Collette Carroll, the program director of San Quentin’s California Reentry Institute, continues her late husband’s work by teaching inmates tools for a successful transition before they leave prison.
California Reentry Institute (CRI) is one of several programs at San Quentin that helps inmates prepare for freedom.
CRI provides inmates with necessary tools that they can use prior to and after being released. It requires two years to complete.
The curriculum consists of personalized parole planning and life skills training. It also offers post-release assistance to inmates after their parole.
“CRI is about helping pre- and post-release inmates by placing them in an environment that teaches them skills that will translate into a successful return,” Carroll said.
Carroll said her proposal for assisting inmates came when her late husband, Roland, recommended that she start a different self-help program at San Quentin.
“That was IMPACT, which I started 13 years ago when my beautiful husband, Roland, volunteered me,” Carroll said. “IMPACT is an acronym for Incarcerated Men Putting Away Childish Things.”
Carroll said 20 men attended her first class, so it immediately became apparent to her they were doing something good. She continued teaching the class for 11 years.
“Years later the warden gave us the go-ahead to start this program. That’s when Roland and I knew that we could do something else to cause another impact, so we started CRI.”
“CRI is about helping pre- and post-release inmates by placing them in an environment that teaches them skills that will translate into a successful return”
Carroll is proud of IMPACT, but now her sights are set on her current agenda: gearing up for a new class after a CRI graduation Feb. 17.
“I’m astonished that we had the graduation, because we got the OK from the administration at 4 p.m. that afternoon,” she said. The ceremony was held in San Quentin’s Protestant Chapel in front of inmates, guests and outside volunteers.
“This graduation was an accomplishment in small miracles, but we did it, and I’m proud of the men,” said Robert Morales, who has been incarcerated for more than 25 years.
Sentenced for first-degree murder, Morales, 44, said prison was challenging when he first came in. He had a hard time adjusting to “the way people conducted themselves racially, ethically and culturally.”
Morales was recruited by Carroll to join CRI after attending IMPACT. “She offered the invitation, and I knew her and what she represented, so I didn’t hesitate,” said Morales.
“We started out with 35 men and we graduated 25,” said Frankie Smith, who met Carroll through IMPACT. “I was trained in that group to be a facilitator, and when she decided to start this group, CRI, she asked me if I would be willing to be an instructor, and I said yes.”
Smith, 58, convicted of second-degree murder, has been incarcerated for 11 and a half years. He described the graduation as a hit.
“I was blown away by the network of outside people that support our program. They are people with immense compassion for our rehabilitation and our reentry into society,” said Smith.
Carroll said throughout the course of the curriculum, something incredible took shape. While assisting the men with their rehabilitation, she found herself gaining just as much from the experience.
“In the process of helping the men, there was an invisible, intrinsic tradeoff. As they became more aware, we found they were helping us, too,” she added.
Founded in 2008 with the help of Sam Vaughn, CRI has surpassed her expectations when it comes to pre- and post-release assistance.
“We knew that what we were doing was good work, but in reality there is still much to be done,” she said.
A native of Sydney, Australia, Carroll uses her 30 years of business management experience to guide CRI.
“We have a nonprofit called the Second Chance Boutique, which is open seven days a week. We tell everybody who enters that we are a nonprofit and our profits support our pre-post-release program,” she said.
In the past, inmates received no help after they paroled. But now prison administrations are beginning to see that “for a parolee to stay successful after leaving prison, after-care is essential,” she said.
“As a young girl, my father always told me that succeed or fail, what really counts at the end of the day is that you tried; you gave it your all and you did your best,” Carroll said. “Our program shows these men how to do that.”