By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
Cal Poly Pomona Professor Renford Reese is on a mission to prepare offenders for the day they are released and sent back to their communities, ensuring they are ready for higher education and informed on the reentry process.
He took his message to N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility (NACYCF) and introduced the youthful offenders to his program called Reintegration Academy, which is set to begin in October.
“Everybody wants to be known for something, what do you want to be known for?” Reese asked the 25 young men attending the workshop. “How will you leave your mark?”
The Reintegration Academy is a seven-week course involving study circles with discussions ranging from a student’s background to his/her academic interests, hobbies, public speaking and in-depth conversations on college life.
“Through our discussions, we want you to see the campus, smell the flowers and know what it feels like to be a college student,” Reese said.
Reese said the project is funded and supported by four foundations, so the reentry programs come at no cost to taxpayers. College students from local universities volunteer their time, coordinate instruction and lead group sessions.
“We get students from varying majors – political science, psychology, aerospace engineering – all wanting to help, and all looking to give back,” Reese said.
Reese rounded up students for this session from University of the Pacific campus in Stockton and California State University Stanislaus in Turlock. The volunteer students meet with the youth for two-hour sessions twice a week for seven weeks. More than 20 volunteer student instructors work with 15 or so students on a rotating basis.
Initially the students and instructors will discuss academic interests, and possible majors they would like to pursue in college.
Current events related to their major or interests will also be discussed. The students learn to take notes, develop outlines, speak in public and study time management.
NACYCF offender Dwayne took part in the Reintegration Academy while housed at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility.
“I tell people what you did in the past was who you were. What you do now is who you are,” Dwayne said. “Make the most of this opportunity. Why not take advantage of a college prep situation when it’s right in front of you?”
Dwayne also told the group working with college students was better for him. He was able to relate to them because they were so close to his age.
Youthful offender Jabari wants to be a photographer. “I’ll push people to this program because I know they’ll get something out of it. Heck, I’m not sure what it’s like to go to college, but I’d like to learn.”
Robinson, another youth offender, also attended the workshop.
“I’m 19 and have been incarcerated since I was 15,” he said. “I want to move beyond my crime, and show that I can be a contributor to society rather than a burden.”
Reese told the group, “You are the first to be involved in this program here at NACYCF. Make us proud. Lead the way with your participation and inspiration. Make a difference for yourselves and those who may follow.”
The Reintegration Academy begins at NACYCF in October and runs through the first week of December.