In October, a Parole Reentry Center was opened in Oakland, California, that promises a new approach to parolee services. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) has partnered with Arsola’s, an Oakland-based non-profit that provides reentry services, to provide a pathway to success for the formerly incarcerated.
DAPO resource service providers assisted with employment, housing and other community-based resources for women and men. The goal is to teach, inform and advise parolees about available resources, and life and job skills, according to the Office of Public & Employee Communications (OPEC).
“It’s great to see CDCR is being proactive,” said Jesse Vasquez, Arsola’s Program Manager. “It used to be that community-based organizations would take the lead in providing services. But now CDCR is making it a one-stop-shop.” Vasquez is the former Editor-In-Chief of San Quentin News at California’s San Quentin State Prison.
Heading DAPO’s Resource Center is Parole Agent III and DAPO Unit Supervisor, Steve Wheeler.
“It’s rewarding because you’re showing the people on parole supervision there is a different way. You’re proving we can break the cycle,” said Wheeler. “It’s great when you see that they get it, when you see them progress by looking for employment, or you get them into training.
“That’s when you see things click and now they’re on a routine, staying busy and productive. Seeing each step is amazing; seeing them get paid, graduating from apprentice programs, realizing they’re on a career path, that’s what helps them become a stable and productive family member. You get to see it from beginning to end. It’s really rewarding,” Wheeler concluded.
For the center’s debut on October 1, approximately 20 service providers were on hand. They assisted more than 40 parolees within the first two hours, according to Luis Patino Jr. of OPEC.
“I feel really good about the center opening,” said Tonia Wells, Parole Agent II (known by colleagues as the ‘walking encyclopedia’). “We had one person come in and he needed a birth certificate, housing placement, and employment. We were able to connect him to all that.”
Participating program attendees such as Tradeswomen Inc., GEO Reentry Services, Center Point Inc., La Familia Reentry Employment Programs, Transitions Clinic, the Academy of Truck Driving and Open Gate, among others, were key to the success of the center’s opening.
Getting the Oakland Reentry Resource Center up and running is a career highlight, said Wheeler.
“It’s an evolution that’s needed. We need to show, teach and provide resources to help people to become good neighbors,” said Wheeler.
DAPO understands that rehabilitation is the key to a successful reentry for the formerly incarcerated, and has focused its support services on providers whose goals meet those needs.
Non-profit community providers like the West Oakland Job Resource Center offer pre-apprenticeship programs for good paying union jobs, career counseling, employment and financial services, according to Executive Director Joyce Guy.
“This is a great time for people to find work,” said Guy.
Employment statistics in California show that many industries are facing staff shortages, according to the Office of Public & Employee Communications.
Women interested in apprenticeships in construction and other trades can rely on Ester Sandoval from Tradeswomen Inc., who specializes in helping women break through the barriers in that field.
The Academy of Truck Driving offers training to receive a Class A or Class B Commercial Driver License in 30 days. The program is available to veterans, low-income and formerly incarcerated individuals.
Open Gate offers educational services. Certificates can be earned in an array of course curricula ranging from Automotive Technology/BMW Manufacture Training to culinary, welding, graphic design and small business entrepreneurship. The community-based nonprofit organization also offers help with obtaining AA and AS degrees. La Familia Reentry Employment Program (REP) currently works with Alameda County residents on probation to help with job placement, paid work readiness training, and subsidized and unsubsidized work opportunities. Career assessments are also available.
Wheeler gave praise to his Adult Unit Probation Staff, including Tonia Wells and Sonia Sandoval, Parole Service Associate, for being an integral part of the center’s opening day success.
“For me, having heard stories about parole being retributive and vindictive and that they are just trying to send people back to prison, it was eye-opening,” said Vasquez. “Instead, I see a wave of support from parole agents, service providers and staff. It’s heart-warming and encouraging. We’re turning a new leaf in reintegrating people who have been gone from the community for decades.”
There are currently three Reentry Resource Centers in California: Arsola’s Distribution Center at 7801 Edgewater in Oakland, Los Angeles Central/Mid-city Reentry Center at 2444 S. Alameda in Los Angeles and the Stockton Parole Office at 612 Carlton Avenue in Stockton