Birds chirping. Butterflies flittering. Ivy inching up the sides of a trellis and the sound of water falling from a beautiful fountain. Three long, low peals of a bell marked the opening of a peaceful sanctuary in an unexpected location – inside the secure perimeter of a California state prison. The garden at California Medical Facility was created for the patients, volunteers, family members and staff of the nation’s first licensed prison hospice. The garden’s June 1 dedication was the result of more than 20 years of visionary work by dozens of CDCR medical and custody staff, administrators, volunteers, incarcerated people and activists to provide quality care to incarcerated patients in their final days.
Standing outside a Vacaville prison, Pastor Raymond Beaty had to take a moment to let what he had just witnessed set in. For an entire morning, he had watched men incarcerated at California State Prison-Solano (SOL) donate box after box, can after can, bottle after bottle of food and hygiene items to people in need. These men, most of whom make at most $20 per month, gave not only their own purchased items, but also handcrafted works of art and more than $1,864 in monetary donations made a dollar or two at a time. “The weight of the sacrifice is a little hard to process,” Beaty remarked.
A team of therapists, correctional staff and incarcerated men are working to bring to light the impact trauma has on criminal behavior and emotional maturity, starting with one high-security prison – California State Prison, Corcoran. “This isn’t about making an excuse for behavior – this is about trying to understand,” said Dr. Stephanie Covington, a famed researcher, writer and lecturer known as a pioneer in the area of gender-responsive and trauma-informed services for women. “This isn’t about being soft – it’s about working smart.”
Newly appointed Office of Correctional Education Superintendent Shannon Swain has traveled the state as deputy superintendent since 2014, witnessing firsthand the positive benefits of correctional education. She’s a firm believer not only in educating students, but also in empowering educators to try new approaches, contribute to the OCE team as a whole, and to keep learning themselves. Swain took the time to share her thoughts on education, rehabilitation, and what it takes to create a positive learning environment, even inside state prison walls.
A lifelong educator and transformer of organizational cultures has stepped in to lead CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitative Programs (DRP) through a huge philosophical shift in the department. “I guess at heart I’m an academic,” said Dr. Brant Choate, who came to CDCR as OCE director in June 2014 following more than two decades in public and private education. “But I don’t want to be typecast as the education guy, because I’m really more of an organizational behavior guy. How do you take an organization at its current status, whether it’s good or bad, and take it to a higher level?”