On his second appearance before a parole board, Jose Segura was given a release date. He attributes this success to being able to express himself clearly through what he learned in the Spanish Victim Offender Education Group (VOEG).
VOEG is a program that puts offenders and victims of crime in dialogue so they can discuss the impact of crime on families and communities.
“When I committed my crime, I had a belief system called machismo. This belief system taught me to have a big ego, be tough, never ask for help or let another man push you around,” Segura said. “VOEG helped me see and transform the rage inside of me. I learned that asking for help or expressing my emotions is acceptable. It’s not something that makes me weak.”
Segura, sentenced to 15 years to life, has been incarcerated for 20 years.
Trained facilitators Lesli Pastora Reyes, Steve Granville, and Lucia De La Fuente visited San Quentin State Prison once a week to teach VOEG.
The Spanish VOEG class is the brainchild of two incarcerated Mexican-Americans, Arnulfo T. Garcia (San Quentin News editor-in-chief) and Jorge G. Heredia (San Quentin News Spanish interpreter).
“Long before I started doing my own VOEG, I always believed in order to get the real work done, people needed to be able to express their feelings in their own language,” Heredia said. “If you get a person to express himself in his own language, he’ll be able to talk about his own issues in life, reconnect with himself and seek development as a human being.”
Daniel “Nane” Alejandrez, founder and executive director of Santa Cruz Barrios Unidos, was invited to the final class as a guest speaker.
Barrios Unidos is a multi-cultural organization that provides youth with educational opportunities and job training through experienced community workers.
“Our vision of safer and stronger communities can only be realized by leaders who are not afraid to face today’s challenges prudently and expediently,” Barrios Unidos’ mission statement reads.
Alejandrez, who spoke about his 26 years of traveling to the nation’s prisons on a mission for peace, reflected on the men in Spanish VOEG.
“I see a group of peace warriors, ready to return to their communities,” said Alejandrez. “Having programs like this gives one the opportunity to look into their life. We need these types of groups that use the circle process that heals our pain. It does society no good to keep someone locked up with no future.”
Garcia said for community leaders like Alejandrez to come inside the prison and give the Spanish VOEG class positive feedback helps other men understand why they should take the program.
“Nane was able to connect with the men in an honest way,” Garcia said. “It’s easier to express things like empathy, love or relationships in your native language.”
Tare Beltranchuc, 46, said that the VOEG process helped him understand why he became a violent person.
“What it helped me to do is connect through empathy,” Beltranchuc said. “Once I was able to see and deal with the internal issues, only then could I begin to heal myself and truly understand the hurt I placed on my victims.”
Alejandrez said the VOEG circle process has power through the act of listening.
“I was very moved to hear these testimonies. It gives me hope. A big change will come as we see people like I see here leave these places and return to the community.”
The facilitators and Alejandrez were presented with a certificate of appreciation for their dedicated public service.
“As long as my relatives, and we are all related, who have educated themselves on how to live in peace are still behind bars, I’ll keep doing this,” Alejandrez said. “They should have the ability to go home. And a $200 gate only is not going to do it. We should have a welcome committee waiting for them and then take them to where they need to go.”
Other graduates of the 18-month VOEG program are:
- Oscar Aguilar
- Arturo Avalos
- Vincente Gomez
- Edurado Gonzalez
- Manuel Granados
- Manuel Murillo
- Juan Vega
- Marco Villa