By Luis Patino, CDCR Public Information Officer
It is often said one never knows the pain other people may be carrying inside.
But sometimes what someone is carrying inside can also be an overwhelming feeling of redemption and pride. Sometimes, you find it where you might not expect it.
One example would be the Resource Fair at Mather co-presented by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) on Sept. 5.
Kevin Benjamin is someone who can attest to the power of change.
“I can’t begin to tell you what it feels like that the people who used to look down on me and kept away from me, respect me today,” he said with a lump in his throat.
Lee Farrand, a Transition Specialist at the Highlands Community Charter School, understands. “He just won class president. He’s a model student,” Farrand said. “He really embodies what we’re striving for.”
Highlands is what Farrand calls a place of last resort. It’s a school for adults who never got their high school diploma, usually because they were on the streets, strung out and doing whatever they could to get their next fix.
Benjamin acknowledges he’s been in and out of prisons or jails the better part of 22 years. He remembers during one of his lowest moments, he rented out the family car to a drug dealer.
“(It was) the car my wife used to drive the kids to school,” he said. The dealer paid in drugs.
The next day, when he realized what he’d done, he “got higher to get rid of the pain” and the shame.
Cocaine, heroin, meth – Benjamin tried them all. To pay for his escapism, he graduated from petty thefts to burglaries.
“He finally decided he was tired of it and he needed to make a change,” said Farrand.
His family – especially his daughters, never gave up on him. So when he got clean, sober, and studious – his daughters, straight-A students themselves, not only encouraged him to run for student body president at Highlands, they practically managed his campaign. They helped draw posters and prepped him to give speeches.
Then came Election Day.
“I walked into the house and the first thing my daughter said was, ‘Did you win?’ and when I told her ‘I won’ I could just see her face light up,” Benjamin said. “I can’t explain what it meant to me, because it meant something to her. She was full of pride. I’ve done something in my life that she can brag to her friends about.”
Change, redemption and vindication are attainable goals, according to providers at the resource fair.
“People deserve a second chance. When they realize that they can earn their GED, when they become employable and find jobs, they support their families and contribute to society. That’s what this is about,” Farrand said.
Bringing together service providers like Farrand with former offenders like Benjamin to take advantage of the resources offered in Sacramento County is rewarding for CDCR Deputy Parole Administrator Marvin Speed.
“Our agents have been working diligently to get the word out about this fair to all of the parolees in our region because we know that their attendance here can really make a difference,” Speed said. “When parolees make the effort to come out and sign up for job training or treatment, their road to becoming a productive member of society becomes much easier.”
At the resource fair, several hundred state parolees and county probationers found help getting a fresh start at also living a productive crime-free life.
Participating employers included Northern California Construction Training, Richer and Associates, Teamsters Local 150, Cement Masons Local 400, Operating Engineers Local 3 and LB Construction.
Recent laws make parolees eligible for federal Medicare programs. The Medicare expansion was promoted as a way to reduce the high cost to taxpayers for inmates’ treatment by providing access to preventative care for at-risk populations. As a result, one of the busiest agencies at the fair was Covered California.
Other agencies and providers offering crucial services included the WestCare Foundation, Substance Abuse Services Coordinating Agency (SASCA), the Highlands Community Charter School, Ink Off Me, Planned Parenthood, Narcotics Anonymous, Oak House, House of Integrity, Milgard, the Center for Fathers and Families, the Safety Center, Health Care Options, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and Health and Fitness Magazine.
The fair was presented by CDCR’s Division of Adult Parole Operations and Division of Rehabilitative Programs in cooperation with the Sacramento Community Based Coalition, and Sacramento County Probation.
Benjamin’s pitch is simple and straightforward.
“I want my friends who are still behind the wall to know that if they want to change, there really is the kind of help they need to start a new life,” said.