Community Involvement, COVID-19

Avenal State Prison population gives back during pandemic

Masks and hats crafted by inmates at Avenal State Prison.
Avenal State Prison rehabilitative groups pitched in to help community organizations. At left are masks donated to the Boys and Girls Club of Kern County. At right are hats donated to a domestic violence shelter and a veterans group.

Youth program, veterans help the community with masks, hats

By Lt. J. Campbell

Two Avenal State Prison (ASP) rehabilitative groups have found ways to stay positive and give back to outside communities during these uncertain times.

Youth mentors help other organizations

The Youth Offender Program (YOP), led by Jesus Cortez and Rocky Hunt since they arrived at ASP in 2018, gave back to Kern County by making cloth face masks from donated supplies. The face masks were donated to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Kern County’s Armstrong Youth Center.

The youth-centered club has 63 locations though many are temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Over 200 face masks were made by the YOP participants. The face masks were then donated and distributed to Boys and Girls Club staff and members.

Cortez is a Kern County native and wanted to give back to the area where his family lives and works.

Between April and August 2020, with a short break in June, the YOP, consisting of 18 members and about 20 volunteers, made approximately 5,000 masks which were donated to the Coalinga Police Department, Farm Workers in Huron, homeless shelters and long-term care facilities.

The YOP means so much to its members because it allows them the opportunity to give back by helping guide youth down the right path and avoid trouble. Additionally, the group mentors first-time offenders on hazards to avoid and by offering them positive ways to pass their time rather than engaging in violence and other illegal activities.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the YOP would meet weekly to discuss issues that have come up on the facility as well and the member’s personal lives. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the mentors focus on smaller group discussions, consisting of mentors and those being mentored within their own housing unit.

Donations for the face mask materials were received from multiple locations, including retired Correctional Counselor Crenshaw, members of the Guiding Rage into Power (GRIP) group, and many family members. This was all done with assistance from Correctional Business Manager Loraine Lopez.

Incarcerated veterans help others

The ASP Veterans Group, led by Armando Cordova since his arrival in 2018, crocheted hats for adults and children. The group consists of approximately 15 inmates and originally started on Facility A, prior to Cordova starting the group on Facility B.

The children’s hats were donated to the Margaree Mason Center in Fresno and the adult hats were donated to the Veterans Affairs in Fresno.

Learn more:

  • The Margaree Mason Center offers 24/7 crisis and emergency safe housing services for the most vulnerable adults and children experiencing domestic violence.
  • The Fresno Vet Center offers individual group counseling for veterans, service members and their families, bereavement (grief) counseling, family counseling for military related issues, community outreach and education, as well as many other programs geared to assist Veterans and their families.

The materials for the hats were partially bought by members’ families and donations from the group sponsor, Mrs. Moonie. A large portion of the materials were donated by Roberta Fuller and her church out of Escondido.

According to Cordova, the Veterans Group has evolved and become involved in more charitable activities since Dee Lovette became Community Resource Manager (CRM) at ASP. “She has been great to work with,” said Cordova.

Cordova is a former Marine. He said the Veterans Group is important to him and others in the group because of communication.

“Veteran’s talk amongst one another in a way they understand, and a way most others would not,” he said.

Cordova went on to express how important the ability for members of the Veterans Group to share their experiences has been for everyone involved.

Due to COVID-19, the group has been unable to meet. Cordova is looking forward to the end of the pandemic and for things to get back to normal.

Cordova is also involved in the Citizenry Duty and Pride Group. This group delves into discussions on current events going in the world such as racism and discussions about social injustice.

Learn more about CDCR’s Community Involvement.