Jul 8, 2011 1:48 AM by Ariel Wesler
25 former state prison inmates have set their sights on a better future after graduating today from a life skills program in Santa Maria.
The program at the "Day Reporting Centers" helps parolees re-enter society in Santa Barbara County. The pilot programs began last year in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara. Since then, nearly 250 parolees have enrolled.
As the graduates get their certificates, they're also getting a fresh look at life--free from their criminal pasts. Many often feel lost and alone, leading to California's soaring recidivism rate.
"That's true. Where am I supposed to go? said Luis Ramirez, a graduate.
70 percent of inmates return to prison within three years.
"You are going to help defeat the stereotypes that a lot of people have about the formerly incarcerated," said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.
Now, they're getting a second chance.
"I feel like a human being. I made a mistake and I regret it," Ramirez said.
About 100 parolees are active in the program at any give time. 40 percent are either employed or attending school full-time. Participants set individual goals, like more education, job training, and coping skills.
"My goal was to find tools to stay clean, sober, and to live out here in the community," said Sophia Lopez, who's also celebrating her graduation from the program.
Sheriff Brown passed on this advice to the graduates: Find a hero.
"You need to find somebody who is either living now or lived in the past, who lived their life in such a way that it inspires you to do the right thing and live the right way," he said.
In the last year, the program has provided more than 2800 hours of community service to local non-profit and public service organizations.
"They start feeling a sense of self worth as a result of doing that community service," said John Treur, community service coordinator.
And Ramirez is hopeful.
"I'm pretty sure that there's going to be something out there that I can do."
Sheriff Brown says programs to motivate and rehabilitate are so important, especially now when many inmates are being released early to relieve jail overcrowding statewide.
25 parolees also graduated from the Santa Barbara DRC, last Thursday at Elings Park in Santa Barbara.
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