KID CAT OFFERS A CHANCE TO TRANSFORM TRAUMAS INTO LEGACY OF SERVICE
outside community bring a powerful currency to San Quentin’s Kid CAT program: hope.
With their help, incarcerated youth offenders work to develop a new way of thinking, abandoning pride and overcoming fear, sacrificing the ego and boldly trusting in the group’s collaborative process. They also reap the benefits, as through this process, real change happens.
So far this year, two Kid CAT members have learned that, although vulnerability is uncomfortable and unfamiliar, it is also necessary when working through past traumas. Having the courage to face these challenges has led them both to being found suitable for parole.
“The Kid CAT group has helped me really gain insight and get past my denial, while looking at the trauma I suffered as a kid,” said Kid CAT member Shawn Reyes. “I didn’t consider what my childhood trauma was. I just normalized it. I had to look at the position I put my daughter in, and I knew it was a bad situation. So I decided to make the necessary changes and I was found suitable this past February.”
A second Kid CAT member, youth offender Moua Vue, appeared before the board in May. He credits Kid CAT facilitators for helping him prepare for his hearing.
“Participating in the Kid CAT support group … it helped [to] share my timeline openly,” Vue said.
“Initially Raúl Higgins started me through the process of having a concise timeline,” he went on. “Most recently, Brew Fowler and Kenny Vernon had taken me through a few mock hearings. This helped me put it all together regarding my insight and overcoming my shame and guilt.”
Many youth offenders have been arriving at San Quentin in recent months. Some wait patiently to become involved in the Kid CAT momentum of hope and change, while others take more initiative and seek to have a deeper understanding while waiting for a Kid CAT slot.
“I would like to learn more about myself and who I am, become more aware, work through some of my past traumas, face my demons and fears, to grow, mature, educate myself, and also learn some tools to deal with my emotions and triggers,” says Maxx Robison, a youth offender.
Daniel Birdsell, another youth offender, has three specific goals in mind.
“First,” he said, “learn about emotional intelligence and trying to understand what my values are. Second, how [I developed] those values. Lastly, how I can use this information to make different choices.”
On Sunday afternoons, volunteer counselors from Sonoma State University provide a safe space for participants to do exactly that, all the while building trust and rapport as they face their past behaviors.
Ms. Helene Erler, a high school counselor and volunteer Kid CAT facilitator, has applied her specialized skills to the program for more than three years.
“I have several Kid CAT members [who] say they wish they had someone to talk to when they were in high school,” Erler said. “I hope I can provide a safe place, be a calming presence, supporting young people and Kid CAT members at San Quentin.
“I also have students who have been through the juvenile system, or have parents or guardians who are incarcerated, so I see the parallels there,” she added.
Shannon Lawee is another high school counselor who volunteers as a Kid CAT facilitator. She, too, sees parities between the teenagers she serves in the community and the youth offenders she works with at San Quentin.
“My experience as a high school counselor has been eventful so far,” Lawee said. “Working in the educational system is hard. I see similarities every day between the students at the continuation high school where I work, and the men in the Kid CAT group. I often wish some of my students could come and talk to the guys here because I know how valuable it could be.
“All I can do is be there for them and help them to hopefully have a brighter future,” she added.
Lawee admits she was initially nervous about coming to San Quentin.
“Becoming an intern student and coming to the Kid CAT group was exciting,” she said. “I was quiet the first few times I came … It didn’t take long to see the amazing work being done, and [I] felt a part of the community. Still participating in Kid CAT after graduating has only helped me in the way I work with students in the community.”
Many Kid CAT participants are going the distance, doing the necessary self-reflection to change their lives. They’re out on the frontlines, in the trenches, fighting for a chance to get back to their families and be of service to their communities.
Kid CAT (Creating Awareness Together) is a group of men who committed their crimes in their teens and were sentenced as adults to life terms. The group’s
mission is to inspire humanity through education, mentorship and restorative practices. Kid CAT Speaks wants to hear from all the juvenile lifers, educators and
policymakers concerning juvenile justice issues and rehabilitation. Contact us at San Quentin News, Attn: Kid CAT Speaks, 1 Main Street, San Quentin, CA 94964