Story and photos by Ike Dodson, CDCR PIO
Office of Public and Employee Communications
Commitment of staff and participants of CDCR’s Male Community Reentry Program (MCRP) has garnered major accolades this year throughout the state.
MCRP is a reentry program that allows eligible offenders to serve up to the last 12 months of their sentence in the community program in lieu of state prison. While at MCRP, participants take place in an intensive rehabilitative curriculum focused on successful reentry, including substance use disorder treatment, anger management, criminal thinking, family reunification and employment. MCRPs currently operate in Los Angeles, San Diego, Kern County and Butte County.
A cake adorned in frosted merriment and the delights of a catered fiesta Mexicana meal may have provided some flavor for the Butte County MCRP one-year anniversary celebration in Oroville, but the real treat came via the podium as graduates spoke to the program’s impact upon their transition back into the community.
Announcement of a zero-percent recidivism rate among participants was about as savory as it gets.
The first man to both participate and graduate broke down into tears as he addressed a throng of staff members representing CDCR, Butte County Probation and Tri-County Treatment at the Church of the Nazarene April 26.
“I was an angry individual and I had trust problems, issues with people,” John Hill confessed. “But these guys put together a program which got me off the streets. These people really care. It’s like a family.
“I have a job, cash in my pocket and two credit cards ― and I just got out of prison!”
The MCRP in Oroville is a unique partnership of CDCR and Butte County Probation, as one half of the facility houses MCRP participants while the other serves parolees through the Specialized Treatment for Optimized Programming model. All receive services through Tri-County Treatment.
The Oroville crowd, also made up of past and present MCRP members, celebrated success and listened to animated speeches by Butte County Probation Deputy Mike Rogers and CDCR Correctional Counselor III Justin Kelly.
The achievements of this program were made obvious by both the testimonials of participants and the proud acknowledgments by staff.
“In the past, when you got out, they would open the door, hand you the $200 gate check and say thanks for coming,” Rogers said. “That’s what happened in the past and it’s not what the future is about now. This program was developed to eliminate that.
“It was developed to help you stabilize financially, get your mind right, get you ready to go out in the community and find a place to live.”
Kelly boasted of the program’s triumphs, citing statistics after a year and three months of operation.
“We provide the classes, but these guys are doing the work,” Kelly said. “They have put in over 550 hours of community service in the last year and couple months, and we are really proud of that.”
Kelly explained MCRP had 55 enrollments, and every participant who graduated took with them a California ID, medical card and journal of classes (like anger management) they have completed.
“We make sure when they leave this program, they have both stable employment and stable housing,” Kelly said. “Our participants have committed zero felonies and we have had zero returns to prison.
“We are very proud of these numbers. We have a great team here and these guys have put in tons of work.”
The anniversary celebration culminated with some candid words from MCRP graduate Daniel Cheetham, who had spoiled his previous shot at a successful reentry.
“I was a triple-time loser just waiting for them to strike me out,” Cheetham said. “Big shout out to staff, and I don’t know if it’s my attitude or the training, but I felt real human this time. I felt like people were rooting for me, and I’m the type of person that works for.
“At the end of the day, people who do like me can see the achievements I have made and they are proud ―they are glad they bet on me. People have been betting on me, and that’s the only reason why I am here today.”
Cheetham encouraged participants to take advantage of the opportunity.
“We are underdogs, and a lot of people in society don’t want to bet on us. When you meet the few who do, don’t waste their time,” He pleaded. “You can shoot the moon if you want to, and I’m doing it.
“I have credit now, and I can have stuff like nice furniture. I can barely read or write I’m so dyslexic, but now I’m working on billion-dollar robots.”
It’s a success story good enough to eat.
Gastronomic excellence isn’t geographically discriminatory.
On July 13, four MCRP Los Angeles participants graduated from a 14-week culinary arts program conducted by L.A. Kitchen.
Damian Romero, a current MCRP participant, was joined by former participants Victor Inda, Pedro Rivera and Manuel Soto to celebrate in this prodigious accomplishment.
MCRP participants have been enrolling in L.A. Kitchen’s culinary arts program since 2016. In addition to training, they receive self-empowerment programs and local internships with participating restaurants.
L.A. Kitchen is a nonprofit facility founded by Robert Egger, and located in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles. The 20,000-square-foot kitchen is where culinary students prepare dishes with fruits and vegetables that were not sold at farmers markets or produce wholesalers due to cosmetic defects.
The students are a mix of older men and women who have been recently incarcerated and young adults who have “timed out” of foster care. The meals are delivered to the hungry ― mainly low-income senior citizens.
Forty-seven MCRP San Diego participants received multiple awards and recognition certificates June 30 before a throng of family, friends, community leaders, CDCR staff and representatives from the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
Through a collaboration of treatment counselors, CDCR, Division of Rehabilitative Programs (DRP), Core-Civic and participant determination, MCRP San Diego produced participant certificates in Adult Education course completion, Community College Semester completion, trade school graduations, living wage employment accomplishments and successful completion of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Substance Abuse Disorder courses.
MCRP San Diego Program Manager, Correctional Counselor III Mike Hagemann, addressed the participants, as well as their families, about the collaborative efforts needed to produce a self-sustaining graduate while being in MCRP, letting go of the past prison environment mentality and focusing on the positive change, self-improvement and empowerment model.
Hagemann also spoke about the positive effects that a supportive family has in encouraging a participant to pursue success.
Coupled with support from family, treatment counselors and CDCR Parole Agent II Guillermo Lopez and Parole Agent II Louis Torres-Skerret, participants are making good use of the opportunities offered to better themselves through academics, employment, recovery, community resources and health care services, enriching their lives through lifelong skill set learning.
Core-Civic Program Director Monica Sanchez welcomed and addressed the MCRP San Diego participants and guests June 30. She recognized their hard work and accomplishments and left the crowd with an encouraging thought.
“If you continue to trust the process, you will continue to find success in your new bright futures,” She said.
Landon Bravo, Chief of In-Prison Programs, DRP, contributed to this report.