Story and photos by Ike Dodson, CDCR PIO
Office of Public and Employee Communications

Influential staff members of CDCR’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) recently gathered in Elk Grove for the fourth annual DJJ Leadership Forum to exchange ideas, discuss greater understanding of incarcerated youth and improve employee wellness.

The two-day event, hosted by now-retired DJJ Director Tony Lucero, opened with his own impassioned remarks and a presentation by nationally renowned juvenile advocate and practitioner Hasan Davis. The group listened attentively to revealing testimonials by highly successful individuals with a past in juvenile incarceration and enjoyed insight from Dr. Heather Bowlds, DJJ Deputy Director and an acclaimed psychologist.

The second day continued with an open meeting with Lucero and presentations by CDCR Undersecretaries Ralph Diaz (Operations) and Kenneth Pogue (Administration & Offender Services). Staff was entertained by DJJ Chief Psychologist Jonathan Yip during supervisor training, talked peer support with Rosanna Rodriguez of CDCR’s Office of Employee Wellness and “Coaching for Competence” with Marilyn Van Dieten, Ph. D at Orbis Partners.

Lucero closed the same way he started, emboldening staff to achieve DJJ’s mission of providing opportunities for growth and change by identifying and responding to the unique needs of incarcerated youth.

“You are the future,” Lucero asserted to staff, citing a story of growth a youthful offender experienced from a chance encounter. “Those small interactions can have big impact on our youth, and I know everyone in this room has those kinds of interactions every day.”

The highlight of the forum came after the lunch break on the first day, when Board of Juvenile Hearings Chairman Chuck Supple introduced seven ex-offenders who turned away from the path that led to juvenile incarceration and became significant leaders in their communities. Supple was recently appointed to serve as DJJ director following Lucero’s retirement.

Their insight gained from incarceration and subsequent career success provided remarkable understanding of the potential of CDCR’s youth.

Three of the seven took time to share that insight with Inside CDCR.

Martha Troncoza

The Vice President of Air Operations for Viking Cruises has come a long way from juvenile incarceration.

Her criminal record expunged in the late 1990s, Troncoza received her bachelor’s degree in psychology at California State University Northridge and received her MBA in finance at Pepperdine University.

Troncoza now directs a team of more than 100 staff responsible for selling and arranging air travel in conjunction with the company’s cruises, cruise tours and land extensions with a budget over $300 million. She is also a valued member of the company’s executive team.

She finished a four-week leadership program with National Hispania Leadership Institute and took workshops at Harvard Kennedy School and the Center for Creative Learning. She has been featured in several “Secrets of the Successful” articles for Sabre Travel Network and Hispanic Executive magazine.

Troncoza now sits on the executive board of the nonprofit organization Tourism Cares and works extensively with Woman of Substance & Men of Honor, Inc. (WOSMOH), a non-profit community service organization dedicated to providing support to young men and women who may have been incarcerated and/or in the foster care system. She has provided WOSMOH with financial donations, offering mentoring and hosts her signature workshop “Young Women Breaking Barriers.”

Her insight on incarceration

“Many youth fall into crime and make bad choices mainly because of the environment and circumstance they are in as teenagers. The first thing society can do is forgive and encourage these youth. The hardest part of recidivism is being given a second chance. The second thing others can do is get involved and become a mentor. Taking youth out of their surroundings will help reduce stress and get them to think clearly on goals and actions. Lastly, many people don’t have time, so I would say find a youth program and provide funds so those that are dedicating their lives to youth programs can have the money to sustain education, housing and teach life skills.”

Michael Gibson

Gibson is the Executive Director of the Alameda County EMS Corps, a highly selective, rigorous academy that prepares young men of color for careers in EMS and Public Safety.

He’s made quite the transformation from California Youth Authority (CYA) custody.

Born and raised in East Oakland to a drug-addicted mother, Gibson dropped out of school in the eighth grade and took to the streets, selling drugs and committing robberies. He was soon arrested and incarcerated, but during his time with CYA, he attended a Transition Program for Black Males.

It was a rites of passage program designed by Dr. Wade Nobles of the Institute for the Advanced Study of Black Family Life and Culture. That was the beginning of his personal transformation.

When released, he called upon one of facilitators of the transition program for assistance, turning to The Mentoring Center and Omega Boys Club of San Francisco.

Gibson worked part-time at The Mentoring Center and attended classes at Omega Boys Club. He received a full academic scholarship to Morehouse College, where he graduated with a degree in English and drama.

While in college, he was the violence prevention coordinator for the mentoring program “Inner Strength.” He facilitated a violence prevention program at the Rice Street County Jail in Fulton for two years, working with young men who were being tried as adults. After graduation, he came back home to the Bay Area, where he was married, started a family and completed his master’s degree in public administration.

Gibson sits on a number of policy and reentry councils and also works as a consultant on a number of projects that create opportunities for young men from underserved communities.

His insight on incarceration

“My advice to incarcerated youth, given your current circumstances, you may not be able to control everything in your life. One thing that you do have control over is the amount of effort you put into changing your life. Being incarcerated does not define who you are. It’s just something you have to do right now. Change begins with you. Understand this ― nothing is more powerful than a made-up mind. Once you make the decision to change and that you want better for your life, a world of opportunities will open up for you. And when opportunities are not coming fast enough, sometimes you have to create them yourself. Think positive and dream big.

To the CDCR staff; you have the power and ability to influence the lives of the young people who are incarcerated in your system. There are still CDCR staff that I think about who had a positive impact on my life. When you come from a place of love and respect and not law-and-order, you have more of a positive outcome. Not all of us are bad; we made mistakes given the negative impact of our environment and our families. A lot of us would like to come back and volunteer and work in some capacity. We should be allowed to come in and work with the youth who are incarcerated and serve as role models of success.”

Miguel Garcia

Nelson Mandela’s autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom” was the catalyst for Garcia’s rehabilitation and eventual designation to Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s State Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

His aunt gave him the book when he was still incarcerated at the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility (VYCF). It inspired him to become involved in every program he had access to. Two years later, he discharged with $4,500 in scholarship funds and an internship with California State Assemblyman Jose Medina.

Garcia soon found himself working alongside the Riverside County Juvenile District Attorney’s office, striving to prevent juvenile crime through community education and intervention strategies with at-risk youth.

The DA’s office appointed Garcia as the youngest commissioner for the Riverside County Juvenile Justice delinquency prevention committee. He soon became the western region representative for the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ) National Youth Advisory committee.

He now fights for juveniles’ needs, as well as system and program improvements, constant priorities at the state and national level. He thrives as a member of the Gov. Brown’s State Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, pushing the committee mission to enhance the quality of life for all youth in California.

His insight on incarceration

I got involved with the Rosalinda Alpha program, which helps young men and women transition back into the community with the proper resources and a mentor to guide him/her. During one of these classes a man named Scott Budnick came in and was talking about Senate Bill 261, a law that would give a second chance to youth who have received long term and life sentences while they were under the age of 18. He told the whole class to write our California State Assembly member. The next week I was the only person to mail my assemblyman on the pros of voting yes. Scott Budnick saw my letter and asked me what I want to do when I get out.

I told him, ‘I want to change the world.’ He replied, ‘Start with Riverside.’

Since being released from California’s Division of Juvenile Justice, I have gained interest in studying politics. This of course comes from the impact that California’s prison policies has had with me.

Through my journey, I had found that an education is a gateway to limitless possibilities. My passion grew to give back to a community that I had taken so much away from. My ignorance and arrogance vanished. I found my passion to never give up on young individuals who have walked in the same shoes as I had walked. That is why I want to become a defense lawyer because as Nelson Mandela said, ‘My long walk to freedom is not yet finished.’”