By Cole Bienek, inmate contributing writer
California Medical Facility

On June 29, over 100 people packed the visiting room at the California Medical Facility (CMF) to take part in a graduation ceremony. Inmates who completed components of the Division of Rehabilitative Programs (DRP) Cognitive Behavioral Treatment (CBT) program gathered to receive acknowledgement for their efforts.

“You should be proud of what you accomplished,” said Chief Deputy Warden (CDW) Dan Cueva in his commencement address. “When you spend your time in programs like these, you invest in yourself.”

The day marked the second graduation ceremony for Center Point, Inc. Men’s reentry program, and the first for their Long Term Offender Program (LTOP). The reentry program targets those inmates who are drawing close to their release dates; LTOP targets “Lifers” who are preparing for upcoming parole hearings.

Center Point, Inc., activated their CMF program in December 2016 as part of CDCR’s mission to provide CBT programming to all institutions. Department-wide, space is at a premium, and CMF is not immune. Initially, the program activated with two re-entry SUDT groups held in the visiting room and serving 24 participants. Eighteen months later DRP has seven group rooms providing space for 264 treatment slots occupied by 216 different participants.

The daylong event was divided into two parts. The morning ceremony recognized those graduating from Anger Management, Criminal Thinking, Victim Impact, Denial Management, and Family Relationships groups, and the afternoon acknowledged those graduating from Substance Use Disorder Treatment (SUDT) groups.

Along with CDW Cueva, DRP Correctional Counselor III Derek Minnatee addressed both groups. “This part is done,” said Minnatee. “Now you have another job to do. You have to use your new tools to help you stay out of prison.”

The theme from the day’s speakers centered on responsibility and hope. “I know from personal experience that rehabilitation happens,” said CDW Cueva. “I had a cousin who did some time in the 1980s and took advantage of in prison programs. He makes more money than I do now.”

Eight inmates received special recognition. Center Point, Inc., Director Lawanda Green presented them with gold foil embellished certificates that read either “Most improved” or “most Inspirational.”

Six graduates stepped behind the lectern to address the audience and offer inspirational words. One speaker shared how his journey through the program was harder than expected.

“I’d been living one way my whole life,” he said. “I had to change my beliefs and thinking.” He shared with the audience that although he was not a lifer, he had spent several decades in and out of prison. “I’m done with that now,” he vowed. “I’ve given my whole life to this prison stuff. I’ve got grandkids out there waiting on me.”

At the close of the afternoon event, one graduate amazed the crowd with a powerful piece of original spoken word poetry, Phoenix Rising. The piece, said the author, was inspired by his experience in his SUDT group.

Following the morning ceremony, the graduates received cake and soda; the SUDT graduates, having invested 325 hours toward completion, celebrated with a fried chicken dinner provided by DRP and Center Point, Inc..