“It was really the guys inside’s hunger to get the program,” explained Tommy Winfrey, who left San Quentin in 2016. “There was a hunger there to change their lives. I saw the same concern and willingness to change that I witnessed during my time at San Quentin.”
Kid CAT alumni Winfrey, Philip Melendez and Anouthinh Pangthong recently visited Lancaster to help them start their own Kid CAT chapter. After paroling from San Quentin, the three men continue to advocate for awareness of youth offender programs. They reported on their work via e- mails to the San Quentin News.
Lancaster Community Resource Manager Erika Lane reviewed Kid CAT’s First Step curriculum and looked for successful members who could become part of the orientation process. The inaugural group at Lancaster consisted of 30 youth offenders, with a growing wait list.
“We’ve set up nine members who are going to facilitate the curriculum and develop the group in as close of a model as we can get it to the San Quentin group,” said Melendez, released from San Quentin in 2017. “I’m still continuing the restorative work that I learned in Kid CAT.
“I couldn’t come home and forget about the experiences of survivors or the experiences of folks who are in prison. The healing needed on all sides is what motivates me.”
“I’ve often heard that programs like Kid CAT can’t operate and affect change on a level IV yard, but I believe that sentiment is wrong,” Winfrey remarked. “People want to be a part of a community. They want to change for the better; they want to go home and be productive members of society.”
“On the Level IV, there are some programs, but not enough to meet the needs of the long waiting lists of guys who want to participate in programs,” added Melendez, who flew to Los Angeles from San Francisco.
“I didn’t get paid to do this; in fact, it cost me money,” said Winfrey, who lives in San Diego. “I did it because I was once one of those guys on a Level IV yard with nothing to help me change—no hope and the feeling of being forgotten.
“I wanted those guys to know there is hope, that they are not forgotten, and have a program that can help them see that reality.
“Since returning to society, I have been working in the field of juvenile justice reform, and this is an extension of the work I am committed to.”
“At the end of our two-day visit, we went around and checked out,” Melendez noted. “They all were super grateful and inspired by our stories.
“We told them about the charitable and restorative work we did at SQ, and I even talked to their community resource manager about the Hygiene Drive, Amala Walks, food sales and Project Avary. The guys at Lancaster will definitely be able to create these events and are anxious to start giving back.”
“I hope those guys will take charge of their destiny, join the conversation about justice in this state and country, and realize how they ended up in the place that they did,” Winfrey said. “I hope that the group grows and changes the culture of a yard so much so that critics look at them as a model of what is possible and don’t say they don’t deserve anything.
“These guys are not their actions, and they can be better tomorrow—just like the guys on Level II yards. They just need hope in their lives, and I believe that is what we left them with.”