Soledad -On a regular trip by Palma High School faculty and staff to a state prison in Soledad this week, the school walked away with a special gesture that will help at least one student help pay for tuition this semester. Matthew Braden, an inmate at the Correctional Training Facility state prison and part of the Life- CYCLE (Careless Youth Corrected by Lifers’ Experiences) program, handed out a jumbo cardboard scholarship check worth $5,534.60 to Palma School Principal David Sullivan Monday. The scholarship was awarded to incoming junior Sion Newsome-Greene.
“(Life-CYCLE) is so moved with the relationship they have with our students and is inspired by them and their drive,” said Palma Campus Ministry Director Jim Micheletti. “They keep going back to the idea that Palma is preparing these young men well. The one thing we talk about at Palma is that boys of promise become men of character and they’re picking up on the character part.”
Palma School has made regular visits to the Life-CYCLE group for the past four years as part of what it calls spiritual growth days. Life-CYCLE is a program in which older inmates mentor younger inmates on how to promote positive growth and give back to the community.
So far, the program has raised more than $20,000 in scholarship funds and Micheletti said the inmates want to keep it going.
Micheletti said this isn’t a one-time deal with Life-CYCLE and wants to see the relationship grow. Palma School has already teamed up with King City High to go inside the prison and plans to have Everett Alvarez High join in on trips scheduled later this year.
The group from Palma was supposed to meet with a little more than 60 inmates, but the prison was on lockdown after a riot that involved about 100 inmates took place Sunday m o r n i n g . The l o c k d o w n prevented the large group of inmates from attending Monday’s retreat.
But the staff and faculty were still able to hear from Correctional Training Facility inmates James Jacobs, Ted Gray and Braden, who presented the scholarship check. The staff and inmates were also split up into small discussion groups to share more of their life stories.
“It’s always a good opportunity. It’s a way for me to make a message out of our mess, so to speak,” Jacobs said. “It feels like a blessing to come from the background that I come from with causing the harm that I have to my community to be able to transform that into something that can help the community.”
Jacobs said he’s particularly interested in helping teachers who are involved with wayward students. He believes it’s always a blessing for him if he can reach out to those wayward students through the teachers.
Jacobs said what Palma is doing by bringing in staff and students to visit the prison and listen to stories by the inmates is important. He also likes how the faculty is so involved with students’ lives outside of the classroom.
“I think that is a pivotal part of being a teacher,” Jacobs said. “Not just that you give them information but that you build a person. You build a human being.”
Kevin Eagleson, a writing and physical education teacher at Palma, said it’s encouraging to see the inmates trying to make up for what they did by just becoming better people. He said giving the inmates a chance to apologize and make a change is powerful to watch, especially men who don’t have a big chance of being released before getting too old.
“I think it’s cool that they donated scholarships, that’s huge,” Eagleson said. “That has nothing to do with what we do.”
Eagleson said it’s an amazing statement, especially considering how little money an inmate earns. According to California Code of Regulations Title 15 Section 8006, an to $0.95 per hour in jobs that are in state-owned businesses also known as “correctional industries.”
California Code of Regulations Title 15 Section 3041.2 states an inmate can earn anywhere from $0.08 to $0.37 per hour for halftime and partial full-time employment or $12.00 to $56.00 per month for full-time employment in a non-industry job. These are roughly equivalent rates that equal out to seven-hour work days at 22 days per month.
“And yet it’s their commitment to Palma and to help kids,” Eagleson said.
Palma Director of Marketing and Communications Roger Rybkowski has made several trips to the prison and said he knows inmates are truly finding a way to make amends. He said Life-CYCLE is not just a show for them. He believes inmates are turning their lives around and the program empowers them.
“That, for them, is vital as well as them being able to interact with some of the students here who are going to some of the finest universities in the country and treating them with the respect that they never got, ever in their whole lives,” Rybkowski said. “And for us, it’s the least likely of places to learn something.”
Palma School math teacher Jane Gallegos said she wasn’t scared for her first visit to the prison and instead felt like the inmates gave her a sense of comfort.
“For them to be able to share their stories the way they did, I was really moved,” Gallegos said.
Gallegos has a sister who works for Homeboy Industries, which provides hope, training and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women. The Los Angeles-based program allows those people to redirect their lives and become contributing members in local communities.
Gallegos said she talked to her sister, who does counseling in prisons, on the phone and told her she wasn’t afraid to visit the Correctional Training Facility. However, there was some intensity leading up to the trip, especially when she found out a riot broke out at the prison just a day before.
Gallegos said it probably would’ve been a better experience with everyone in attendance, but she was still left with quite an impression from Jacobs, Braden and Gray.
“It did meet my expectations, but I wish we’d had more interaction because I think of that kind of experience I’ve gone through like when I’m at Homeboy (Industries),” Gallegos said. “But it definitely makes me want to go back.”
Palma will continue working with, and learning from inmates throughout the 2018-2019 school year and beyond.