NEW PROGRAM OFFERS TECH TRAINING, GUARANTEED EMPLOYMENT
A state-of-the-art residential career campus for formerly incarcerated people opened in West Oakland in March, according to media reports. The facility is part of the Ready 4 Life program’s effort to create a new and improved model of transitional reentry housing.
Ready 4 Life is part of Creating Restorative Opportunities and Programs, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people successfully return to society from prison.
“I feel absolutely blessed to get out [of prison] at this particular time because there is an abundance and a wealth of resources and opportunity for us returning home,” Lamar Simms told The San Francisco Standard. Simms is one of the program’s inaugural cohort members after serving a 30-year prison sentence.
The new facility has 35 private residential rooms with shared kitchens, as well as a library, a classroom and conference area, a podcast studio and a gym.
Every year in California, approximately 30,000 people return to their communities from jail or prison. Many of them return with little if any skill training or reentry planning, which contributes to the state’s stubbornly high recidivism rates of about 50% and shows the struggle that many returning citizens have in trying to reintegrate into society, according to The San Francisco Standard.
Terah Lawyer-Harper, executive director of CROP and a former lifer, is no stranger to the flaws of the current reentry system.
“I was more terrified to come home from prison than I was to be sent to prison with a life sentence,” Lawyer-Harper said. She was a peer drug-and-alcohol counselor in prison, but she faced significant difficulties in finding a suitable transitional house prior to her parole.
“It made me want to think about how to eliminate that feeling of ostracizing someone to a social death,” she said.
CROP aims to address these problems by providing modern, attractive housing in a secure setting with complementary services. They also provide career training, job placement, and personal and professional development for participants, according to the organization.
Their team of devoted men and women, many of whom are former lifers themselves, used their lived-experience to design a holistic approach to reentry. Their approach focuses on equipping justice-impacted individuals with the tools needed to succeed through a yearlong Ready 4 Life program. That program has four pillars that provide counseling, leadership coaching, digital literacy and workforce training.
The program also partners with the SAP Academy for Engineering to help participants with job placement, internships or full-time employment within the tech industry.
Cohort members, called fellows, receive a laptop, a $1,000 monthly stipend and up to 12-months of housing at CROP’s new facility, as well as guidance on finding long-term housing. All of this is intended to help ease economic stressors and increase success, according to CROP.
“This program has the ability and the power to change the narrative on how we rehabilitate people coming out of prison,” Simms said. “I’m the first to raise my hand and say that I bear responsibility for a lot of the situations that I encountered, but it’s been my experience that nine times out of 10, if given an opportunity to change their life, people will take that.”
Simms said he is determined to set a positive example for others to follow. As one of the first program fellows, he knows that his actions will help determine the success of the program.
“It takes a lot of effort to dream beyond prison, but you have to dare to dream,” he said. “But you never know how far that dream can take you if you don’t envision another future.”
The Ready 4 Life career campus was funded through $28.5 million from state grants and the ReWork the Bay Initiative as part of a three-year pilot project. ReWork’s Brianna Rogers, who is also formerly incarcerated, teamed up with Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo of East Los Angeles to help secure the funding.
At the ribbon cutting for the new facility, Cabrillo said that by “focusing on rehabilitation and investing in individuals to restart their lives, we invest in the future of our economy, our communities and our families.”
Those who are interested in applying or learning more can contact CROP at 1300 Clay St. Suite 600, Oakland, CA 94612; (916) 345-4308; or apply.croporganization.org.