Parole Agent honored for decades of connecting parolees with community
By Luis Patino, CDCR Public Information Officer, and Thy Vuong
The air was crisp that early mid-March morning in the City’s Sunset District and signs of spring’s renewal were everywhere. The chill of the bay breeze gave way to warmer gusts in brief reminders the seasons were turning – and inspiring former inmates to continue doing the same. The happy chirping of a western scrub-jay welcomed the opening of the budding leaves on the 50 potted trees waiting to be planted in their new homes atop the hillside neighborhood with a breathtaking ocean view.
Revival and rebirth were evident everywhere as more than 300 volunteers, welcomed by dignitaries like Mayor Edwin Lee and District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang, gathered to celebrate Arbor Day at the 15th Annual San Francisco Arbor Day Community Clean Team Event near A.P. Giannini Middle School.
For the parolees who volunteered to freshen up the Ocean Beach promenade by landscaping medians and paint over graffiti, the event was cathartic – a liberatingly stark contrast to the life they were gladly leaving behind.
“It’s great being amongst people who care about community, and this program gives me a tremendous feeling of accomplishment,” said Clinton, a parolee.
He was once sentenced to 25 years to life and faced the prospect he’d never enjoy a morning like this one. But on this Saturday, he was joyfully marking his 120th day away from prison, donning an orange safety vest that seemed to symbolically make him and the others indistinguishable from the other community members who have never been “offenders.”
Here, they were now part of the community uniting to transform the neighborhood – and for the parolees, also heal themselves.
“This is just a great opportunity for me to redeem all my wrongs and to give back. It’s being trusted to give back,” said Rodger.
When he paroled in February, he took part in the Community Clean Team as a condition of parole. But this time he was here as a committed volunteer.
Len, another parolee volunteer, is currently in transitional housing. For him, taking part in this clean up gives him a chance to show his family he’s changing.
“This has taken a burden off my family. I can be on my own and help myself get better and then go home to them as a productive man,” he said.
Robert, another former offender, appreciated what he called, “our second chance to make opportunities work, to take nothing for granted.”
Rehabilitative programs for parolees are important, according to those who work in the field.
“I see community programs like this one making a difference in their lives. Every parolee I have worked with gets something out of being a part of a community effort like this. The spirit of the community keeps them coming back,” said Parole Agent Martin Figueroa.
Director Dan Stone, with the Division of Adult Parole Operations, agreed.
“Community programs like this are a vital part of a parolee’s reintegration. Giving back to the communities that they are returning home to will help them tremendously in a successful transition and becoming a productive member of their local community,” said Director Stone. “The Division of Adult Parole Operations has among some of the most dedicated staff in the law enforcement field, and we could not succeed without the help of communities coming together to assist with our parolees transition and improve public safety.”
Director Stone also took the opportunity to praise Parole Agent Ken Wong for advocating for programs like this one.
Wong has been a part of the Community Clean Team from its inception in 2000, developing the program with then-Director of San Francisco’s Department of Public Works Edwin Lee.
Both saw the need for help transitioning offenders coming back to San Francisco on parole and getting them reconnected with the community in which they were coming home to live. The program has grown both in size and momentum over the years, and both men have continued their involvement in spearheading the program, even when Lee took on his new role as Mayor of San Francisco.
Thus, at the event, Director Stone presented Wong with a proclamation from State Senator Mark Leno to honor his long career.
“I want to thank Ken for his 30 years of service to the department. He is among the most committed and dedicated of our Parole Agents, and his enthusiasm for helping to change the lives of the people he supervises is second to none,” Director Stone said.
It was a truly transformative spring morning at the ocean beach promenade. The area was revitalized, and it seems, so were the people who took part in the effort.