SAN FRANCISCO ― Jasmine Washington lifted the lapels of her sleek blazer and boldly strutted between rows of fellow women parolees at the Southeast Community Facility in San Francisco on Oct. 24.
Surrounded by 67 of her peers, representatives from 56 local resource service providers and the supportive Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) staff from the Adult Programs Unit (APU), Washington displayed her own empowerment just as sharply as she did her new suit ― courtesy of Dress for Success.
“I think that I was showing the change that I see in myself,” Washington explained at the 4th Annual Females Achieving Change Together (F.A.C.T.) event. “A few years back I was doing drugs, and I was ready to go. Every time I got high I was hoping it was that hit that would take me out this planet ― I was ready to be gone.
“Now I feel like I’ve gained meaning, and I feel like I am able to just grow and be proud about it.”
Washington showcased her new interview apparel and visited with community specialists who offered opportunities in job training, employment, education, women’s health and family resources. Service providers, some of them formerly incarcerated, also offered hearty support for apprenticeships, mental health, sex-trafficking prevention/awareness, violence intervention and even tattoo removal.
“I see these successes around me, this life around me, and it makes me more proud of who I am,” Washington said, pointing to the commotion around her. “I have lost a lot of family members, but I have finally worked out of that rut of feeling alone, ashamed and depressed.
“This event is a great opportunity for all of us.”
Many service providers brought multiple representatives to outreach to the Bay Area’s female parolee community. It was the largest effort of its kind for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), and a landmark achievement for APU staff.
“The resource service providers were so happy to be part of this life-changing event and want to continue being part of our hope for making a difference in these women’s lives,” said Sonia Sandoval, event organizer and Parole Service Associate for Northern Region APU. “Some of the ladies I spoke with expressed they felt positive and empowered to hear all the positive stories and the hope expressed by everyone attending for making change.
“They were thankful for us making these types of events available to them.”
Amika Mota, Prison Reentry Director for the Young Women’s Freedom Center, said the parole population can be hard to reach, and was thrilled to connect with so many formerly incarcerated women in one place.
“I am grateful to have access to so many women who are powerhouses in our minds,” Mota said. “These women are just waiting for that connection and opportunity to transform the experience that they have had. I hope this grows and the power in this room that women have is acknowledged and lifted up.”
Mota also has a knack for seizing opportunities. She served nearly six years in California prisons before she paroled in 2015. She was impassioned by the empowerment happening during the F.A.C.T. event, and even brought along her infant daughter to co-manage her vendor table.
“She comes to work with me every day,” Mota said with a smile. “She’s been to Sacramento in the governor’s office advocating, and been in LA where we were sworn into a state advisory board.
“She’s just part of the team.”
The event included stirring dialogue from Betty McKay, the East Bay District Peer Reentry Navigation Network Navigator and Cecelia Carrillo, Administrative Assistant at the Office of Women’s Policy. McKay, also formerly incarcerated, told the women “Today is our day.”
“You have to want something so much that you will get out of your own way to get it, and do whatever it takes to achieve it,” McKay said. “Here I am. I am still standing and so are you.”
DAPO Assistant Deputy Director Brenda Crowding visited the progress in action. She couldn’t help but share a special moment with the parolees in attendance.
“Watching all of you in this room I feel love, hope, connection and sisters helping sisters,” Crowding said. “You have people sitting in this room who are encouraging you, who are lifting you up, who are telling you that you can do anything you want if you set your mind to it and put some hard work behind it,”
“I am seeing successes throughout this room today.”
Dominique Cowling of Community United Against Violence said it was the first time her organization had a chance to outreach to so many parolees, and share information about her team’s efforts to transform violence and oppression in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer communities.
“This event is very unique,” she said. “What I am really interested in is making sure people know about our services.”
The service providers were as diverse as the parolee community.
“We are proud to participate in the SF F.A.C.T. event so that the participants know about the services available to them and have the information they need in order to take care of their sexual and reproductive health,” added EB Troast, Senior Education Manager for Planned Parenthood Northern California.
Sandoval thanked Parole Agent Mark Ebuen for sharing words of encouragement with the parolee community. Her F.A.C.T. Team Members also included PA IIs Dina Aguilar, Tonia Wells and Kevin Walker. Crowding’s Special Assistant, Roosevelt Whisenant, also offered his support.
The following agencies and community organization were also recognized for their participation and support: A.A. San Francisco County, Acrobat Outsourcing, Aging and Disability Resource Center of San Francisco-Tool Works, Asian American Recovery Services a Program of Health Right 360-Lee Woodward Counseling Center for Women, Asian Neighborhood Design, Bay Area LeadersUp, Bay Area Legal Aid San Francisco, Bayview Hunter Point YMCA, Cameo House- Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice System, Center for Employment Opportunities, Center Point-Oakland Day Reporting Center, City and County of San Francisco-Reentry Adult Probation Department, Community Assessment Services Center, San Francisco Child Support Services, City College of San Francisco Hospitality and Culinary Arts Program, City College of San Francisco- EOPS-Second Chance Program, Contra Costa County Office of Education Programs, CUAV-Community United Against Violence, Dress for Success San Francisco, First 5 San Francisco, Edgewood Family Resource Center, GEO Reentry-Stockton Day Reporting Center, Glide Foundation-Violence Intervention and Women’s Center Programs, Glide Harm Reduction and LEAD Program, Goodwill San Francisco, Health Right 360-STEPS-Day Reporting Center, Health Right 360-ISMIT-Bridges and FOTEP Treasure Island Programs, Jails to Jobs, Job Train, Mental Health Association of San Francisco, MISSSEY, Love Never Fails, Office of Small Business Assistance Center, Office of Victims and Survivor Rights, Planned Parenthood, Prisoner Reentry Network, Safe and Sound, San Francisco Adult Probation-IPO Program, San Francisco Black Infant Health, San Francisco Human Services Agency, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, San Francisco/Marin Food Bank, Santa Clara County Office of Women’s Policy, Santa Clara Co. Fathers & Families Collaborative, Saved by Grace San Francisco Bay Area, Self-Help for the Elderly, Sport Time Officials Charter School, Trades Women Inc, Westside Ajani, Wuu Yee, Hunters Point Family, San Francisco IMPACT Partners, Young Women’s Freedom Center, Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), MEDA at El Centro Bay View, Mission Hiring Hall, and CDCR’s Office of Public and Employee Communications.