By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Photos compiled by Eric Owens, CDCR Staff Photographer

The state’s prison system has seen many changes since its inception in the early 1850s – especially in the realm of rehabilitation. Gone are the days of pounding rocks in a granite quarry. Today’s offenders can learn computer programming and web design to help them land decent-paying jobs when they’re released. They can also earn degrees and high school diplomas, increasing their chances of being hired. This is the fourth part in a series on the history of rehabilitation, taking a closer look at the department’s evolving efforts to rehabilitate offenders.

Writing, acting leads to success for offender

In 1966, Rich “Rick” Cluchey was paroled from San Quentin after serving more than a decade for his part in an armed robbery.

As he stepped outside the gates, he was greeted by a throng of TV cameras and radio microphones. While incarcerated, he learned the skills necessary to become a dental technician but he found his true passion in writing and acting. He founded the acting workshop The Players (also known as Le Cage) at San Quentin and directed as well as acted with the group. While incarcerated, he co-wrote “Le Cage,” a play about life in prison. It was a success.

“A man’s rehabilitation can start as soon as the gate closes behind him… It’s a situation where you can make of it what you will. If you’re looking for trouble, this is the place to find it. If you’re looking maybe to change your way of life, despite some odds let us say, that too is possible. And I feel that I have achieved that … Primarily because I came here with no hope of pardon or parole that makes this day very great for me. A kind of a victory,” he told a KRON TV reporter as he was released.

Rick Cluchey is interviewed by a KRON TV reporter after serving 11 years in San Quentin.

“A Rolls Royce was waiting for inmate-playwright Rick Cluchey as he stepped through the gates at San Quentin Prison today after 11 years confinement for armed robbery. Carrying the parolee’s personal effects was Bill Hanks, activity director of the Seven Step Foundation, an organization which helps rehabilitate former prisoners,” reported the Daily Independent Journal, Dec. 12, 1966.

“Cluchey, 33, who wrote a play about prison while in San Quentin, was being released on parole. Once through the gates, he was center stage and the spotlight of publicity was turned full on. His reception had an almost theatrical quality. He was asked to pose lighting a cigar in front of the $22,000 Rolls Royce which Lee Bart, president of the San Quentin chapter of the Seven Step Foundation, had driven up to meet him,” the paper reported.

According to the newspaper, Cluchey was to be guest of honor at a luncheon later that same day in San Francisco attended by former San Quentin Warden Clinton T. Duffy and Bill Sands, founder and national president of the Seven Step Foundation.

Cluchey became interested in acting and writing after watching a performance of “Waiting for Godot,” brought into San Quentin by the San Francisco Actors Workshop in 1957. He and a few fellow inmates we so impressed, they formed their own acting group the next day.

“The play was about walls,” Cluchey told the Washington City Paper, April 9, 1999. “The metaphysical wall — the outer wall of the State of California — and the walls we build inside ourselves. One you wanted to tear down, and one you wanted to build up.”

He later essentially apprenticed under playwright Samuel Beckett and the two became friends and worked together.

“Rick was redeemed through theater because of Sam,” Cluchey’s wife, Nora Masterson, told the newspaper. “If he hadn’t stumbled on that particular production, his life might have taken a different course.”

Cluchey died in December 2015.

State senator recognizes efforts

State Sen. Gordon Cologne penned a piece on rehabilitation for the Desert Sun, March 25, 1970.

“I availed myself of the light scheduling of bills in Sacramento to call on the California Rehabilitation Center for narcotic addicts, the California Institution for Women, southern Conservation Center, and the Reception Guidance Center at Chino. While one cannot profess to be fully informed after a visit as short as mine, I do have a deeper appreciation for the problems of these agencies with which my Judiciary Committee will be dealing,” he wrote. “Some of these institutions have been under some attack for not having better results in their rehabilitation program, but I must come to their defense and point out, as one correctional officer suggested, the inmates of each of these institutions are not there because they sang too loudly in church and any improvement we see in their behavior must be viewed as a significant accomplishment.”

He believed prison wasn’t meant to be pleasant but should rehabilitate inmates.

“The correctional officers I met were not bitten by the liberal thought that all these people are ‘victims of society’ … but they were all genuinely interested in helping rehabilitate where possible. You can be sure rehabilitation for the addict or the hardened criminal is available in our prisons and the incentives are present. The most impressive fact of my visit to these institutions was the dedication of the employees. … The cost of operating the Department of Corrections will run about $116 million and some say the sooner we release the prisoners the more we save. It doesn’t work that way. Release prior to the time a prisoner has a job and can assume a proper place in the society, only means we are turning these people loose to return to their former behavior patterns. We are turning them loose on the innocent and the damage they can do could greatly exceed $116 million.”

Turmoil doesn’t deter rehabilitative mission

In 1971, during a period of violence in the state prison system, Gov. Ronald Reagan said the state would continue to focus on rehabilitation.

“He emphasized the state does not intend to reverse its inmate rehabilitation program. Reagan said because of rehabilitation programs, California’s prison population now is composed of a higher percentage of violent inmates than before. The less dangerous prisoners, who previously provided a stabilizing influence on the institutions, have been freed through rehabilitation,” according to a UPI story published in the Desert Sun, Sept. 4, 1971.

“Reagan told his audience the percentage of parolees who return to prison ‘has been cut in half. And this, plus our success in rehabilitation finds this is the one state with fewer inmates now than we had back in 1962.’ According to the State Corrections Department, there now are 21,300 state prisoners, about 300 less than a decade ago. But the number has dropped by 7,000 in the past two years,” the newspaper reported.

Prison diversion

The effort to change people didn’t just happen inside the prison. Some took it upon themselves to try to steer young people away from crime. In 1936, a reverend from San Quentin State Prison spoke to area school children about what life was really like inside the walls.

“Conducting what he terms a ‘One-Man Campaign Against Crime,’ Rev. J. C. Miller, pastor of the Geyserville Christian Church and Christian church pastor at San Quentin prison, has been lecturing on prison conditions and showing pictures of actual scenes in the prison. He recently appeared before Healdsburg and Geyserville grammar schools speaking to the four upper classes, and spoke Friday at Healdsburg high school,” reported the Healdsburg Tribune, May 6, 1936. “County Superintendent of Schools Edwin Kent is interested in Rev. Miller’s effort in which he is attempting to portray to the children the penalty of crime. … The talk embraces prison reform and rehabilitation and shows prison work under the former warden James L. Holohan. The pictures made for projection are probably the largest collection outside of those owned by regular officials of the prison. They show prisoners in confinement … show work in the jute mills, gardens and shops, and other phases of prison life. Altogether the collection comprises 52 pictures. The expense of producing the pictures for projection has been met by Rev. Miller, who lectures without charge.”

Rehabilitation today

Today, CDCR’s mission to safely house and rehabilitate offenders is at the forefront of both the department and state administration.

Expanding on efforts highlighted in this series, the department today boasts more rehabilitative programs than ever, from education and vocational programs to veterans groups, substance use disorder treatment programs, athletics, arts and wellness. In addition to programs run by CDCR, contractors and volunteers, inmates themselves create dozens of programs, with institution approval, known as Inmate Leisure Time Activity Groups. These ILTAGs draw offenders of diverse backgrounds and interests, who join together to participate in groups centered on nonviolent communication, family relationships, accountability, and even yoga and meditation.

Every adult institution now offers reentry programming to offenders serving the last part of their sentences, with programming focused on treatment and resources necessary for a successful transition home. The Long Term Offender Program for inmates serving life terms has expanded to 30 institutions. The 2017-18 budget allowed for the expansion of Arts-in-Corrections to every adult institution, meaning no matter where an offender is housed, he or she can participate in structured arts classes taught by professional artists. The department’s Innovative Grants Program allocated $14.5 million in grants to boost innovative programs and increase volunteerism in prisons, including $5.5 million to provide programs that have proven successful in serving long-term or life-term inmates. IGP programs include gardening, nonviolent communication, family relationships, anger management and technological programs such as The Last Mile computer coding program. Through Senate Bill 1391, CDCR has partnered with community colleges to offer face-to-face college instruction at 32 adult institutions.

CDCR partners with contractors to operate several successful reentry programs, including the Male Community Reentry Program and Custody to Community Transitional Reentry Program. These programs allow eligible inmates to serve the last part of their sentence in the community program in lieu of confinement in state prison. They receive intensive reentry-focused programming and are able to connect with services available to them in the communities to which they will parole.

Read more about the department’s current efforts at rehabilitation.

CDCR PIO II Krissi Khokhobashvili contributed to this report.