Video by Rob Stewart, TV Specialist
Office of Public and Employee Communications
In line with its mission to successfully reintegrate people in its care back into the community, CDCR is empowering incarcerated people to take an active role in their futures.
Each institution will provide a Self-Assessment Guide, which contains a questionnaire and information on available programs offered at the institution. The guide will assist incarcerated individuals with selecting programs based on their experience, interests, and future goals. They will be able to reflect on what they would like to accomplish both in the short-term and years down the road.
Guiding them along the way, CDCR’s Correctional Counselors will meet with each incarcerated person to assist in program placement. While CDCR continues to use evidence-based tools to identify criminogenic needs and program placement, a new emphasis has been placed on individualizing each journey.
“I’ve always seen the Counselor as being the liaison,” said Theresa Cisneros, Chief Deputy Warden at Substance Abuse Treatment Facility, who oversaw development of the Self-Assessment Tool statewide. “They’re the liaison to get them into programs, to help them, to make them realize that this is for them.”
Counselors will offer guidance and up-to-date information about program curricula and availability, using their expertise to set people up for success in and after prison.
But it’s not just the Counselors putting in the work. People serving time in prison need to be open to sharing their needs and wants, and to committing to positive programming and goal-setting.
“This is their time,” she said. “They need to figure out how they’re going to spend their years here to be a better person.”
The video is also available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/3qWrUX6ZzeU
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One of the big focuses we’ve done is empowering our inmates to own their rehabilitation. So we provide them with all of these programs, all of these vocational, educational areas that they can learn, become a better person. Goals for them is to be able to reintegrate into society, get out, and stay out.
We already have the programs available, but a lot of the inmates were not aware. They didn’t know what was being offered at the institution they were at, they didn’t know what they could work themselves for. So by this program, we introduce the items to them, we let them know what they have options to, we give them every tool that they need to get to the program.
When I first entered prison, things weren’t geared toward what I can do, what I like to do, what my goals really were.
It was just basically you’re in prison, this is the time you have to do, and basically it seemed like it was just, good luck.
And more recently the staff are trying to get to know your goals, and what you might be interested in.
I understand that you’re taking college classes right now.
Yes, I am.
How is that going?
It’s going pretty well.
As a counselor you would rely on the case factors. What’s in his file? Basically what did he come from, what did he used to do before he offended? Where did he used to work/ What kind of skills he had, what kind of violent behavior, or anything to do with his case factors.
So as a counselor you would review that and determine what his next step would be. Now, with this new program, we will get to know him or her. Get to know what they’re about, what did they used to do? Why did they used to do it? And what would they like to do differently? Who are they here for? Who would they like to see when they get out.
To let them know someone cares. It’s up to them to be there for that person and if they don’t have someone out there, they have themselves.
So I decided to live my own life, but the thing is I didn’t know where to start.
I’m in prison, I have a life sentence, where do I begin to change my life? What’s the first step?
I wanted to know what was going on, what these groups were all about, and staff. Some really good staff came into my life.
I got a job working in education, and there was a particular Officer there that was a great help to me, that inspired me to want to do better.
And I started to see that wait a minute, I’m worth something here. I could do something better with my life. So I went from education, getting my GED, to getting in college. I became a tutor, and if I would have known that there were opportunities, if I would have known that hey, this life isn’t over. That I could still have a meaningful and purposeful life in here – then it would have changed everything, my whole perspective, from the beginning. From the moment the judge slammed his gavel and gave me that sentence.
I would have known that my life isn’t over. There’s still hope. That I can change me. that I’m responsible for changing me.
And if I’d had this opportunity, then it would have made everything so much easier, just so much.
Time is very valuable, for me of course, I’m getting older, but for anybody new or younger that is coming in that is fairly new in the system, time is of the essence because before you get out, you’re going to need certain skills. Whether it’s social skills, interpersonal relationship skills, or employment skills and opportunities.
The sooner you can do it the better because you won’t be wasting time on a whole bunch of frivolous things that’s not going to help you in advance, in the future.
IF they don’t do the work, then it’s not going to work. So they have to really, really analyze themselves, understand what they need to do for themselves, take ownership in that.
We’re going to have them sign a contract that they are willing to participate in their own rehabilitation to be a better you.
So we ask for them to be truthful and honest with what they’re doing. Don’t say you want to be a part of this just because everybody else is being a part of that. Join it for yourself and take ownership, and do what you set your mind to do.
That role of staff is very vital. We’re inmates, we can only do so much. But when staff provide the opportunities for us, and allow us to program and do what we want to do to better ourselves and to better our community here in prison, it goes a long way.
I’m the product of staff going out of their way, opening doors, of allowing us to program and do the things that we want to do. That are positive, that impact our community, that help change lives. It’s a really big deal.
There’s no possible way for any person to stay where they’re at when you have opportunities available to you.
I believe that every person, no matter what situation you’re in, has hope. I believe that with hard work and determination, with that will, that desire, that you can have a better life. Even in prison