Incarcerated people share experience with youth
Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF) had some new arrivals of a different sort recently. Eleven students from Phoenix Secondary Academy in Fresno arrived to participate in the CCWF Youth Diversion Program (YDP).
YDP had been on hold at CCWF during the COVID-19 pandemic. After a long pause, CCWF opened its doors back up and Phoenix reached out to participate in the program.
Phoenix has participated in the YDP in the past. Their staff feel it is important for their students to learn about the consequences of bad choices, without the intensity of stereotypical “scared straight” programs. When asked what the students wished to get from the program one replied, “I want to do better when I get home. I want to have a better relationship with my mom. I am going to try and be more respectful.”
What is the CCWF Youth Diversion Program?
YDP is a structured self-help program in which people incarcerated at CCWF introduce youth to the realities of prison life. It also helps the community by working to deter participants from criminal behavior. Another goal is to instill in the youth a respect for the law, themselves, and the communities. As a result, they may be inspired to choose positive alternatives.
YDP is made up of 23 incarcerated facilitators who have been hand-selected through an application and intensive interview process. They are vetted by custody and non-custody staff. Once selected, facilitators are required to maintain a positive program and rehabilitative lifestyle that is modeled in their interactions with the incarcerated population and staff. Several facilitators are certified Alcohol and other Drug and Alcohol Counselors through the Offender Mentor Certification Program (OMCP) at CCWF. OMCP assists in mentoring the youth during their participation in the YDP.
Other YDP facilitators are incarcerated people who have their perspective on rehabilitation and have a desire to help others in their journey as well.
CCWF facilitators share their thoughts
YDP facilitators give the youth participants strategies for making healthier choices when they return home. Presentations include topics such as self-esteem, choices and consequences, anger management, unhealthy relationships, drugs and risky behaviors. The presentations are hand selected based on the group’s needs are. Because of this, much thought, preparation, and passion is put into these visits.
“I can see myself in the child sitting across the table from me. I would do anything in my power so they do not cause the harm that I have to whole communities and families and will continue to cause due to the choices I made. If I can deter these little girls away from lives of crime then my goal is accomplished.”Perla Vasquez, YDP Chair
“I joined YDP to have the opportunity to tell a child she matters, she has value and is worthy of better behavior than she is acting on,” shared Stacey Dyer, who has been involved with YDP for about a year. “If I could say anything to a struggling parent, caregiver, guardian or teacher of that youth, it would be to know how important it is to listen to the child. No matter what is going on with them, just listen. Each child has a different cry for help – some cry, some scream, some fight, some isolate, use drugs or disrespect authority. They are all cries for help in their own language.”
Nanette Packard has been with YDP since 2017. She joined YDP because she knows what it feels like to come from a traumatic background that includes absent caregivers and abuse.
“I also know how it can negatively affect the choices we make and I wanted to share that with the kids to let them see that they can make different choices,” Packard said. “To the caregivers: This child is acting out for a reason. If you listen, they will tell you. Then, you can work together to correct the behavior.”
Youth Diversion Program supported by employees
Flavilla Singleton, Division of Rehabilitative Programs (DRP) Correctional Counselor III (CCIII) is one of the staff facilitators with YDP. Singleton shared that YDP provides an opportunity to help the youth understand why they do what they do, and the consequences of the decisions they make in times of pain and hurt.
“Many youth lack the resources, access or means to reach out for help and this is one way we can be that for them,” Singleton said. “If there is anything that I have learned from this program, it’s that your words are powerful. Parents, teachers, caregivers, guardians, coaches, whoever is an adult figure in a young child’s life: Please be mindful of your words. They stay with people for a lifetime and mold their identity even when you may not have meant it to.”
Warden (A) M. Pallares said he has received positive feedback from principals and other community members about the program. All report seeing a positive change in the participants.
“CCWF will continue to facilitate this program to assist in connecting with youth in our community to have that eye-opening experience,” he said, “in hopes of jump starting them back on the right path,” he said.
Submitted by Lt. S. Rodriguez, on behalf of YDP Staff Facilitators
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