By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
File photos by Eric Owens, CDCR staff photographer
Video by Office of Public and Employee Communications
A CDCR-produced video highlights the first graduating class of the Offender Mentor Certification Program at California State Prison, Solano, in 2009. The video also documents a visit from a famous actor.
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“Solano is a long way from Hollywood, but in June people instrumental in creating this program came out to tour new modular classrooms at the prison,” said the video’s narrator, Michele Kane.
“I’m very, very proud to be a part of this. I had no idea when it started it would grow to such proportions,” actor Martin Sheen told the gathering.
At the time, Sheen served as the honorary chair of Options Recovery Services, which provides services to break the cycle of addiction and crime, according to the video. Sheen helped start the organization a dozen years earlier.
“Actor Martin Sheen got to see firsthand how the … program is working,” the narrator states. “Options helped launch the ‘lifer’ program at San Quentin back in 2006 and Sheen is thrilled he’s able to see how the program is taking shape at Solano in 2009.”
In his Solano visit, Sheen shared some of his own personal stories about fighting substance abuse.
“And the most remarkable part of being in the twelfth step is being free to be honest, to be yourself,” he told a group of inmates. “We begin to unravel the false self when we stand up in front of a fellow group and say, ‘Hi, I’m Martin and I’m an alcoholic.’ It is the most freeing thing imaginable. When we share our brokenness, we recognize ourselves in each other.”
The inmates involved in the Offender Mentor Certification Program took classes to become certified drug and alcohol abuse counselors. The modular classrooms were built by inmates in the California Prison Industry Authority program.
“California is the first state in the nation to certify inmates as alcohol and drug counselors,” the narrator states. “Nearly one-third of inmates in California prisons are incarcerated for substance abuse offenses, which often lead to other crimes.”
The inmates spent more than 1,000 hours in class, studying and practicing counseling to earn certification.
“Those who are eventually released can use the certification to get a job,” the narrator states.
“Many of the men standing behind me will be going into these communities when they’re released from here and they are qualified drug counselors and they are going to be in a position to help when no one else can help. They can go where no one else can go. It takes one to know one, we say in the program,” Sheen said. “There is so much widespread alcohol and drug abuse these days that if we don’t do something drastic and dramatic soon, we’re not going to get a handle on this at all.”
At the end of the video, Sheen is seen walking with a prison official discussing the program and the impact on the inmates.
“The past does not have to equal the future,” Sheen said against the backdrop of a prison yard.