Inmates housed at Kern Valley State Prison’s D-Facility find themselves wedged between clashing cultures. A level IV, 180 design housing, it is one of California’s maximum security prisons. It can be a place filled with violence and negativity, or it can be a turning point where inmates can take advantage of the many rehabilitative programs offered on the yard. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved on either side of that spectrum. Which side to choose is a dilemma many men find themselves teetering on the fence about.
But when we take a deeper glimpse into the yard activities, we find three inmates who are rising above their surroundings and going out of their way to guide others on the right path. Uriel Rodriguez, Johnny Phan and Gabriel Singer have all taken on the responsibility of leadership roles, partly through programs such as PREP (Partnership for Re-Entry Program), Alcoholics Anonymous, Geo’s CBT program, and GOGI (Getting Out by Going In), among others. These men have put countless hours of dedication into their own transformations. Utilizing self-help and education, they have risen to positions of Facilitator, Chairman, and Peer Mentor, respectively.
However, their good works do not end there. This trio has chosen to take their positivity beyond the bounds of a voluntary, part-time or full-time assignment. They have no punch-in or quitting time. They can be observed individually giving counsel to inmates day or night, yard or day room, and in or out of groups. They ask for nothing in return and do not expect nor seek recognition. Those around them see and feel their sincerity. Regardless of race or affiliation, people can be seen approaching them for advice, guidance or maybe even just a positive conversation—all things that would be that much harder to come by on a yard, where the atmosphere can be uninviting were it not for the likes of men such as these, where their welcoming personalities offer a place of comfort to those who normally would have no other refuge.
Our environment does not have to define us. These men deserve recognition for being the embodiment of that. They inspire those around them, like Alex Compian and Luis Manzanares, who are choosing to walk down the same road of selfless generosity. We are all the better for having been witness to their personification of virtuous living. In a world where too many people follow the crowd, we need more men (and women) like these, with that immense strength of character, who are paving their own way—while inviting us on their journey down a path of positivity and on toward true freedom.
PPI’s “Correctional Control: Incarceration and Supervision by State” is the first report to aggregate data on all types of correctional control nationwide.
By Benjamin Norton Contributing Writer