Curtis Washington makes his case to the mock parole board consisting of Bryan Lewis, left, SAC Librarian Adrienna Turner and Samual Brown.

Curtis Washington makes his case to the mock parole board consisting of Bryan Lewis, left, SAC Librarian Adrienna Turner and Samual Brown.

CSP-Sacramento program puts inmates on positive path

By Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications

The commissioners sat ramrod-straight in their chairs, their faces portraying no hint of emotion as they listened to the young man make his case. He’d been in prison for more than a decade, and during that time had gotten an education, attended numerous substance abuse treatment programs and had learned valuable job skills. He knew he was ready – now it was time to make his case.

One by one, the commissioners peppered him with questions. Did he have viable employment options on the outside? What about a place to live? Did he have a relapse prevention plan? A solid plan to avoid bad influences? As he answered the questions, referring to the detailed notes beside him, the inmates watching began to smile.

This was no ordinary parole hearing. In fact, it wasn’t a parole hearing at all. This was a mock hearing held during the 10P program at California State Prison-Sacramento (SAC), and the man in the hot seat had just had his best interview yet.

“10P” stands for: “A Prisoner’s Parole Portfolio is Positive Programming and Prior Preparation that Prevents a Poor Performance.” Through a series of 16-week programs, men learn insight into their pasts and their crimes, put a focus on positive programming and form a support system of people experiencing the same unique challenges facing the lifer population.

“More than anything, we focus on our positive self-transformation,” shared Bryan Lewis, the 10P vice-chair.

Participants are quick to point out that preparing for parole suitability hearings is only one part of an exhaustive program focused on changing lives.

The guidelines and expectations of 10P are displayed at every workshop.

The guidelines and expectations of 10P are displayed at every workshop.

The group was created by Samual Brown, who said he was inspired to make positive changes in his life after a staff member took an interest in him, believing in him enough to offer him a good job at the institution.

“I was really moved by that, and started knocking down some of my walls because no one had been kind to me like that or really taken my side before,” said Brown. “At that time I was like, you know what? It’s time to stop trying to be the man and just be a man.”

Brown began to participate in rehabilitative programming including the Alternatives to Violence Project. He also began developing 10P, which he presented to the administration at SAC in 2014. The group hit the ground running, and has been meeting every week since. Today, about 60 inmates are participating in various aspects of the program.

“I agreed to implement 10P because I know that authentic culture change must develop from inside, from among the people who are changing,” said Dr. D. Hamad, Education Department principal at SAC. She pointed out that 10P begins with a book report project, “encouraging inmates to take a look at self-change without doing anything other than reading.”

In keeping with 10P’s love of acronyms, THE BRAIN Project stands for “Transcribing Honest Essays and Book Reports Achieving Neural-growth.” It’s an independent study program in which participants choose a book from a list of selections with various themes of rehabilitation and personal growth, and submit reports about how the book affected them. Brown pointed out that THE BRAIN is an important aspect of 10P because people reading the books do not have to be part of the general population – inmates in the Security Housing Unit or Enhanced Outpatient Program at SAC are welcome to participate. So far, nearly 200 book reports have been turned in.

“A person who is sitting there doing a book report is somebody who’s not on the yard fighting,” Brown said. “That’s another part of the 10P program that I feel pretty proud about.”

In the Lifer Empowerment session, people serving life sentences form a community of both support and education, encouraging each other to speak openly about their pasts, their crimes and their plans for the future. For many, 10P is one of the first rehabilitative programs they choose to join, and so they are unaccustomed to public speaking or open sharing. The purpose of the group is three-fold: to put in the hard work required to change; to become comfortable speaking publicly about sensitive topics; and to learn to meet deadlines and turn in homework assignments, which enables responsibility and accountability.

This all leads to the Parole Preparation Workshop, in which people who have graduated from the Lifer Empowerment Group gather weekly to work actively toward not only going home, but succeeding once they do. Participants educate one another about changes in parole and criminal justice laws, and share their own board experiences. They critique each other’s portfolios, which are presented at suitability hearings, and participate in mock parole hearings. They also work in-depth on job skills, creating resumes, filling out applications and work expectations. It’s a very intense program, but according to Brown, that’s the whole point.

The accomplishments of 10P participants are displayed on the walls of the library at SAC.

The accomplishments of 10P participants are displayed on the walls of the library at SAC.

“Anyone who wants to participate can participate,” he said. “But I don’t play games. I’m going to ask if you are serious. If you’re not serious, don’t waste our time. Don’t take a seat from someone who is serious.”

That hard work is paying off. Recently, a 10P graduate was found suitable for parole and went home – a not-insubstantial accomplishment for someone in a Level IV prison. For the men still incarcerated, it gives them hope and a reason to stay involved in the program.

“I think it’s excellent,” said Teaching Assistant Alicia Lara, who has been a 10P staff facilitator since its inception. “I think these guys are learning a lot from each other. It’s definitely preparing them and it sets a good example for everybody here.”

Librarian Adrienna Turner added that while 10P was in place before she began working at SAC, even in the few months she has been a part of it she has seen real change happen in the participants.

“I don’t know their stories,” she said. “But with the mock parole hearings, it gives them a chance to express that, and then also to find within themselves if they’re eligible to go out and re-enter society.”

10P sessions also cover financial literacy, anger management, gang members, denial management and youth diversion. Brown’s efforts are not limited to the walls of SAC. He extended a plea for assistance to numerous community groups, and Sacramento State University Criminal Justice Professor Ernest Uwazie obliged.

Each month, Uwazie and a group of his students come into SAC as part of the 10P Victim-Offender Mediation Seminar. McGeorge School of Law Professor Pauline Nguyen is also involved in this program.

The students work with the inmates in role-playing victim-offender scenarios and discussing insights into criminal thinking and consequences. Both sides benefit – the students are learning first-hand about criminal justice and letting go of stereotypes while the men in 10P learn more about the impacts of their actions.

“You’re able to see it from another person’s perspective, and see that this is a real individual, this is a real, living human being, and they have feelings and their families have feelings,” Lewis said. “We have to reassess the impacts that our circumstances had on a lot of people.”

As interest in 10P continues to grow, Brown, Lewis and the 10P volunteers and facilitators look forward to watching more and more men put their efforts into the right place: changing for the better.

“For those who participate in the program, there is a sense of camaraderie and purpose, as they strive to ‘get it right,’ and learn how to express their accountability and eventually their remorse,” Hamad said. “This is a real challenge for men struggling to find ways to be a man and make their lives stand for something.”

Brown said that change begins in the Lifer Empowerment sessions and continues throughout the 10P process. By engaging in the program and putting in real, honest work, change can happen even in those whom many may have already written off.

“Even without them realizing, they’re working on being sociable and personable,” Brown said, “They’re willing to start letting down the walls that they built.”

Samual Brown leads a discussion on creating resumes and cover letters while Bryan Lewis and Jason Lacey look on.

Samual Brown leads a discussion on creating resumes and cover letters while Bryan Lewis and Jason Lacey look on.