Camarillo youth detention facility graduates first facilitator class

Jennifer Letzer | October 26, 2012

Some people may think of them as delinquents and inmates. Superintendent Victor Almager and his staff think of the uniformed boys and girls at the Ventura County Youth Correctional Facility in Camarillo as students.

On Thursday, 19 of those students made their counselors, instructors and staff members proud during a graduation ceremony for participants of the Incarcerated Men Putting Away Childish Things, or IMPACT, program. It was the first time the facility held a graduation ceremony for IMPACT facilitator trainees.

The ceremony included testimonials from students about how the program has helped sharpen their minds and restore hope in their lives. The students also helped lead a mock simulation for the audience to get a better sense of the program.

Jessica Espinoza, 17, said she had been preparing for this day for weeks. When approached to be a facilitator months ago, Espinoza said, she at first didn’t understand why. But the more she thought about the opportunity, the more it made her happy.

“I felt special because they picked me out of several students here,” Espinoza said.

Espinoza took a big leap toward rebuilding her life Thursday. Smiling in her uniform polo shirt and jeans, with 1-year-old daughter Giselle sitting in her lap and her mother, grandmother and two younger siblings sitting across from her, she seemed removed from her violent criminal past.

Espinoza has been incarcerated since January 2010. She originally was charged with three counts of attempted murder, possession of a firearm and grand theft auto but was sentenced to one count of attempted murder, possession of a firearm and robbery, according to Espinoza.

Originally from Long Beach, Espinoza attributed her bad behavior to a long streak of impulsiveness and a desire to fit in. She joined a gang and for a short time was a runaway, she said.

“I always had negative mentors,” Espinoza said. “I always looked up to my older friends. I was always wanting to be like them.”

For about 20 weeks, Espinoza and the 18 other facilitator trainees met once a week for two hours going through lessons about violence, substance abuse, relationships, attitudes and life skills. After their release, facilitator graduates can go back to their respective counties and teach the same skills to other young people at their local juvenile halls.

The program was created in 1995 by Chaplain Earl Smith, a former employee of San Quentin State Prison who worked with convicted male felons on curriculum to address aggressive behavior in young men and boys. IMPACT was introduced in 2006 to young men in the juvenile justice system.

The project expanded five years later to include young women in conjunction with a new program called Women Incarcerated Still Enduring, or WISE, according to Robin Hatter, co-creator of WISE who works at the Camarillo facility. The WISE program mirrors IMPACT but is structured to fit the needs and life skills of female offenders.

Read more at: http://www.vcstar.com/news/2012/oct/26/camarillo-youth-detention-facility-graduates/

Photo credit: Joseph A. Garcia / Ventura County Star

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