Today is not another run- of-the-mill day in Kern Valley State Prison. The D-Facility Visiting Room is packed full of people, all with cause for celebration. The energy in the room is palpable. Today is graduation day for the Substance-Use Disorder Treatment Program (SUDT). It is a day of jubilation for dozens upon dozens of people, not all of them inmates.
Warden Pfeiffer was kind enough to come and share some inspirational words about being an agent of change while having the courage to stand out from the crowd. Ms. Chavez, the Acting Program Director for the host, GEO Reentry Group, gave praise for the hard work and dedication it took, day after day, to internalize the curriculum and complete the program. The guest speaker, Alexandar DeVora, an ex- inmate now eight years free, spoke of the possibilities the future holds. Speaking from experience he shared that we can overcome our past to become not only a success in our own right, but a shining light to others.
The sound of excited conversation and laughter fills the air. Lined up in the back of the visiting room are the dozen or so family members who are able to attend and share in this achievement with their loved ones. Every single one of their faces beams with pride and love as they watch their sons, brothers, uncles, and fathers walk
forward when their name is called to receive their certificate of completion. Thunderous applause echoes from other graduates and current SUDT and CBT participants who are able to celebrate this occasion with their friends, while looking forward with anticipation to their own graduation day.
Luis Manzanares, an unofficial mentor to many, speaks of the significance that this event holds for everyone involved. “This ceremony is the antithesis of what the men on this yard are accustomed to. Constantly hearing that this is the ‘worst yard in California’ can take its toll on an environment. However, a lot of us here are trying to rid the yard of that mentality. There are good people doing good things here and this gathering is a reflection of the sincere effort at change being given here.”
Also in attendance are the counselors who worked dili- gently and with extreme patience with all of the graduating classes. Ms. Balderas, Mrs. Clark, Ms. Pedroza, Ms. Lopez, Ms. Mattox, Ms. Trujillo, Mr. Alcantar, Mr. Sebreros, and Mr. Zacarias, among others. Each one proud of “their guys” be- cause they all experienced firsthand the strength and vulnerability it took these 50-plus graduates to crack that hard shell and begin to open up. Digging into the past and beginning the heal- ing process is not an easy thing to do. These men and women would be the first to admit that not every day was a “walk in the park.” And that was OK. If every day had been easy, it would have diminished the accomplishment. It was the resistance, the emotions and the struggle that the men persevered through that made the journey more memorable and the end destination a triumph.
A sincere congratulation to the SUDT graduating class of 2019, here in KVSP and elsewhere all across the state.