Story by CTF staff
Photo by Lt. Roland Ramon, AA/PIO
Correctional Training Facility
Two Rabbis, 20 inmates, an Associate Warden and a Community Resource Manager (CRM) walk into a chapel … but this is not the beginning of a bad joke. This was the graduation ceremony for Correctional Training Facility (CTF) Soledad’s newest self-help group, Choices for Life.
The group was created to help at-risk and incarcerated individuals regain healthy life direction. The non-denominational program addresses a broad array of life issues, including personal development, family relations, addiction, anger, abuse and victim recovery. Unique to Choices for Life, however, is its “Living vs. Existing” paradigm, which teaches participants to develop noble choice-making skills by discovering, participating in, and valuing the opportunities they have to transcend self and be of service to others. To quote the course material, “to work hard to be needed and not needy.”
The study course, which was recently piloted at CTF, was a collaborative effort, initiated by the Aleph Institute and created by CTF Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Yochanan Friedman, based on the teachings of world-renowned social philosopher and biblical scholar, Rabbi Manis Friedman. Also contributing to the development of the program were the program’s three inmate facilitators, Eric Dungan, Jonathan Barber, and J. Don Evans.
“We are the self-help group not focused on self,” says Dungan, “which means we focus on finding ways to improve our surroundings and the lives of those around us.”
Rabbi Manis Friedman spoke at the graduation and congratulated participants on their personal growth and encouraged them to forgo the self-gratifying choices of their past and to instead “choose life.”
CTF Soledad Chief Deputy Warden (CDW), Mr. R Binkele, also spoke and expressed his admiration for the accomplishments of the 20-some inmates who received their completion certificates. CDW Binkele said he “found this particular self-help program to be quite impactful.”
Also participating in the ceremony were CTF Community Resource Manager Alma Tamayo and Public Information Officer Lt. Roland Ramon.
During the meet-and-greet after the program, one inmate who was recently granted a parole date, said to the Rabbis, “Choices for Life has absolutely changed me. Now I have a mission: I need to get out there and teach this to world.”
“It is a special and unique privilege,” says Rabbi Yochanan Friedman, “to be able to combine my studies of Jewish philosophy with years of experience working as a CDCR Chaplain, and to make something of it that is so relevant and valuable in the lives of the men here.”
Now, he says, he’d like to see it shared with other correctional facilities in California and beyond.