With a class of 43, the largest graduating class yet, a group of inmate facilitators and advisors were in a boisterous mood as they prepared the certificates for the fourth graduating cycle of Kid CAT’s (Creating Awareness Together) First Step curriculum on a Sunday evening this spring.
The ARC building was set up for a celebration with nametags on chairs for all the graduates as they waited outside the building. As do all groups, the attendees signed in as they filtered into the ARC building.
The graduates completed a 28-week three-phase childhood development curriculum of eight modules. The philosophy of first offering a safe place for men to process the consequences of their upbringing was on full display at the March 24.
The First Step curriculum explores the root causes of criminal thinking and violent behavior as well as ways to address those factors through written assignments, self-exploration, lectures and group discussions.
An inmate-created group, Kid CAT has a full range of inmate facilitators across the racial and age spectrums of California prisoners. They all have in common not so much their crimes as the age they committed them. Many minors were sentenced as adults.
“64% of California’s jail population is awaiting trial or sentencing as of December 2016.” Most remain in pretrial custody because they cannot afford bail. Jail Profile Survey, http://www.bscc.ca.gov/
There are two regular meetings: one for Kid CAT lifers on Sunday afternoons, and the general Kid CAT group that meets on Sunday evenings in the ARC room.
At the graduation, co-lead facilitators Natalie Bell and Shadeed “Sha” Wallace-Stepter introduced the graduates and passed out the certificates. Wallace-Stepter warned the group that “after graduation, we are going to go into games and you can win prizes. Sit close to people in your circle…
Fateen Jackson, an inmate facilitator, gave an emotionally charged rap performance about consequences, “not just from my crime but also for my redemption. You need regret to begin ‘my mission for redemption,’ to be forgiven. To an end, this is our mission for redemption.”
“…childhood adversity and stress can chemically change the way our brain works,” said Dr. Robert Anda, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and developer of the Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACE survey to The New York Times in “Linking Childhood Trauma to Prison’s Revolving Door” nytimes.com/national
Next they took a break for a game that took up most of the evening. It was an opportunity for the graduates, inmate facilitators and outside advisors to act out emotions as individuals and as teams.
The process: Call up the outside facilitators and inmates to present an emotion.
They performed a “perp-walk”… a way to have the outside facilitators interact with the men.
Compete as teams—all a good-natured expression of showing and recognizing emotions.
Travis Westly ran the game, ribbed all the participants, and followed up with a second game to act out one of the eight modules:
Eddie Herena, one of the Fourth Cycle graduates, said, “It took about eight months to finish the class, and it was time well-spent. To me, if you take one self-help group you’ve taken them all, but Kid CAT was different. Each of the eight modules led to the same place, a place where I could learn to forgive myself.”
Charlie Spence, chairman of Kid CAT, made an extra effort to congratulate everyone on making it through a complete cycle given the numerous lockdowns that had extended the group’s sessions.
“Our hope is that this is the first step of the work and my hope is that Kid CAT has given you an insight to yourself and families. Special thanks to Natalie, who does an amazing job of organizing. Thank you for inviting outside folks that can consider joining Kid CAT,” Spence said.
When asked about the plans for Kid CAT, Spence said, “We seek to be more inclusive. We have voted to reserve 10 percent of our membership capacity for those who committed their crimes between the ages of 20 to 25.”