Cleo Cloman III is a leader, an athlete, and a friend to many in San Quentin. He is also one of several Kid CAT members who were recently found suitable for parole under SB 261, a law that gives special consideration to youthful offenders.
“It doesn’t surprise me that Cleo received a parole date. You could see the passion he has for embracing life as an accountable person, and I never have seen him be any different,” said Antoine Brown, co-founder of Kid CAT, which is an organization made up of men who committed their crimes as teenagers.
Cloman says his journey to become who he is today wasn’t easy — and it took time.
For the first 15 years of his life, Cleo resided with his family in a tight-knit community west of Los Angeles, known to him and his friends as “The Jungle.”
“Despite being surrounded by crime, The Jungle is where we were able to play freely; we were like monkeys. Everyone knew everyone, so it was safe,” said Cloman.
He expressed gratitude for being raised by two parents in a community where single-parent households predominate. But he said he experienced hardship at home.
“My father suffered from addiction, and it played a big role in my childhood … his physical and verbal abuses led my brother to leave home when I was 9 years old.”
During this turbulent time, Cloman clung to sports as a way to cope.
“Sports is where I saw my father happiest, where I felt his love and validation,” said Cloman. “So I made it a point to play at a high level, so that he will always be there. But no matter how well I played, I never received the validation I wanted from my father off the field; instead, he gave it freely to other kids.”
Feeling neglected and resentful, Cloman turned to the streets. “I began emulating the kids that got the attention from my father, so I ran away from home and began committing petty crimes.”
In less than two years, Cloman’s life fell apart. He began having various run-ins with the law that ranged from shoplifting to attempted robbery — until, finally, murder at 18.
“My world was turned upside-down. I was facing the death penalty for being the getaway driver in a robbery that resulted in a murder,” said Cloman. “I did the only thing I could to save my life: I took a deal for 25 years-to-life.”
“When I was sent to prison, I didn’t know what to expect, so I created an image to protect myself and began fighting to display my strength,” said Cloman.
He continued with this behavior for the next 14 years. Then, in 2011, he began to contemplate a new reality: people with similar crimes to his were going home.
As he reflected on his prison history, he was troubled by the 21 disciplinary write-ups he had accumulated, from battery on an inmate to disobeying direct orders from staff.
He knew he had to change. Then an opportunity came in the form of a transfer to San Quentin.
“My growth started here at San Quentin in a group called GRIP (Guiding Rage into Power). During 52 weeks, this group taught me how to talk about my fears, pain and struggles that I have gone through, including the painful relationship I had with my father,” said Cloman.
“Other groups soon followed, like Kid CAT, which is my passion. Here, I learned not only about myself, but also service to the community,” said Cloman. “Today, I teach this very workshop that has given me so much understanding into my life.”
Volunteer facilitator Woody Wu commented, “Cleo stepped up as a leader for our curriculum, and he learned how to use his strength, which is the story of his transformation. When he paroles, I think he’s gonna be a spokesmen for his community as he embodies and represents someone who has done the work and changed his life.”
Cloman concluded, “The lessons I learned from these groups have given me a new opportunity in life – a second chance. It’s brought healing to broken relationships and most importantly, understanding the harm I have created through the reckless choices of my youth.”
On April 27, 2016, the parole board found Cloman suitable for release.
Upon reentering society, Cloman hopes to get married to his fiancée and continue to work with at-risk youths in his native community of Los Angeles.
His advice to others: “Know that there is hope, so don’t give up.”