Thursday, September 22, 2011

Where are they from? Where are they going? - Part 2

Part of my research for my film project temporarily titled The Assassination of a Citizen takes me into the Southern Youth Correctional Reception Center and Clinic in Norwalk, CA (SYCRCC). This is a 3-part report of my experiences there.

Almost a year ago I applied to become a volunteer for the California Department of Corrections. I’ll skip the details but after some meetings, a background check and other initial processing, in January 2011 I was cleared to volunteer pretty much at any facility in California that offers recreational or rehabilitating services to its inmates.

The SYCRCC was the closest to me and unique in their motivational and inspirational approach in treating some of the youth. Various programs for inmates exist, which are run by volunteers or where volunteers are needed and almost all of them are faith-based. These are dedicated to Academic Tutoring, Substance Abuse, Bible Study, Substitute Parenting or Match-2, the one I have been trying to get into, which is also faith-based.

In Match-2 an inmate, usually someone who does not get visits from family or friends for various reasons, is matched with a volunteer who commits to regular visits during visiting hours to act as a kind of substitute buddy. Unfortunately, the guy who runs that program is making a fuss about putting me to work for them.

As a volunteer you are not required to be part of a program in order to volunteer. Throughout the year a number of different events are held where volunteers can participate and help out: holidays and family visiting days, where games are held and a respectable dinner is served; “Daddy & Me” is for inmates who are fathers, who are given the chance to spend some supervised time with their children. On other days inmates are celebrated who have been violence and drug free for varying amounts of time, which is part of the Incentive Program the institution runs.

Setting incentives is an essential element of the philosophy of the SYCRCC. Within the program inmates are given the opportunity to earn rewards by contributing to the infrastructure of the facility: cleaning, administrative duties, organizing events etc. Rewards are luxury items that range from sweets and toiletries to Playstations and TV’s to gourmet dinners with a visitor of their choice. The inmates who have an especially outstanding record even have a shot at an early release, which was the case with Tony and Will, who became friends at the center. Read more about the role of the IP in Part 3.

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