Valley State Prison (Chowchilla) celebrated a milestone earlier this year when it hosted its inaugural Youth Offender Program (YOP) graduation. The ceremony recognized 97 young prisoners who lived up to their commitments to complete various rehabilitative programs.
The graduates successfully reached their goals of earning high school diplomas or general education diplomas (GED), learning vocation trades or enrolling into college courses, according to the prison press release.
The young offenders personally selected the goals that they wanted to reach while serving their sentences at Valley State Prison. They were able to choose rehabilitative programs from the prison’s list of available options.
“We will throw life preservers in the water. It is up to you to swim,” said Warden R. Fisher, Jr. at the ceremony. “This is your chance to do something different by preparing yourselves to transition into society with necessary life skills, education and career options.
“The choice is yours to make. We cannot make the choice for you, but we will guide you to the path of rehabilitation,” Fisher added.
Warden Fisher spoke about the success of the program and encouraged the young offenders to continue their progress forward in terms of social development. He also recognized the YOPs’ willingness to accept help from the volunteer mentors, a press release said.
The graduation took place inside the prison gymnasium where inmate facilitators and mentors, along with numerous guests and administrators, provided encouraging speeches and support for the participants.
Correctional Counselor II E. Alva, the YOP coordinator, spoke and stressed the importance of integrity, commitment and perseverance. She expressed her appreciation for everyone’s participation and applauded the commitment of the entire YOP faculty for their service to Valley State Prison’s youth program.
“The cultural transformation of prison has taken on a new perspective,” Alva said. “And the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has progressively moved forward in its efforts concerning rehabilitation.”
Several inmate facilitators gave emotionally charged speeches that touched visitors and youth offenders alike. The crowd gave a loud round of applause as the young offenders received their certificates, the press release said.
Some of the YOP participants were also recognized for graduating from Defy Ventures, an entrepreneurship development training program. Of the 123 youth offenders who started the program, 97 graduated and the remainder of the participants are still in progress.
Inmate mentors also benefitted from the program over the last year by engaging in various training with both staff and volunteers from outside organizations. The mentors were also recognized for their participation with the YOPs at the January graduation.
“It has been a prosperous year for all participants, and we look forward to continued success in the future,” CCII Alva said.