Story by Valley State Prison Youthful Offender Program Inmate Facilitators
Photos by Elvis Vang, Correctional Counselor I 

Youthful offenders at Valley State Prison (VSP) received the ultimate pep talk from a host of eager mentors and guests during the first-ever Youthful Offender Program (YOP) Motivational Tour.

Guests and motivational speakers highlighted the positive programming that is ongoing for VSP’s current YOP participants and educated 185 of VSP’s youthful offenders in attendance.

The YOP assesses youthful offenders entering prison under the age of 22, allowing CDCR to classify eligible offenders at lower custody levels. If their crime brought them in at a Level IV, they can now be classified as Level III, or if they came in as Level IIIs they now enter as Level II. Those who have committed the most serious crimes and are serving the longest sentences are committed to a Level IV yard.

The successful event at VSP motivated staff and emboldened the 60 YOP mentors responsible for providing positive advice to and helping participants navigate their way through prison-life issues.

VSP’s YOP facilitators, Cottrell Broadnax, Victor Trillo, Robert Delgado, Richard Wright and Paul Arteche were in attendance, demonstrating their mentorship role and methods of facilitating curriculum in a classroom setting. They focus courses on cognitive behavioral therapy, victims impact, and Maturity, Accountability, Growth, Inspiration and Change (M.A.G.I.C.).

One-by-one, guests shared their stories. Law graduate Keith Chandler, Transitional Housing Specialist Eugene Dey, discharged parolee Johnny H. Saldate and current parolee Kendrick Stokes all spoke words of encouragement to the youth. The ex-offenders spoke candidly about the transformation in their lives.

The common theme of all speeches ― change is possible so as long as you are ready and willing to make the effort.

Parole Agent III Edward Tostado commended the example Stokes and Saldate set for YOP participants in their reintegration back into society. Parole Agent III Andrew Mounts and Parole Agent I Spencer Williams also provided support.

Barbara Van Sickle and Bernadette Vasquez of the Freedom to Change Project, instrumental in the success of the YOP at VSP, warmly addressed the youth and explained their belief in the power of change. Their program hosts classes once a week at VSP.

The energy of the event hit its peak when a collection of seven current YOP participants took the podium alongside assigned facilitators and spoke about how the program has helped them change their perspective on life.

The youth embraced their newfound growth and the life skills they developed. Facilitators boasted of their success and spoke of eagerly awaiting VSP’s first YOP graduation in January 2018.

Facilitators thanked Correctional Counselor II/YOP Coordinator Elizabeth Alva, Correctional Officer/Resource Officer Bobby Hernandez and VSP Warden Raythel Fisher for making the event possible.

The event was June 8.

(Hernandez was the Madera Elks Lodge #1918 Officer of the Year for 2017.)