Story and photos by Ike Dodson, CDCR PIO
Office of Public and Employee Communications
Nolice Edwards, Chief of the Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services (OVSRS) at CDCR, has an open door wide enough to double as an airplane hangar.
At the end of the day, many of her team members will pop a head in, just to get one last smile on their way home. When she spoke at the Survivor Speaks California 2018 event at the Grand Sheraton Hotel in Sacramento Tuesday, she gave her cell phone number to nearly 700 crime survivors during a speaking panel ―pausing to repeat it three times as participants scrambled to punch it into their phones.
She locked hands with crime survivors in prayer during a Victims’ Rally on the Capitol’s west steps a day prior, and has built a reputation for being accessible and genuine to the victim and survivor communities.
“I need to know where I need to be,” Edwards said to survivors. “Let’s talk about how we can do this together.”
It’s how she expands the circle to reach all victims ― this year’s theme for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW), April 8-14.
Edwards’ staff (she calls them her “peeps,”) embodies the same spirit of inclusion in victim services, to ensure that every crime victim has access to services and support and how professionals, organizations, and communities can work in tandem to reach all victims.
OVSRS brochures, fliers and forms are available in different languages, and all communities have an ally in CDCR.
Five of Edwards’ “peeps” provide bilingual operations for victim services and restitution interactions with crime victims and survivors.
“I feel a sense of relief on the other line when I tell them that I can speak Spanish,” Associate Governmental Program Analyst (AGPA) Maria B. Flores said. “We can hear the pain in their voices, and sometimes they are hesitant to talk, but I do my best to help them.
“Coming from a Hispanic background, I feel like a lot of people in our community don’t report as often, so when I tell them that I am here for them, I can feel those barriers break down.”
Fellow AGPA Mayra Mejia-Sexton said she has stayed with OVSRS for 13 years because of the impact she has on vulnerable communities.
“A lot of times I put myself in their shoes,” Mejia-Sexton said. “I feel like this call could be from my parents. My dad didn’t speak English, so he could be calling someone random, and he would have struggled if there wasn’t someone like me there to help.
“Sometimes there is no one else to help them. They usually save my number and reach me directly after that first call.”
Edwards and Co. are active in outreach efforts to the non-English speaking community, have worked with the Mexican Consulate and have participated in many round- table discussions, summits and conferences across the state. OVSRS’ list of advocates grows each day, and several new allies made an appearance at the NCVRW event at Fremont Park Wednesday.
That open door is an office-wide mantra. Maybe it’s why most of them work out of cubicles.
“A lot of times you just have to be a good listener,” Mejia-Sexton said. “Sometimes you need to just educate someone on the process, sometimes they just need a number to call, and sometimes you get to hear the joy in their voice when they found out you have been collecting money for them.
“That’s a pretty good feeling.”
OVSRS collects an average of $2 million monthly in restitution collection. To claim those funds, victims and survivors must register with CDCR by calling the toll-free line (1-877-256-6877); emailing OVSRS (firstname.lastname@example.org); or registering online (https://e1707.cdcr.ca.gov).
You can learn more about CDCR’s victim services by visiting the OVSRS web page.