Inmates from two graduating flagship programs at the Progressive Programming Facility (PPF) on A- Yard in Lancaster State Prison, celebrated their achievements in a joint ceremony that took place in the prison’s
visiting room on Friday, March 24th.
Proud relatives and friends, sitting side by side with prison administrators, looked on as more than fifty
students from the venerable Men For Honor (MFH) Victim Sensitivity class and the Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) class, walked across the proverbial stage to accept their diplomas.
At one point, a graduating student and proud father accepted his diploma with both of his young sons walking underneath the folds of each arm. It was a heart wrenching dichotomy of a man serving two lifelong roles – one as a loving dad; the other as a penitent prisoner.
Absent was the ceremonial tune of “Pomp and Circumstance,” and missing were the traditional cap and gowns. The only music that played was the sweet melody of personal achievement, and the only gowns worn was made from the humble threads of recaptured humanity.
The PPF on A-Yard is the only prison yard of its kind in California. It is a place where the inmates voluntarily choose to snap the vicious cycle of traditional prison politics, such as racial and gang violence, and take a proactive role in their own resocialization. They eagerly enroll in classes like Victim Sensitivity and others.
The classes they take are by no means a cake walk. Both the Victim Sensitivity and the Alternative to Violence classes represent huge steps on the road to rehabilitation. The Victim Sensitivity class, for example, requires each of its students to engage in the grueling, often emotional, task of experiencing the trauma of their own crimes from the viewpoint of the victim. It is strictly designed to evoke emotional insight into the effects of criminal behavior.
Jamon Carr, who is serving his twenty-third year of incarceration and is an alumnus of the Victim Sensitivityclass,summeduphisexperienceintheclassbysaying,“ItmademehatethepersonIwas.” Theclass, headded,taughthimabouttheenormousimpactthatcrimehasonvictims,theirfamiliesandthecommunity. “It taught me how to make amends, directly and indirectly,” Carr said. Now, he spends much of his time helping troubled youth from making the same kind of critical mistakes he made as a young man.
The A VP class teaches inmates how to resolve conflicts without violence and uses and experiential model to help inmates discover the guiding principles of non-violence, self-respect, caring for others and community.
Ms. Marion Bogan, and AVP facilitator who is serving a sentence of Life Without The Possibility of Parole (LWOP) gave an emotional speech on how AVP changed his life and how it helped him rebuild the relationship with his teenage daughter who sat in the crowd with tears in her eyes. His speech evoked a standing ovation.
But the day for speeches belonged to Ms. Alverta Bayliss, who gave a passionate and tearful lecture on how she overcameherownmisgivingsaboutaninmate’spotentialtochange. Yet,inherroleasafacilitysponsor,sitting in on the classes and watching the prisoners, day after day, face their own emotional hardships while never giving up, convinced her that inmates can and do change.
“I watched them turn from inmates into men!” she said with unmistakable fervor in her voice, her face wet with tears. When she was done, the entire audience lauded her in the longest standing ovation of the day.
The ceremony, however, would not be complete without recognition from the Warden, Ms. Debbie Asuncion, who congratulated all the graduates for their accomplishments. Ms. Asuncion even bragged that the PPF on A-Yard had earned itself state-wide recognition for its remarkable achievements over the years.
The ceremony ended with family, friends, administrators and inmates intermingling in cordial conversation while feasting on prison-made chocolate brownies provided through the Community Resource Manager (CRM) Erika Lake. It all had the somber feel of normalcy, involving normal people in a normal place, but it was anything but normal. It was the hopeful, celebrating the exceptional in a truly unusual place. It was celebrating change.
Congratulations to all the graduates.