Ventura Training Center (VTC) Inaugural Class Graduates

Congratulations to the graduates of Ventura Training Center’s first class (01-19)! We are so proud of all your work and accomplishments! Thanks to our partners CALFIRE, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), and California Conservation Corps (CCC) for leading this innovative venture to train and develop participants for careers in firefighting, emergency response, and resource conservation.

Thank you to all our ARC staff and support at VTC. We see here the power of giving people opportunities and we know how much they can give in service of their communities. As graduate Joseph Whalin said on behalf of his class, “let the bridges we’ve burned light the path we follow.” Not tethered to the past, all eyes on the future!


Read on Medium: Interview with Nicole Jeong, Reentry Attorney, Root & Rebound

Nicole Jeong is Root & Rebound’s Reentry Attorney and Manager of Southern California Partnerships. As a result of this partnership, it is our pleasure to have Nicole in our office to provide legal aid to ARC members as they navigate the many barriers they face post-incarceration. Shaka Senghor, Executive Director of ARC, spoke with Nicole about her work. Read the full piece on our Medium site: interview with Nicole Jeong.

ARC Criminal Justice Reforms Signed Into Law

We are thrilled to inform you that Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a series of bills that will create a more just system, improve public safety, and bring hope to thousands of incarcerated men, women and their loved ones across California.

ARC co-sponsored four of these measures (SB 1391, SB 1437, SB 439, and AB 2138), working alongside tireless advocates throughout the state to educate legislators about the importance of these justice reforms. While walking the halls of the State Capitol to advocate for these measures, ARC members showed again what is possible when you provide hope and invest in human life. We know these living examples of rehabilitation and redemption had great impact on California legislators and Governor Brown.

“The Equity and Justice bills signed by Gov. Brown make rehabilitation and community recovery the focus of our criminal justice system,” said Senator Ricardo Lara, who coauthored SB 1391 and SB 439. “Thirty years of harsh sentencing laws resulted in overcrowded prisons without improving public safety. We need to be tough but smart on crime. With these laws, California is reducing mass incarceration through research-based reforms that will contribute to public safety.”

Below are the specific bills:

  • SB 1391 will prohibit 14 & 15 year-olds from being tried in adult court or being sent to adult prison, ensuring that every youth has access to the rehabilitative services the juvenile system can provide. Click here to read Governor Brown’s resonant message on his signing of SB 1391.
  • SB 1437 ends California’s felony murder rule that holds accomplices to the same standard as those who actually committed the crime.
  • SB 439 establishes a minimum age for juvenile court prosecution at age 12, reducing the early criminalization of children. It also ensures alternative pathways to services for children whose behavior is indicative of unmet need.
  • AB 2138 prohibits the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) from denying or revoking a license for the following reasons: a non-serious conviction older than seven years, a dismissed conviction, or a non-conviction act that is not directly related to the qualifications or duties of the profession for which the application is made.

These bills build upon our previous advocacy work in providing second chances to people in the system and further lay groundwork for hope and redemption for those who were young adults when they entered the system.

This is a special time for justice reform work in California. We are enthusiastic about the ways in which opportunities for redemption are manifesting throughout California’ prison system. The enactment of these bills cements California’s position at the forefront of this reform work nationwide.

While helping to fight for the dignity of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, we are continuously inspired by the magnitude of your support. Whether through volunteering your time, your generosity, providing your expertise, or serving as mentors to our members, you let us know each day that you are deeply committed to healing families throughout the state.

We look forward to your continued support as we work to strengthen our communities in California and around the country.

In hope and redemption,

The Anti-Recidivism Coalition

Anti-Recidivism Coalition and Root & Rebound Announce New Partnership to Expand Reentry Legal Services in Southern California

July 11, 2018 – The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) and Root and Rebound (R&R) are thrilled to announce a new partnership – the Southern California Reentry & Advocacy Project – that will pair comprehensive reentry support with high-quality legal services to ensure that individuals returning home from incarceration to Los Angeles County are able to live healthy, fulfilling lives, breaking the cycle of poverty and incarceration.

Since its founding in 2013, ARC has demonstrated a strong track record of providing effective reentry programming and transitional services to help formerly incarcerated individuals live healthy, productive lives once released. ARC provides its formerly incarcerated members with supportive housing, mental health services, education and employment assistance, mentorship, and opportunities for civic engagement. However, ARC staff do not have the legal expertise necessary to support its members in navigating the various legal barriers to reentry documented nationally, including in the areas of identification, voting, employment, housing, public benefits, family, and education.

Without this critical piece, ARC members and other Los Angeles County residents with criminal records face challenges in several areas of life: when they try to obtain identification, access public benefits, secure employment, enroll in higher education, and reunite with their children and other members of their families. Furthermore, with only one attorney for every 8,000 indigent individuals in California, and few civil legal aid organizations offering reentry legal support, there are very few places for members to turn to for help in navigating these challenges.

To address this gap in services and critical need, ARC is partnering with Root & Rebound. Root & Rebound has a unique model that encompasses legal education, advocacy, and systems reform that fills the gap for formerly incarcerated individuals and the community-based organizations and government agencies that support them. R&R’s programs have reached over 35,000 people to date and include both in-person and online legal education and training, the first-ever reentry legal hotline, a prison letter-writing service, an online training hub, and high-impact policy advocacy.

For the Southern California Reentry & Advocacy Project, R&R, which is based in Northern California and works throughout the state, will house one staff attorney at both ARC’s downtown Los Angeles and Sylmar offices, to provide comprehensive legal support to ARC members and their families, including: reentry legal clinics; Know-Your-Rights trainings for ARC members; and legal trainings for community-based partners, law enforcement agencies, academic institutions, and workforce development partners. This partnership was made possible with critical funding from the S. Mark Taper Foundation and the Valley Community Legal Foundation of the San Fernando Valley Bar Association.

“The Valley Community Legal Foundation is pleased and excited to provide financial support to the Southern California Reentry and Advocacy Project, and especially its Sylmar location, assisting the legal needs of reentry individuals and helping them reacclimate into our Southern California valley community, so they can lead constructive and productive lives,” said Laurence N. Kaldor, President of the Valley Community Legal Foundation.

To lead this partnership, R&R has hired Nicole Jeong as the Reentry Attorney and Manager of Southern California Partnerships. Nicole received her J.D. from Yale Law School in 2011. Prior to joining R&R, Nicole was a staff attorney in the Pro Bono Department at Legal Services NYC, the largest provider of civil legal services in the country. Nicole was also a general litigation associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York and Morrison & Foerster in Los Angeles, as well as a law clerk to the Honorable Jesus G. Bernal of the Central District of California. During law school, Nicole participated in the Community Reentry Clinic, worked as a summer law clerk at the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office, and served as an editor on the Yale Law Journal and Yale Journal of Law & Feminism. Nicole received her B.A., magna cum laude, in Sociology from the University of Southern California. She is an attorney licensed to practice in California and New York.

Katherine Katcher, Founder and Executive Director of Root & Rebound, shared her enthusiasm for the collaboration: “ARC is a dream partner for our organization for their high-quality services and support and the wonderful community they have created. We feel so lucky and honored to be working alongside and in partnership with them. Together, we look forward to both serving their members and providing greater capacity building resources and trainings for the wider Southern California community.”

ARC Executive Director Shaka Senghor shared, “We are excited to work in unison with Root and Rebound and look forward to fostering a long-term relationship that allows our organization to better serve our members. It’s a great day when two organizations collaborate to create pathways to success for the women, men, and families they serve. Nicole’s presence in our office provides ARC with the confidence that we can meet the legal needs of our members, ensuring their success.”

ARC and R&R are thrilled to announce this partnership to advance the civil rights of Southern Californians impacted by incarceration and empower formerly incarcerated individuals to live healthy, successful lives upon returning home.

For questions about the Southern California Reentry & Advocacy Project or opportunities to get involved, please contact Nicole Jeong at

The S. Mark Taper Foundation, founded in 1989, is a private family foundation dedicated to enhancing the quality of people’s lives by supporting nonprofit organizations and their work in our communities.

The mission of the Valley Community Legal Foundation is to support law-related programs that assist children, families, domestic violence victims and those in need; enhance community access to the courts; provide educational opportunities and scholarships to students who demonstrate a commitment to law-related studies; and, recognize and honor the achievements of law enforcement and firefighters.

ARC Announces Shaka Senghor as its New Executive Director

April 24, 2018

Dear ARC Friends and Allies,

Over the last year, as our organization planned for the transition of our Founder Scott Budnick, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) has undergone an extensive and thoughtful search to identify its next Executive Director. With guidance from our outstanding Board of Directors, ARC worked with Koya Leadership Partners and gathered valuable insight and direction from its staff and formerly incarcerated members to find a candidate who is committed to ARC’s values of redemption, social justice, and empowerment of system-connected individuals. ARC’s Board and staff are thrilled to announce Shaka Senghor as its new Executive Director.

Shaka is a gifted artist, a passionate leader, and a strategic advocate for criminal justice reform. He possesses a deep and unyielding compassion for the men, women, children, families, and communities who have been impacted by the juvenile and criminal justice systems, grounded in his own experience of having spent 19 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections. He has shared his story, both in his New York Times best-selling memoir “Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison” and in news articles, television pieces, and lectures around the world, including through TED Talks and Google Zeitgeist. In doing so, Shaka has contributed to our understanding of the inner workings of the U.S. prison system and the changes that need to take place in order for those who become involved in it to reach their fullest potential.

Formerly the Director of Strategy and Innovation at partner #cut50, Shaka has helped lead several successful criminal justice reform campaigns to reduce the prison population and improve community health. Van Jones, President and Co-Founder of #cut50 and Founder of The Dream Corps, Rebuild the Dream, Green For All, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Color of Change says, “We at the Dream Corps were proud to be able to hire Shaka soon after he came home. He has been an integral part of our team, helping us to build #cut50 into a national force. We know that his contributions to ARC will be equally profound. We look forward to continuing to collaborate in every way we can to end the scourge of mass incarceration.”

Shaka is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2017 Rev. Cecil Williams Legacy Award, 2016 EBONY Power100, 2016 Ford Man of Courage, 2016 NAACP Great Expectations Award, 2015 Manchester University Innovator of the Year, and 2012 Black Male Engagement (BMe) Leadership Award. He was recently recognized by the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) as a Soul Igniter in the inaugural class of the SuperSoul 100, a dynamic group of trailblazers whose vision and life’s work are bringing a higher level of consciousness to the world around them and encouraging others to do the same.

Shaka was a 2014 TED Prize finalist for The Atonement Project. He is a MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow alumnus, and former Fellow in the inaugural class of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Community Leadership Network. He has taught at the University of Michigan and shares his story of redemption around the world. He is the father of two adult children who live in his hometown of Detroit and a six-year-old son, Sekou, who lives with him in Los Angeles.

Shaka has shared with great exuberance his forward-thinking vision as the newest member of the ARC family: “It’s an honor to lead an organization that works tirelessly on behalf of system-impacted men, women, and children, to ensure they return home healthy, whole, and employable. I am looking forward to helping grow ARC’s programs, continuing the leadership development of its members, and working closely with our partners to transform the system and create safer communities.”

Shaka(Final) -3 (2).jpg
Shaka’s appointment as Executive Director is particularly exciting for ARC’s formerly incarcerated staff members. ARC’s Inside Coordinator Jose Gonzalez shared, “The fact that the title ‘Executive Director’ and ‘formerly incarcerated’ can be in the same sentence describing one person, gives those of us with similar experiences hope.” ARC’s Director of Inside Programming, Sam Lewis, added, “It’s really great that the next Executive Director of ARC is a formerly incarcerated person. This definitely demonstrates that our organization believes in the leadership of the men and women we serve.”

In mid-May, ARC Founder Scott Budnick will transition to serve as full-time President and Chief Executive Officer of Good Films, a film and television production company focused on developing projects that promote social change through coordinated advocacy and action campaigns. While Good Films will develop projects that highlight a range of social issues, its first project will be the film adaptation of Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” in partnership with Warner Bros.

“We couldn’t have asked for a more capable, inspiring leader to take over the role of Executive Director,” says Founder Scott Budnick of Shaka. “Shaka is a powerful advocate for criminal justice reform, and with first-hand experience of the system, he brings a deep understanding of this work. I’m confident that he will guide our organization in fulfilling our mission and create new opportunities for the men and women we serve. ARC is incredibly lucky to have Shaka at the wheel.”

We are thrilled to welcome Shaka to the ARC family and look forward to continuing our work of changing lives and creating safer, healthier communities together.

In spirit and gratitude,

The Anti-Recidivism Coalition

ECMC Grantee Spotlight Highlighting the Anti-Recidivism Coalition

The following article series, developed by the ECMC Foundation, highlights the Foundation’s support of ARC’s Second Chance Union Training Program. See the full series here.

By Mai Tran

12/12/17 – In 2016, ECMC Foundation partnered with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) and funded its pilot, the Second Chance Union Training Program. Comprehensive and lasting 12 weeks, the pre-apprenticeship program combines career and technical training with supportive services to prepare participants for guaranteed paid apprenticeships in the construction and building trades.

After the success of the program’s first two cohorts, ARC has secured funding from Los Angeles County to continue and is also planning to expand into additional career pathways.

“This is exactly what we hope for in our grant investments. The Foundation invests in programs and initiatives that are innovative and have the potential to make an incremental impact in the lives of learners,” said ECMC Foundation President Peter Taylor. “Once proven successful, we want our grantee partners to be able to secure funding for their program from additional sources. ECMC Foundation provides launch capital, which for many organizations is the biggest hurdle.”

This article series is a look at the program’s success and how it moved from concept to proven practice and now to expansion.


ONE: Two Unlikely Forces – Hollywood and Philanthropy – Partner During the Holidays To Improve Educational Outcomes and Reduce Recidivism

Scott Budnick, founder and president of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, found it difficult to secure capital for his innovative pre-apprenticeship program for formerly incarcerated individuals. Upon learning more about the concept, ECMC Foundation President Peter Taylor and the team agreed to invest in Budnick’s program, in large part because of the team’s belief that it is important for philanthropy to take risks on new ideas.

Read the full feature >


TWO: Albert Corona Credits Anti-Recidivism Coalition Pilot Apprenticeship Program for His Success

It turns out ECMC Foundation President Peter Taylor’s bet on Scott Budnick’s pre-apprenticeship program at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), has paid off. To date, ARC has enrolled 58 formerly incarcerated members across two cohorts; and of those 47 have completed the pre-apprenticeship program. A total of 36 participants have been placed directly into paid apprenticeship programs across eight unions. Last month program participant Albert Corona visited ECMC Foundation to share his success story.

Read the full feature >


THREE: Pilot Proves Successful, Leads to Expansion and Funding from LA County

All the buzz of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition’s (ARC) pre-apprenticeship program caught the attention of Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. Under Solis’ direction, LA County committed $350,000 to support the continuation of ARC’s Second Chance Union Training Program. Funds went towards supporting the third cohort, which graduated in August 2017 and also the fourth cohort, which will begin in early 2018. ARC also plans to expand into additional career pathways.

Read the full feature >

CDCR Update: Re-Notice of the Proposition 57 Regulations


November 29, 2017 (916) 445-4950

CDCR Issues Amended Proposition 57 Regulations

SACRAMENTO – Today, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) published a re-notice of the Proposition 57 regulations. The public will be given a 15-day period to submit comments on these revisions.

The revised regulations are the result of a previous public comment period. The Office of Administrative Law (OAL) had approved emergency regulations for Proposition 57 in April. CDCR received comments from approximately 12,000 individuals earlier this year, and the department has worked diligently to prepare responses to these comments, which will be provided to OAL in a final statement of reasons, per the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) process.

“Our decisions were not made lightly nor were they made in a vacuum. CDCR heard arguments representing a wide range of views, and concluded that many of the suggested changes would be contrary to existing law or would result in disparate treatment of inmates,” said CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan. “Our intent is to incentivize inmates to participate in rehabilitative and self-help programs that will make them better individuals, and to do so in a way that enhances public safety. I remain committed to putting in place a fair credit system that acknowledges good behavior and hard work.”

In the re-noticed regulations, credit-earning opportunities continue to be awarded prospectively (except for the Educational Merit Credits) to inmates for good behavior and successful program participation and completion, since inmate participation and documentation of programming was not uniform prior to Proposition 57. In addition, Third-Strike inmates will not be included in the nonviolent offender parole review process.

The Proposition 57 regulations include an increase in credit-earning opportunities for inmate participation in in-prison programs and activities, as well as parole consideration for nonviolent offenders once they have served the full-term of their primary offense. The emergency regulations approved in the spring have allowed CDCR to fully implement the provisions of the proposition, including the expansion of the Good Conduct Credits, which began on May 1, 2017; the nonviolent offender parole review process on July 1, 2017; and the credit-earning opportunities for Milestone Completion, Rehabilitative Achievement, Educational Merit, and Extraordinary Conduct, which went into effect on August 1, 2017.

The revised text of the regulations codifies the historic reform overwhelmingly passed by voters in November 2016 and gives inmates a strong incentive to participate in and complete rehabilitative programs. Furthermore, the most dangerous offenders remain in

prison; taxpayer dollars are spent as prudently as possible; and we avoid the release of offenders by the court due to the federally-imposed population cap on CDCR.

Proposition 57 does not apply to condemned inmates and those serving life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentences.

Read the Proposition 57 revised regulations, as well as responses to the top issues raised during the public comment period.

For more information, visit



Proposition 57 Regulations – Public Comment Period: Responses to Frequent Comments

 Proposition 57 – Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 – Fact Sheet

What It Feels Like to Be a Teen in Solitary Confinement

Ending The Practice Is A Big Deal For Juvenile Justice Reform

Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy

Jaki Murillo was 12 years old when she first entered the juvenile justice system in California. When she was 9, she tells Teen Vogue, she was arrested for making “terrorist threats” after telling a teacher that she was going to send her uncles to hurt the teacher; she was then put on probation. A few years later, Jaki started running away from home and skipping school, a violation of her probation. At 12, she was sent to a juvenile detention hall in Los Angeles.

When she arrived there, she was immediately placed in a secure housing unit (SHU), also known as room confinement or solitary confinement. It was due to her age — because she was under 14, she was not able to be in “general population” with the rest of the minors in the juvenile hall due to departmental protocol at the time. Jaki was kept locked in her room all day, and only allowed out of the room for two hours a day. Even then, she describes her interactions as limited to “TV and food” — and only with the adult staff who would facilitate both of those things. As a young juvenile offender, the confinement that Jaki experienced was meant to keep her safe from older youth in general population. But the true effect she remembers was that she was isolated, largely barred from interacting with others.

For various reasons, Jaki stayed in the juvenile hall longer than she had anticipated, and because of her age, that meant more time in SHU. “I was supposed to be there for three months and it ended up being over a year,” Jaki tells Teen Vogue.

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Jaki recalls how alone she felt, isolated in her cell without contact. There were times she would scream for hours on end out of anger or frustration. There were times she would throw her food or just bang on her cell door over and over and over again, for lack of anything else to do. She had hardly anyone to talk to.

Eventually, she says, “I was in there for so long that I got used to it.”

Spokespeople for the LA County Probation Department and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told Teen Vogue that a lot has changed since the time Jaki was in the system. The LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion in 2016 to restrict how solitary confinement is used in the county’s juvenile detention facilities, like where Jaki was, and the state has enacted reforms based on a 2016 state law and also as part of a legal settlement, a spokesperson said.

However, justice advocates say more needs to be done on the issue. “As long as there is one child in one facility who is being unnecessarily isolated, we can do better,” Cheryl Bonacci, director of communications and program director for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) and a former Catholic chaplain in the juvenile system, tells Teen Vogue. “We must continue to evolve the way we see and treat our children in the criminal justice system, listen to how they got to where they are, and work together as a community to help them heal in order to be able to move forward productively.”

The effort to end solitary confinement — the practice of isolating people in a closed cell for 22 to 24 hours a day — for minors is growing around the country. The 2016 California law limits the use of room confinement for juveniles in detention. Now, room confinement in California is banned for youth as a form of punishment, and only allowed in narrow circumstances, such as for the safety of the youth or staff — and even in those cases room confinement is limited to four hours. Over two dozen states and the District of Columbia now have laws that limit or prohibit solitary for youth, and others have seen a reduction in the use of solitary confinement for minors as a result of litigation, as has happened in Wisconsin and Illinois. In 2016, President Barack Obama issued a presidential memorandum banning the use of solitary confinement for minors in the federal prison system. However, the majority of minors presently in custody are in state, county, and city jails and prison systems — and it’s up to individual states to determine whether the practice can be used in their jurisdiction.

There are a number of reasons that a young person in custody might be placed into solitary confinement. While solitary is sometimes used to isolate and punish children who are fighting, causing disturbances, or otherwise acting out in detention facilities, minors can also find themselves in solitary confinement as a means of protecting them from other children in a detention center, during initial processing until a facility determines how best to manage a seemingly disruptive child, or even for medical reasons, such as having contracted a contagious disease or having expressed suicidal ideation.

2003 survey by the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that one-third of all youth in custody had been held in solitary at some point. And 87% of those children were held in solitary for more than two hours, with 55% of those children being held for longer than 24 hours. A 2009 DOJ report found that 62% of minors in juvenile detention centers who died by suicide had a history of room confinement.

Advocating for Change From the Top Down

This year, both chambers of Congress have introduced bills to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), a law that expired almost 10 years ago. Back in May, the House of Representatives passed the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2017 with broad bipartisan support, including the 14 Democrats and nine Republicans who co-sponsored the bill alongside its original sponsor, Rep. Jason Lewis, a Republican from Minnesota. The bill includes measures aimed at reforming the juvenile justice system. Proposed initiatives include community-based gang prevention programs and new measures to ensure that kids can’t be detained in the system for “status offenses,” which are behaviors like skipping school or running away from home that are against the law for minors but not adults.

A few months after the House’s bill passed, the Senate passed its own version in August. Because each chamber of Congress passed slightly different bills, it is now up to a conference committee, comprising representatives from both the House and Senate, to agree on a final version of the bill before it goes to President Trump for his signature.

“Reform on this issue is past overdue. I’m pleased that we were able to pass this thoughtful legislation in a bipartisan way to help ensure a better future for our children,” Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), one of the most vocal champions for juvenile justice reform in Congress, said in a statement after the bill’s passage in the House in May. “We cannot lose another generation of children to failed criminal justice policies.”

This is just one of several bills that Cárdenas introduced this spring aimed at reforming the juvenile justice system in the U.S. Another, the Protecting Youth from Solitary Confinement Act (H.R. 1926), aims to ban the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons for minors. It would not only make permanent at the federal level the work done by President Obama’s presidential memorandum, but help model and inspire states and local municipalities to ban the practice in their own systems.

“All the studies show that young minds are still developing and still impressionable. Solitary is one of the worst things we can do to any human being and it has really negative effects for juveniles,” Cárdenas tells Teen Vogue. “We need to stop being the only [member country of the United Nations] that does solitary for minors.”

“We’re not good at listening to best practices and learning from other countries,” Cárdenas adds. “Rehabilitative processes have been studied here in the U.S., but we don’t implement them. Solitary for juveniles is one of the worst things you can do to a young person’s brain, psyche, and abilities, [and] to their ability to feel that eventually, they are going to be cared for. When you do that to a young human being, you’re increasing the chance that they won’t be very well-suited when they get back out in society. It’s just a glaring example of what’s wrong with our criminal justice system.”

The Long-Term Effects of Solitary Confinement

It’s certainly true for Jaki, now 26. She says that today, she is too comfortable being alone, inside, in the dark. She’s reluctant to leave the house, even to do seemingly fun things like take her children to the park. Solitary ended up providing its own dangerous sense of comfort. The effects of having spent time in solitary, and in the system, have a lasting impact on her to this day.

“I don’t want anyone to ever think that’s OK to just be in a room by yourself,” Jaki says of her hope for seeing the practice banned everywhere in the U.S. “I do not believe [juveniles] should be in a room for the endless amount of hours and [be] treated like they’re nothing.”

For example, Jaki says it took her two years from the time she ultimately left detention to finally feel comfortable being in big crowds. Her experience of having been in solitary confinement left her wary of large groups of people and seemingly everyday socialization. The only place she really felt comfortable after getting out, she says, was in her room, by herself. Being isolated in a small, empty room eventually felt like home.

“For a kid to feel that was all they have — it messed me up,” Jaki says.

Since getting out of custody, Jaki has completed her GED and begun professional coursework. She has plans to train as a mortician with the hopes of starting a nonprofit where she can provide no-cost and low-cost mortuary services to families whose children have died while incarcerated.

Looking back on her time in the system, Jaki says she wishes that instead of being put into solitary confinement, she would have had access to family system–oriented counseling and therapy. Without therapy for both children and families, she says, no one is able to learn how to change behaviors and improve relationships.

“Sometimes It Was Unbearable”

Jesse De La Cruz was first arrested at the age of 14 for possession and sales of drugs, he tells Teen Vogue. At the age of 15, a more serious juvenile conviction got him sentenced to a state juvenile detention facility in California. He was in custody for four and a half years. During that time, he experienced room confinement multiple times. His longest stretch in room confinement lasted three months, he says, and had him alone in his cell for 23 hours a day (a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told Teen Vogue that the state’s juvenile justice system has since changed its policy on room confinement). For one hour a day he was allowed to either be outside or could shower. The outside area was fenced in — “like a cage,” Jesse remembers — and both outdoor time and showers were monitored by staff.

According to Jesse, he was being targeted while in general population by gang members, so placing him in solitary was the facility’s way of protecting him.

“Sometimes it was unbearable,” Jesse, now 26, says of his time in room confinement. He describes it as being placed in a “tiny” cell with a concrete slab and a small toilet. The little window in his cell had been blurred out, leaving him without any way to see the outside world.

His experience made it difficult for him to transition into more social situations afterward, both when he was introduced back into general population in the prison and when he exited the system and re-entered life on the outside. He says solitary left him uneasy around authority figures in particular. Even now, he says, “before I approach someone to talk to [them], I have to feed myself thoughts like, This is normal and this is regular.”

He says he wishes the practice of solitary for minors was banned everywhere. For those who experience it, he says, “you start building up negative thoughts about yourself, others, the world.”

The nonpartisan American Bar Association itself has published several pieces on its website coming out against the practice of solitary confinement for minors, including a recent piece that points to the developmental impact that solitary, even for short periods of time, can have on the still-maturing adolescent brain. According to the article, it is because of this that solitary does more damage to a juvenile brain than an adult brain, as teens’ brains are developmentally less able to cope with the psychological effects of isolation.

How Federal Laws Can Inspire States to Change

Cárdenas’s legislation might just signal some kind of tide shift on the practice. The congressman says his office has been receiving calls since he introduced the bill to ban solitary for minors on the federal level from those wondering how it would look at the state and local level.

“My team is always ready to help coach through to anyone who wants to make an argument for why this is something both Republicans and Democrats need to listen to and do something about in their own environment,” he says. “It’s encouraging that we’re getting these inquiries.”

When it comes to seeing juvenile criminal justice reform taken up on a broader level in the U.S., however, one thing that concerns Cárdenas is the actions and policies of the Trump administration. A member of Cárdenas’s office tells Teen Vogue that while Rep. Cárdenas has not asked to meet with President Trump on this issue yet — the congressman met with both Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the issue during their respective campaigns for the presidency — he hopes that President Trump will assemble members of Congress most actively involved in juvenile justice reform to discuss how to best implement policies. The congressman says he would certainly be open to attending such a gathering, should Trump call for one.

“I hope Trump does not change the executive order Barack Obama signed,” Cárdenas says. “I hope that someone on his team brings this issue to his attention that understands it from a fiscal vantage point. We spend $80 billion a year in this country on incarceration — not prosecution, not other facilities and other aspects of the justice system. Just incarceration alone costs $80 billion. If you’re a fiscal conservative, you should be for good juvenile justice reform to reduce the recidivism rate instead of opting to spend more money on incarcerating people.”

Thus far, Trump’s stance on juvenile justice reform has been mixed. While Trump did send his son-in-law and special advisor, Jared Kushner, to discuss criminal justice reform with several senators in March, he was vocal about the need to address what he called “American carnage” and “the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential” in his Inaugural Address back in January. The regression to this “tough on crime” language of the 1990s has only been bolstered by Trump’s pick of Jeff Sessions, the former Alabama senator, to lead the Department of Justice as attorney general. Sessions himself was not actively supportive of the JJRA reauthorization while in the Senate, and has already reintroduced the old sentencing regulations that have been abandoned by the Justice Department in recent years.

Teaching Change

What minors in the system need is the same as any other child — not to be locked away without any context, but to have someone to talk to, to help them understand themselves and their situation, ARC’s Cheryl says.

“Our approach to incarcerating children could look more like parenting to me,” Cheryl says. “If we don’t listen to our children and help them develop tools along with learning consequences, we miss the opportunity to truly teach.” She emphasizes that only isolating a child, for instance, is meaningless if a parent doesn’t also sit down with that child and teach them how to deal with difficult situations and emotions.

That’s why Cheryl insists that if a child is put into solitary, the system fails when “we just say, ‘You’re a bad kid.’ Why don’t we say, ‘What’s going on?’”

Jesse, who currently works and attends school full-time and hopes to get involved with community development or the foreign service some day, echoes Cheryl’s sentiment: “I feel that solitary confinement, if you spend enough time in there or all your time in there, there’s no positive. You’re not learning [anything].”

Jesse adds that a young person can’t be expected to grow or learn while in custody if you spend all of your time in complete isolation. Solitary confinement, he says, is an experience that denies young people the opportunity to make any kind of change in their behavior by restricting a person’s ability to interact with others and learn for the better.

While it remains to be seen whether Congress will pass the bill to ban solitary for minors on the federal level and whether state legislatures will follow suit with similar bans of their own if they haven’t already, Jaki says there is one big thing that can be done in the interim: talk to people like her about their experiences, give space for their stories, and allow them to be told in their own words.

Solitary confinement, Jaki says, “only changes you for the worse, but no one even wants to ask you about it. I don’t ever hear people having a conversation about what it is.”

Related: How the School-to-Prison Pipeline Works

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Woman to Watch: Film director and philanthropist Patty Jenkins

Arturo Garcia

October 28, 2017

Before the 2017 release of the blockbuster hit “Wonder Woman,” screenwriter and director Patty Jenkins was relatively unknown. Her climb to success is an inspiration not only to those who aspire to work in the film industry but to all women as well. She may have experienced a slow start. However, it was a steady rise to where she is right now, making her one of the women to watch.

Before breaking into the film industry

Born in Victorville, California, as Patricia Lea Jenkins in 1971, her childhood mostly involved studying and living in places like Germany, Thailand, and Kansas. Her father’s job as an Air Force captain being the reason for the latter. She also learned a great deal from her father, particularly about being reliable, confident and calm. She applied these lessons in her directing career, which is proven effective given the results of her directorial efforts.

Jenkins spent her college years studying painting at the Cooper Union in New York City. However, during her attendance there, she also studied experimental filmmaking. Following her graduation, she focused her efforts on music videos and commercials. Nine years later, she attended the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and took a master’s degree in directing.

In the recent digital release of “Wonder Woman,” Jenkins detailed how she entered the film industry. Her passion for film led her to write some sort of an application letter to the makers of her favorite movies, asking them if she could work under their tutelage for free.

A cameraperson gave Jenkins the opportunity to work and train under him. She did not receive any wages for more than six months. But she then started getting paid, and more projects came her way until her career in the film industry became a bit more stable.

Initial success with “Monster” and television projects

Her name first emerged when she wrote and directed “Monster.” It was a critically acclaimed biographical crime drama film starring Charlize Theron as serial killer Aileen Wuornos. The film debuted in 2003 as the closing movie for the AFI Film Fest. In 2004, it received a limited release in the United States.

Made for a budget of $8 million, “Monster” became a box office success. It gained $34,469,210 and $25,909,374 at the domestic and overseas box office, respectively, bringing the worldwide gross to $60,378,584.

SEE ALSO  What went wrong with the U.S. healthcare?

Aside from critics raving over the film, it received several nominations and awardssuch as Movie of the Year at the 2004 AFI Awards. Particularly, Charlize Theron earned many accolades and even won the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. Patty Jenkins was also nominated for a Golden Bear at the 2004 Berlin International Film Festival.

After her success in “Monster,” Jenkins turned to directing episodes of television shows in order to spend more time with her family. Some of her works on TV include episodes of “Entourage” and “Arrested Development.” She also directed the pilot of “The Killing,” for which she got an Emmy nomination.


“Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins has been producing quality work which puts women in the spotlight. (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 2.0)

Making “Wonder Woman”

2010 came, and Jenkins gave her idea for a “Wonder Woman” film to Warner Bros. However, the studio has chosen Michelle McLaren, who directed episodes of “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones,” at the time. When McLaren parted ways with the studio because of creative differences, Jenkins helmed the project, making “Wonder Woman” her second film. She turned it into a period piece, which the studio allowed.

Jenkins’ directorial effort in “Wonder Woman,” made quite a buzz upon announcement. She became the first female director of a live-action superhero film released by a major studio, giving her the edge to stand out in a male-dominated industry. The studio trusted Jenkins and gave her a production budget of $150 million, and she did not disappoint.


After the release of “Wonder Woman,” Jenkins earned further recognition as the film broke several records at the box office. It became the highest-grossing live-action film directed by a woman. With the Israeli actress Gal Gadot as the titular character, the film also earned the biggest domestic opening weekend for a female director. It currently has a worldwide gross of $821,629,810, and on its opening weekend, it earned $103,251,471 domestically.

She even helped save the DC Extended Universe from sinking further when it comes to critical reception. Fans and critics alike loved the film. This was very much unlike the lukewarm reception for predecessors “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Gadot’s character first appeared in the latter.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Jenkins said that directing “feels like a very natural job for a woman. It’s incredibly maternal in a way.” However, there is the vibe of decreasing opportunities for female filmmakers. But her recent achievements could make waves and help other studios consider giving more film projects to female directors.

Bumping up the paycheck

Following the success of “Wonder Woman,” a sequel is obviously in place. But Jenkins already broke another record as she reportedly will get an estimated salaryof $7 million to $9 million for directing the upcoming sequel.

According to Jenkins, she fought hard to receive the same amount of pay as a male director would get on a film project. She stated that women would keep receiving a low pay if they do not do something. Jenkins encourages women to start asking for higher pay, especially if they know that they deserve such a pay.

Anti-recidivism efforts

When her production of “Monster” concluded, Jenkins began conversing with prisoners all over the United States and learned that they are having difficulties in having a normal life after their release. Jenkins stated that people still see them as prisoners. She then talked with Scott Budnick, the producer of the two “The Hangover” films, and became a supporter of Budnick’s Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC).

ARC aims to assist men and women who were recently emancipated from prison to reintegrate themselves into the society. The group even provides mentoring programs, counseling, housing assistance and education. They even teamed up with popular establishments like Home Depot and Starbucks to help former prisoners land jobs.

Budnick said that Jenkins helped them by mentoring ex-prisoners. She also conducted screenings of “Wonder Woman” at a juvenile camp and at a women’s prison. She even held Q&As after screenings to have discussions about empowerment and personal responsibilities.

Jenkins’ anti-recidivism efforts drew the attention of Variety, resulting in her receiving an honor at this year’s Power of Women event. Other honorees include Octavia Spencer, Priyanka Chopra, Kelly Clarkson and Michelle Pfeiffer.

The event recognizes the philanthropic works of women in Hollywood that made a powerful influence to their cause. Variety also featured the honorees on the covers of its October 10 issue.

(Featured image by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 2.0)

Los Angeles Board Of Supervisors Votes To Launch ‘Historic’ Juvenile Diversion Plan

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt an ambitious plan to divert thousands of the county’s youth away from the juvenile and criminal justice systems, connecting them instead to a comprehensive array of supportive services.

Speakers stepped to the microphones to declare their ardent support for the 78-page report, “A Roadmap for Advancing Youth Diversion in LA County,” which provided the framework for the sweeping strategy proposed.

Dr. Robert Ross, CEO of The California Endowment, speaks to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors.

“This is an historic day in the history of justice reform,” Dr. Robert Ross told the board. Ross is president and CEO of The California Endowment, one of the largest foundations in the U.S.

“We know that 80 percent of the youth now being arrested in the county could be diverted to community-based services if the plan is realized,” he said. The county could “lead the nation.”

The report said that 13,665 arrests and citations were issued to the county’s young in 2015, according to the Department of Justice Statistics. And approximately 11,000 of those 2015 arrests — “including status offenses, misdemeanors, and low-level felonies” — would have been legally eligible for diversion in lieu of arrest or citation under the California Welfare and Institutions Code, had the proposed program been up and running.

Ross also told the board that the Endowment had been supporting restorative justice and diversion programs in California communities such as Long Beach, San Diego and Oakland. And they had promising preliminary data, he said, particularly from Oakland.

In the course of these programs, “young people come face-to-face with the people they have harmed,” and then make a plan for “making it right with the folks they’ve harmed,” he said, plus get health services that address many of the their needs. The programs are “proven to work better than incarceration and cost considerably less,” he said.


Michael Nash, director of the Office of Child Protection, said the program will help ensure that foster youth “have equal access” to the advantages and services of diversion

Another enthusiastic speaker was Michael Nash, the former presiding judge of the Juvenile Court, now the director of the county’s Office of Child Protection.

As a judge, he’d long been supportive of youth diversion, Nash said. And now he was “very concerned” by the numbers of youth crossing over from the child welfare system to the juvenile justice system. “But this program,” he said, will help ensure that foster youth “have equal access” to the advantages and services of diversion.

Several of the speakers described the 18-month process of designing the proposed new strategy as an unusually inclusive one, involving law enforcement leaders, local judges, county officials, health experts, community advocates and young people who had themselves been incarcerated.

The point was emphasized by Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition (YJC) who, with her young colleagues, had come before the board many times, often to protest a vote, such as previous motions having to do with plans to expand the county’s jail system.

But on Tuesday, McGill talked of the honor she and other YJC members felt to be “a part of the youth diversion work group,” and how they “fully support” the plan moving forward.

She also highlighted some additional areas of focus her group thought “should be robustly included in the implementation.” They believe it is essential to protect youth from the “databases that track arrests.” This was mentioned in the report, she said, but it would require oversight.

Another of McGill’s concerns had to do with California’s Senate Bill 395, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October. The new law guarantees that every young person of age 15 or under will speak to a lawyer before being interrogated by law enforcement. She stressed the necessity of including LA’s Public Defender’s Office and the Alternate Public Defender’s Office as “key partners moving forward,” so that “even young people who are being diverted have an opportunity to speak to counsel.”

Jessica Ellis, the director of Centinela Youth Services, was also on the subcommittee that created the diversion program-to-be. She told the board how “critical” it was to have “system-involved youth” continue to be part of the “implementation phases” of the project. Centinela Youth Service has partnered since 2013 with the Los Angeles Police Department on a successful restorative justice diversion program, which has frequently been cited as evidence that the newly presented countywide strategy is on the right track.

Peter Espinoza, the director of the county’s Office of Diversion and Reentry, had some suggestions along with his praise: the wish that “our menu of services is robust and diverse” and would include “a very serious focus on education and job readiness.” Most of the work he previously did as Superior Court judge, he added, “was aimed at the intersection of educational failure and justice system involvement.” The new diversion

When  it was time for the five board members to vote,  Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the board’s chairman, asked the board’s executive officer to record a unanimous vote.

“Giving youth access to supportive services as an alternative to arrest and incarceration is both morally imperative and fiscally responsible,” he said later, after the vote was finished.

Motion co-author Janice Hahn agreed: “The best juvenile system is one that keeps kids out of it in the first place.”

This story was written for WitnessLA.

The California Endowment funds coverage in California for Youth Today and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

He Went to Prison for Life at 17. More Than 20 Years Later, His Life Started Over

October 18, 2017

On a summer evening in late June, a few months after he was paroled on what was supposed to be a life sentence, Tyree Dabney returned to the corner of 45th and Western. The West Liquor and the parking lot with the payphones were gone, the doughnut shop was a cash advance place, and there was a new junior high named after Barack Obama. But the changes were mostly superficial.

The car’s AC was broken and heat drifted in through the lowered windows. Dabney had just left his part-time construction job in Torrance and was heading to the halfway house where he lives east of Culver City. When he stopped for the light at Vernon and Western, the traffic backed him up precisely to the burger stand where he almost died when he was 15.

Master Burger was as square and yellow as he remembered it. From his spot in traffic, he could see down the driveway to the alley where he’d escaped that night. Someone had put up a tall metal fence that blocked the exit. Had the fence been there that night he would have had nowhere to run.

The outward signs of gang membership have become more subtle in the years since Los Angeles police began enforcing gang injunctions, court orders that make it a crime for suspected members to congregate in known gang territory. One such hotbed was the Vernon Avenue corridor — home to gangs the Rolling 40s, 46 Top Dollar Hustler Crips and 46 Neighborhood Crips. But Dabney didn’t need to see anyone decked out in blue. “You can tell by where they’re hanging at,” he says.

There was a young man with an easy air about him standing with his back to a wall near the barred window where customers ordered burgers. Gold earring, skinny jeans, a new T-shirt and sneakers bright as fresh linen. “Same gang, different people,” Dabney says.

The traffic light turned green and the cars ahead of him began rolling northward on Western. Dabney kept his eyes on the gangbanger; it was like being shown an alternate reality, one in which he hadn’t been locked up and had never left that corner.

“I was shot in the same spot there,” says Dabney, who has a symmetrical face with round eyes that convey at turns a childlike openness and an adult wariness. There is one single bristle of gray in his trim beard.

He shows three dark scars in the shape of cigar ends rising above his skin at the hip, ankle and leg. He uses short sentences when prodded to relate unpleasant memories: “Place was surrounded. They had AK-47s. I happened to be off to the side and escaped.”

On the morning of Feb. 22, Dabney was jogging around A Yard at the California State Prison at Lancaster when he was called to the prison program office and told he was being released after 23 years. “I was nervous,” he says of his reaction to the news. “I spent more time in jail than I had on the streets.”

Dabney had been waiting 133 days for word from the office of the governor. He got rid of nearly everything in his cell, keeping only an address book, a few letters, and a tracksuit and sneakers wrapped in plastic under his bed. He’d bought the latter in 2014, the day a judge made him eligible for a chance at parole.

Not everyone agreed with the judge’s decision. Those letters under his bed, sealed in a Ziploc bag, include ones addressed to the court from two of his victim’s adult children. He says he has read them many times. “The innocent victim who gets killed leaves without suffering,” one of the letters states. “The innocent victim’s … family, friends … are the ones who suffer.” Another letter says there’s no place for Dabney in society and informs the judge: “Regardless of your decision, I cannot forgive nor forget.”

Asked why he has kept the letters, Dabney says they reminded him of one of the sources of his own anger: not having a father. “I read them and I realized I did the same thing that was done to me — and there wasn’t a reason why.”

It is very uncommon for someone like Dabney — who was sentenced to life without parole for a homicide he committed as a juvenile — to be granted parole in California. Had it not been for recent changes to state law, he almost certainly would have had to be carried out of prison in a box. But in 2013, California became the first state to give a shot at parole to formerly violent offenders who have served long sentences and are deemed to no longer pose a threat to society.

Over the last 25 years, more than 2,600 juvenile offenders in California were sentenced to life in prison. Of them, between 268 and 283 (estimates vary between advocacy groups and state officials) were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Even with the reforms, fewer than 10 juvenile “lifers” have been paroled in California, according to Elizabeth Calvin, a senior advocate in the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. An additional 60 juvenile lifers have become eligible for parole and are going through the parole process, Calvin says.

The underlying premise of the revised law is that even a crime as heinous as the one committed by Dabney shouldn’t carry a mandatory life sentence if the offender was under age.


Tyree Dabney is part of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, an innovative program for ex-cons founded by Hollywood producer Scott Budnick.

In 1994, Dabney had recently turned 17 years old and had no criminal record. “I scalped tickets and sold weed,” he says.

Nineteen-year-old Ricardo Grant was Dabney’s closest friend, a sort of antisocial older brother. Grant beat up boys who gave Dabney trouble at middle school. He taught Dabney how to survive on the street, how to fight, how not to walk with the direction of traffic lest he be shot in the back. They came from similarly broken homes; Dabney, deserted by his father, his mother absent for much of his childhood, quit school and left home in eighth grade. He lived at Grant’s house and hid in the closet when Grant’s grandmother was home.

His voice softens as he recalls the crime. “Rick asked me to help him out.”

Grant had done “lifts” before, armed robberies, though he was no master criminal. Dabney says they drove around aimlessly for a while before stopping at a furniture store near the USC campus. “Long story short: I don’t even think he knew who he was going to rob.”

Dabney says the harebrained plan was for him to pose as a customer and distract the sales lady while Grant lingered at the front. They both went in carrying loaded guns. Dabney recalls that he would hurry out in a daze, dragging his crime partner’s body.

“We go in for the robbery … and he never initiates it,” Dabney says. “The lady shows me bunk beds. I’m standing at the desk. She gives me a pen and I fill out the invoice. I gave her a deposit. I wrote my real name on the invoice. Then the shooting erupts.”

Dabney says his back was turned and his first thought was that they were near Bloods territory and rival gangbangers must have followed them into the store. In truth, the store’s owner had shot Grant once in the chest. Dabney says he dove for cover beside the sales lady, who was the owner’s wife.

The emotion rises in his voice and his sentences shorten: “I take out the gun. Counted to three. Jumped out. I shot toward him. I went down, waited again. Didn’t see him. He was on the ground.”

The car ran out of gas about a mile from the furniture store. Grant made an awful gurgling noise that sounded to Dabney like a death rattle. Dabney pulled his friend’s body from the passenger seat to the curb. He ran into the street and flagged down a bus; the driver called 911.

Dabney was arrested about a month later.

For the first 14 years in prison, a period of life that spanned what would have been his junior year in high school until his early 30s, Dabney says his life was a desert. Sentenced to “life without,” the law required he be locked up at Level 4 — the most violent prisons in California.

Every disagreement was a challenge to one’s manhood. There were stabbings, riots, rapes. Guards shot inmates. Inmates joined gangs. No one in maximum security even knew his name; he went by a nickname bestowed by a gang that today he is too ashamed to tell me.

As a result, he has immense gaps in his knowledge, like a man awakened from a coma. Ask him anything to do with computers or the internet, for one, and he is guarded. “I’m still not too good on computers,” he says. “I was focused on how not to get killed.”

Juvenile offenders who, like Dabney, have been locked up for more than 20 years entered prison at the peak of the tough-on-crime decade. “It was this big wave pushing for more people getting locked up for an incredible amount of time, with very few people getting out,” says Marc Morjé Howard, director of Georgetown University’s Prisons and Justice Initiative.

The stiff sentencing reforms of that time launched the era of mass incarceration, including California’s three-strikes law.

“They entered California prisons at perhaps the darkest point in California prison history,” says Calvin of Human Rights Watch, “with high levels of overcrowding, high levels of violence, decreasing access over the years to programming and treatment. You can talk with anybody who was young when they entered prison in the ’90s and they’ll tell you they walked into prison and everyone, including their lawyer, told them they were never getting out.”

Calvin has worked closely with juvenile offenders serving life without parole in California, including Dabney. She says many of them undergo a kind of personal transformation in their mid-20s. “Something happens that helps them decide I don’t want to live like this anymore. They’re being told this is a sentence to die in prison. Yet many of them make a decision that they’re going to live as if they’re going to be released.”

Dabney says that after a lost decade behind bars, one night he was up late watching TV in his cell at Folsom when Nightline came on with a program about child soldiers in Africa, and it affected him deeply.

“One of the things prison taught me was don’t live your life in fear. A lot of bad things that happen happen because people are living their lives in fear.” —Tyree Dabney

Dabney changed his group of prison friends. (“Started hanging with people trying to teach me something.”) He started to read books, beginning with the self-help section of the library and Anthony Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within. He gravitated to stories about people he found were resilient in the face of great difficulty. People, he says, “who failed and refused to accept the failure.” Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Elie Weisel, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X.

He was struck at how the warlords on the Nightline program became like surrogate parents to the child soldiers, even though in many cases they had killed the boys’ real parents. “They would feed and clothe and shelter the boys, and the boys were loyal to them in return,” he says. “That’s sort of how I became a gang member.”

While still at Folsom, Dabney had a religious conversion. According to state records, he completed a 12-step program for ex–gang members, founded a support group for lifers and stayed violence-free for his final 13 years in custody. In 2012 he was admitted to a pilot program for model inmates and downgraded to a Level 3 area at Lancaster. He worked as a plumber on an inmate construction crew.

“One of the things prison taught me was don’t live your life in fear,” he says. “A lot of bad things that happen happen because people are living their lives in fear.”

Ali Zarrinnam, a presiding commissioner of the Board of Parole, praised the transformation at Dabney’s second parole hearing, on Oct. 13, 2016.

“There are a few individuals, very few, a minority of the population, that change because they want to change,” Zarrinnam said. “Irrespective of … how their life has gone, they just change because they want to become a better human being. And you fall into that class of individuals, and [it is] a testament to your behavior and your work.”

And in the course of an afternoon, Dabney — after spending more years of his life locked up than not — was determined to be fit for the free world again.

“Ultimately, we have made a decision, Mr. Dabney, to grant you parole,” Zarrinnam said, “finding that you … do not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society.”

Of the 392 lifers released by Board of Parole Hearings, 0.8 percent returned to prison with a new term, according to a 2015 report by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The return-to-prison rate for non-lifers was 43.6 percent.

At 7:30 on a Monday morning in late August, a dozen tough-looking men dressed in buttoned-up work shirts and wrinkle-free slacks — and two women in pantsuits — sit in desk chairs arranged in a semi-circle. The stems and loops of inked-in letters and drawings peek above many of their starched collars. A black outline of Darth Vader’s helmeted face glares from the back of one man’s head.

The Anti-Recidivism Coalition occupies the ninth floor of an office building off Pershing Square. The nonprofit is perhaps the preeminent organization in California in the field of re-entry services for the recently incarcerated. The men and women in the office — nearly all of whom have been incarcerated for the better part of their adult lives — are enrolled in ARC’s 12-week “boot camp,” which prepares them for a career in the building trades. Dabney is one of nine ex-lifers (and the sole juvenile lifer) in the cohort of 27.

When I first saw him he was standing in the hallway, a cellphone pressed to his ear, waiting on hold. He was following up with a foreman who had mentioned the possibility of hiring him. “Yes, I’m a new member of the union,” Dabney said. “I’m calling about the construction job with Metro in Burbank.”

Scott Budnick is a Hollywood producer (he did The Hangover movies) and a prominent advocate for youth in the criminal justice system (he was named California’s Volunteer of the Year by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012). Budnick is the ARC’s founder, and he pulled together the boot camp in partnership with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, L.A. Trade Technical College and the L.A./Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council.

Budnick has an unvarnished way of speaking that appears to resonate with members of the program. He says the idea here is simple: “Folks who were formerly incarcerated were not reliable. They did not show up on time. They would relapse and have to go to a rehab or would get rearrested. The building trades and L.A. Federation of Labor said to me if you find the right guys and you train them and you prepare them and they can compete and outwork the rest of the people applying, then these jobs will be available for them. And so we started this training.”

He says he set the bar high for the people in the program. “I want you guys to strive for a career,” he says. “I want you guys to be put into something where you can have a livable wage, you can pay rent, you can have a car, you can raise a family, you can send your kids to school.

“To me it’s like the greatest public safety program, because you can stop the cycle of crime.”

“To me it’s like the greatest public safety program, because you can stop the cycle of crime.” —Scott Budnick, Hollywood producer and prominent advocate for youth in the criminal justice system

Every person who has completed the program — about 50 men and women — has secured a union job in the building trades since the program began, says Isaac Lopez, the program’s coordinator.

Dabney was one of five members from the program who completed a grueling physical test the previous Friday at the Laborers’ Local 300 Union. Like participants in a cage match in mixed martial arts, the men had a singular focus on not tapping out. You arrive late for the 6 a.m. start time, the union taps you out. (ARC members were waiting outside at 3 a.m.) Fail the drug test, they tap you out. Struggle to haul a 60-pound bag of cement or a 12-foot plank or cement block after cement block after cement block — get your stuff, leave your helmet and get out of here; this is not for you.

Sergio Rascon, business manager of Laborers’ Local 300 Union, says the program is a testing ground to see who can do the work. “We want to make sure that people who are interested in it understand and know what they’re getting into.”

All five of the ARC members made it through. No one from the program has ever tapped out.

There is a lot of work in L.A.’s booming construction trade: the $2.6 billion Rams stadium in Inglewood, the $2 billion Crenshaw/LAX Metro line, the $1.8 billion Regional Connector, the $6.3 billion Purple Line extension. The men and women dream aloud of the union wages for electricians, plumbers, pipe fitters, sheet metal workers, laborers, ironworkers, painters and operating engineers.

“Right now we’re in the biggest building boom since the 1920s,” says Ron Miller, executive secretary of the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council. “A lot of our members are baby boomers and within five to 10 years of retirement. We have to supplement our ranks.”

Miller says the building trades are working with various programs to recruit more women and more veterans. But there’s nothing like its partnership with the ARC.

“This is not a job readiness program, this is not a job handout program — this is an economic opportunity program,” says Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “It’s up to the individual to grab hold of that opportunity and take full advantage of it. I really see the role of the labor movement as helping to train workers to gain opportunities that they may not have had ever before.”

Tony Vergara got a life sentence when he was 18 years old and served 23 years. Vergara completed the electricians boot camp with IBEW Local 11 and gave a valedictory speech at the ARC’s graduation ceremony at L.A. Trade Tech.

“No one takes a chance on you,” Vergara said of the difficulties he experienced finding work. “You either check the box or lie. Thank you for giving us a chance and an opportunity to succeed.”

Dabney says people look at him through a different filter after he tells them he went to prison. The scars, the tattoos, the muscles, how he stands and how he holds a fork. Everything looks different the moment they know.

“I used to love telling people where I was from,” he says. “Now I despise it.”

The flow of traffic up and down Western Avenue, from Dabney’s halfway house to his job and back, carried him past the Master Burger dozens of times. He was hoping to find better work in another part of town. He’d joined the Laborers Union and was angling for an $18-an-hour job grading the earth for a Metrolink subway platform in Burbank.

Over the course of weeks that he commuted to Torrance, he had ample opportunity to observe that one particular gangbanger — his self-contained movements, his effortless rapport with people in the street. Dabney says he studied his stylish clothes and sometimes thought of pulling over and sharing some pearl about the dangers that lie in wait. It was too dangerous to pull over. “Besides, someone like that isn’t going to listen until they’re ready for change,” he says. “Just like I wasn’t when people used to talk to me.”

On a Friday afternoon in late August, Dabney’s drive up Western Avenue was blocked by a police cruiser parked sideways in the street. Officers were diverting traffic. Dabney caught a glimpse of yellow tape. He saw the things he knew to look for. “If it’s just a black-and-white [car], then it’s nothing. But suits and Crown Victorias, you just knew.” The men at the scene were homicide detectives. The gangbanger was dead.

The Los Angeles Times reported that 31-year-old Gerome Lee Thomas was standing in front of the Master Burger at about 6 p.m. when a person walked up to him and shot him multiple times.

“He put himself in a closed space,” Dabney says. “He was trapped. There was nothing he could do.”

Dabney got the job in Burbank. The days are long and tiring but the money is good. As a prison inmate at Lancaster he did the same work and it paid $1 an hour. “I tell the construction guys all the time,” he says.

“I’m 40 and I’m starting over. But it feels good to accomplish something.”