A youth diversion program at the California State prison, Solano recently was the topic of a favorable story in the Daily Republic newspaper of Fairfield.
“Never come here, you hear me?” the article began.
“It was a loud message from an anonymous inmate as he walked by a group of teen boys from the Vacaville Youth Diversion program while on the exercise yard at California State Prison, Solano. It was just one of many taunts of “fresh meat” and vocalizations from the hundreds of inmates out for exercise at the same time the boys and their parents walked through the yard flanked by 10 inmates – all members of the Prisoner Outreach Program, dubbed POP,” the article continued.
“The resounding message from the POP inmates during the eight-hour program: It’s all about choices and decisions, and it starts with the little things such as disrespecting parents, ditching school and drugs,” the newspaper reported.
“I never thought about consequences,” the newspaper quoted Matt Ray, a POP inmate, talking to the group of teens. “Please think about what you’re doing. It starts with little things . . . now I’m in prison.”
The inmate is in prison on a murder conviction, just as are the other nine inmates in the program Ray.
The five teens – ages 13 to 15 – were hearing the tough talk because they were in legal trouble, although to a far lesser degree than the POP members.
The teens agreed to spend the day in prison as part of an agreement to keep a conviction off their record. They signed a six-month contract the teens signed with the Youth Diversion Program to undergo sessions like the one at Solano, the newspaper reported.
A prison tour gave the teens a close look at the holding cells, exercise yard and small shared cells, the newspaper reported.
“Everything you see today is unscripted,” inmate Derrick Branch told the teens, according to the newspaper. “We don’t want you to end up like us.”
Branch gave the teens a stark example of life behind bars as he explained body searches.
“Before you leave, you have to spread your butt cheeks,” Branch said, the newspaper reported. “That’s just one of the things that happens . . . daily.”
While the program allows the teens to see the harsh realities of prison life, it’s not a “scared straight” program. Lt. Marlaina Dernoncourt, Solano’s PIO/AA, explained. “We don’t use that. That’s what they use on TV. This is respectfully done and not to terrify them.”
“We don’t just talk to the kids, we talk to the parents,” Branch told the newspaper. “We try to get the young people and parents to listen to each other. It’s not about us dogging at the kid.”
Robyn Cole, the Solano staff sponsor of the program, said the program causes some teens to realize the value of having parents who care.
“Some break down and say, ‘I love you’ for the first time in years,” Cole told the newspaper.
Ms. Cole meets with the POP inmates two or three times a week to keep the program focused and relevant.
The inmates involved can’t have any write-ups nor can they have committed crimes against children or women.