“It was really the guys inside’s hunger to get the program,” explained Tommy Winfrey, who left San Quentin in 2016. “There was a hunger there to change their lives. I saw the same concern and willingness to change that I witnessed during my time at San Quentin.”
Kid CAT alumni Winfrey, Philip Melendez and Anouthinh Pangthong recently visited Lancaster to help them start their own Kid CAT chapter. After paroling from San Quentin, the three men continue to advocate for awareness of youth offender programs. They reported on their work via e- mails to the San Quentin News.
Lancaster Community Resource Manager Erika Lane reviewed Kid CAT’s First Step curriculum and looked for successful members who could become part of the orientation process. The inaugural group at Lancaster consisted of 30 youth offenders, with a growing wait list.
“We’ve set up nine members who are going to facilitate the curriculum and develop the group in as close of a model as we can get it to the San Quentin group,” said Melendez, released from San Quentin in 2017. “I’m still continuing the restorative work that I learned in Kid CAT.
“I’ve often heard that programs like Kid CAT can’t operate and affect change on a level IV yard, but I believe that sentiment is wrong,” Winfrey remarked. “People want to be a part of a community. They want to change for the better; they want to go home and be productive members of society.”
“I didn’t get paid to do this; in fact, it cost me money,” said Winfrey, who lives in San Diego. “I did it because I was once one of those guys on a Level IV yard with nothing to help me change—no hope and the feeling of being forgotten.
“Since returning to society, I have been working in the field of juvenile justice reform, and this is an extension of the work I am committed to.”
“We told them about the charitable and restorative work we did at SQ, and I even talked to their community resource manager about the Hygiene Drive, Amala Walks, food sales and Project Avary. The guys at Lancaster will definitely be able to create these events and are anxious to start giving back.”
“I hope those guys will take charge of their destiny, join the conversation about justice in this state and country, and realize how they ended up in the place that they did,” Winfrey said. “I hope that the group grows and changes the culture of a yard so much so that critics look at them as a model of what is possible and don’t say they don’t deserve anything.