After 23 years in prison, Leonard Rubio got out and began recapturing his life.
Today, he’s the Executive Director of Insight Prison Project (IPP). The executive position opened after Billie Mizell stepped down in November 2017 to pursue other restorative justice work.
“There could be no better person to pass that baton to than our own beloved Leonard Rubio,” Mizell said in her resignation letter.
Mizell said that she believes those most impacted, “should lead the movements of their own transformation and liberation.” She added, “As a woman and a member of the LGBTQ community, my own activism has been shaped and lifted by this leadership principle.”
IPP sponsors a variety of programs for inmates, including an accountability group that Rubio was instrumental in bringing to San Quentin — Victim/Offender Education Group (VOEG).
Rubio’s path to the IPP leadership position was strenuous.
When he first got out of prison, he worked for the Prison University Project. From there he went to East Bay Municipal Utility Department (East Bay MUD). He enjoyed the job and quickly moved up the ranks, gain- ing new skills while making more money at a trade that he’s very skilled in. He said, however, “It wasn’t a good fit.” When certain people at East Bay MUD found out that he’d been in prison, they took exception. The conflicting atmosphere drove him away from East Bay MUD and to a job as a maintenance mechanic with another formerly incarcerated person, Dave Basile.
Within a few months, the Elevator Union gave him a job offer. It came with “a huge raise.” However, he only had 10 minutes to decide. That same day, a concerned East Bay MUD staffer found out about Rubio’s treatment as an ex-offender and made him an offer to come back to work as a plumber. He telephoned his wife to discuss their options before taking the Elevator Union job.
After attending the first meeting, he discovered that the job security was “shaky,” and came with a lot of travel.
“What came up for me is after 23 and a half years in prison, I wanted to spend time with my family,” Rubio said. “It came down to quality of life. So, even though East Bay MUD paid less, it gave me more toward the quality of life.”
When IPP sought his guidance, his tenure with East Bay MUD was interrupted again.
IPP Program Director/ Clinical Supervisor Karena H. Montag, MFT, agreed with Mizell’s philosophy regarding looking for leadership from those directly impacted.
“As a restorative justice organization whose mission is to ‘transform the lives of those impacted by crime and incarceration’, we must al- ways strive towards, and be accountable for, walking our talk,” Montag said.
Rubio visited San Quentin last May. It was his sixth time inside since paroling in 2010.
“I wanted to go where my heart was,” Rubio said as he reminisced about being in the second graduating class of VOEG and being part of the Inner-Faith Roundtable in 2005 — the precursor to the Restorative Justice program in San Quentin.
“I was able to see the changes in people,” Rubio said, adding, “I wanted to make sure these programs continued.”
Rubio said the hardest part of coming back inside San Quentin is the number of people “that I knew when I was here and me knowing that they could be out doing what I’m doing.”
He added, “I see the type of work we can do on the outside. People like Maliki (Gary Scott) with RJOY (Restore Justice of Oakland Youth) — seeing the work that many of the guys are do- ing is inspiring.”
“Having the network of communities is important on the inside and outside,” Rubio said. “Even with the busy lives we have on the outside, making opportunities for those on the inside grows the community on the outside.”
IPP programs currently are in 16 California prisons. However, it is seeking re- sources to expand into more prisons and to find ways to bring IPP programs inside jails.