People gathered for the IMPACT graduation at O.H. Close.

People gathered for the IMPACT graduation at O.H. Close.

Former inmates make a difference in lives of youth offenders

 By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer

It was a night to celebrate when 34 juvenile offenders at O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facility (YCF) successfully completed and graduated from the IMPACT (Incarcerated Men Putting Away Childish Things) program.

IMPACT is a partnership between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), Office of Correctional Safety (OCS) Juvenile Gang Operations (JGO) and the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). It is designed to help break the power and influence gangs and violence wield within DJJ facilities. Three of the four DJJ facilities run the IMPACT program: N.A Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility (YCF), O.H. Close YCF, and Ventura YCF.

During the last week of March, 444 youth graduated from IMPACT programs throughout DJJ. A total of 150 males and nine females graduated from Ventura YCF. 145 from N.A. Chaderjian YCF, AND 140 graduated from OH. Close YCF. Ventura Senior Facilitator, Jason Gottlieb, said this is the highest male graduation rate his facility has ever had at 97 percent.

Roger is a 19-year-old offender at O.H. Close who’s graduated.

Facilitators congratulate a graduate at the IMPACT program at O.H. Close.

Facilitators congratulate a graduate at the IMPACT program at O.H. Close.

“I’ve learned to let the little things go, and not get so frustrated by things I can’t control,” he said.

Another graduate, Deante, said, “On a scale of 1-10, this is a 10. This is a big step to becoming a man, taking responsibility, leaving behind childish things. I want to be able to pass this along to my friends when I get out, and hopefully make it a generational thing to pass on what I learned to my kids and their kids.”

IMPACT is designed to make juvenile facilities safer and improve opportunities for juvenile offenders while preventing further crime and victimization by reducing violence. IMPACT also provides an opportunity for offenders to dissociate from gangs, make connections to the community and develop other competencies and skills to supplement and enhance their current treatment plans.

IMPACT is a 12-week program taught by ex-offenders who have successfully transitioned into society. They developed the program as a self-help strategy while in prison and have facilitated the program for over 15 years. They are living proof to young offenders of the possibility of change.

The four instructors involved with this IMPACT program are contracted by the state, and have served time in either state or federal prison.

Kevin Kemp is a Senior Instructor and IMPACT Vice President.

“The biggest thrill for me is seeing the light come on,” Kemp said. “We plant the seed and see it grow.”

Instructor Letitcia “Tish” Thompson has been involved with the IMPACT program for several years. She started the program in the female wing at Ventura YCF in 2011.

“We try to teach life skills to these youth. All of us can relate to what they have been through. Most of us came from homes that weren’t very stable; we’ve all done time for our crimes. So whatever they’re going through, I think it’s important for them to know we can relate, help them work through things and give them options in life,” Thompson explained.

The young offenders earned IMPACT graduation certificates. Lots of Chinese food was eaten, two cakes devoured, and then a few of the grads spoke.

An IMPACT graduate reviews the program's workbook.

An IMPACT graduate reviews the program’s workbook.

“I learned about integrity. I didn’t even know what it meant before this course. It’s very important. You need integrity; you need to be honest with yourself and others,” said Felix.

Christian said, “I know I mentioned it a lot, but I have better focus. I’m working with others better, with my family. I’m putting skills learned in this course to use in my life, and it has affected my life for the better.”

Instructor German Yambao compared it to a batting average.

“I think we’re making a difference,” Yambao said. “It’s like baseball, nobody hits .1000, some guys hit .280, and some guys hit .300. If we can break the cycle, break the generational cycle, it means a lot. The more youth we reach now, the better it is for them, their family and their community.”