CDCR this week joins communities and organizations across the country in recognizing National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, acknowledging the journey and courage of crime victims and survivors and celebrating those who advocate on their behalf.
This year’s theme — Support Victims, Build Trust, and Engage Communities — is demonstrated by services provided through CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services (OVSRS).
For a long time, CDCR employee Roberta Sanchez was ashamed of being a crime victim.
She was embarrassed by her bruises, scars, and the psychological, physical and sexual abuse she endured over a 20-year period of being abused by her ex-husband, who is now incarcerated at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.
“I was angry when I heard the words ‘victim’ and ‘survivor,’ because those words made me feel like less than a person,” Sanchez said. “They triggered feelings of shame and embarrassment. It wasn’t until I recognized that surviving made me more than who I was before that I regained my personal power that my abuser stripped from me. I realized that surviving the murder attempt made me stronger in every way, and that made me proud.”
Sanchez was appointed to the Voices for Victims Coalition in February. She often reminds crime victims and survivors of her favorite quote: “There is only honor in being a survivor.”
Giving victims in the community a voice
Sanchez was recently appointed co-chair of the Voices for Victims Coalition located in Sacramento County. She’s also an analyst for CDCR’s Facility Planning, Construction and Management unit,
The coalition’s mission is to ensure that in the pursuit of criminal justice reform the survivors are not forgotten, and the voices of victims are heard. Members serve as liaisons and advocates for victims by sharing their personal stories and supporting legislation, enforcement, funding and resources that will help victims obtain justice.
While the Voices of Victims Coalition supports all victims of crime, Sanchez’s experience speaks to the struggles of domestic violence survivors specifically.
“Unfortunately, many victims of domestic violence, child and elder abuse, sexual abuse and human trafficking are silenced by shame, fear and embarrassment. In our society, people often associate victims of these crimes as people who are in their plight because of drug use, pervasive victim mentality due to generational abuse or as a norm of their particular societal group,” she said.
“What happens when we talk about these experiences, these crimes and their aftermath, is that we normalize the idea that these things happen to everyone. We engage with the idea that people are people, no matter what their circumstance, and that everyone is entitled to live a life where they are heard and where they matter.”
CDCR Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services provides resources
There are thousands of crime victims and survivors who struggle with their own traumatic experiences on a daily basis. To provide support, CDCR offers a number of support services for victims that may help some find healing or restoration for the crimes committed against them.
One of those services is the Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD) program. It’s a process in which the victim of a crime, or the surviving family members, and the offender who committed the offense meet face-to face in a safe and secure setting to provide a pathway for healing and communication.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the VOD preparation process has moved to a virtual environment where designated facilitators can work with the victim and the incarcerated person through live video.
While VOD is not for everyone, it gives victims the chance to explain how the crime impacted their life and express thoughts and feelings about the incident in a safe and controlled environment. It also provides the offender an opportunity to accept responsibility for the action he or she committed and to make amends for what he or she did wrong.
Letters of accountability
CDCR also plans on launching the Accountability Letter Bank program at six state prisons in the coming weeks.
This program allows an offender to write an apology letter to their victim, which is considered an important part of the restorative justice process and can serve a vital role in the healing of the victims, as well as the rehabilitation of the offender. CDCR then facilitates getting the letter to the victim upon the victim’s request.
Feedback from both victim and offender communities has also shown a strong desire for CDCR to implement this apology/accountability letter process.
In addition to these services, OVSRS maintains regular communications with registered victims. They recently assisted Sanchez after her ex-husband attempted to circumvent a no-contact order from the court numerous times.
“OVSRS always responds quickly and staff informs me what measures they are taking to correct the issue,” she said. “It does a lot for my peace of mind knowing exactly what is being done to protect my rights and my family.”
OVSRS supports victims’ rights groups
Additionally, OVSRS collaborates with various community organizations, including Restore Justice, Crime Victims United and The Ahimsa Collective, which further supports victims healing through transformative symposiums, victim support groups and day of healings. Since December 2019, OVSRS has awarded more than $1.3 million in grant funds to vital community partners to empower restorative justice practices across the state.
Building trust and relationships through people
While describing her past experiences and offering advice for crime victims, Sanchez emphasizes the importance of surrounding yourself with people who care. Along with her supervisor and co-workers at CDCR, who have shown her support during occasional episodes of anxiety, she developed an unbreakable bond with a group of local community theater participants.
“Community theater literally saved my life,” Sanchez said. “It was through my involvement with the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival and Sacramento City College’s theater arts department that I began to see myself as a person again, as someone worthy of love and friendship. Theater strengthened a part of myself that I once thought was gone, destroyed by the daily abuse I endured for 20 years.”
After Sanchez’s ex-husband tried to murder her, the people in that group of actors, directors, teachers, technicians, costumers and co-workers surrounded her with support and friendship.
“The environment of acceptance, pride, joy and love that envelopes you in a theater community is unmatched anywhere else,” she said. “Plus, there’s something about the interconnectedness of it all that appeals to me – it’s a family. To this day, seven years later, those people are more than friends, they are my family.”
*More details shared from Sanchez’s story will be published to Inside CDCR later this month.
Learn more about CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services by visiting www.cdcr.ca.gov/victim-services/. Additionally, crime victims can email OVSRS professionals at firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
Story by Office of Public and Employee Communications.