South Sacramento, the restoration of Little League Baseball Fields, cleaning and relocating various nonprofits and completing repairs for needy families. Not only are they committed to public safety and improvement, they are also involved in the MLK Neighborhood Association and working to partner with the police department on a joint effort to clean up 46th Avenue.

Learn more at www.freedomthrougheducation.com.

Through community based partnerships, CDCR is able to strengthen reentry services across California and empower offenders to engage in successful reintegration.  The STOP program areas assist in targeted service delivery into communities to afford offenders with resources and strategies to overcome barriers to their success.

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