Jericho Project helps train felons to enter workforce

March 21, 2012 8:30:52 PM PDT
In San Mateo County, there is a little known but highly successful recovery program, for felons who want to tear down walls of crime and rebuild their lives. In this ABC7 Focus on Solutions report, we got inside look at The Jericho Project.

Jericho founder Chuck Etchison's counseling meetings are brutally honest.

"If you're going to stop using and you're going to stop stealing, you have to support yourself right? So it means you have to go to work correct?" said Etchison to the group.

Etchison started his program after coming out of prison almost two decades ago. Almost all of the 100 men here are referred by the courts and probation officers. There are former gang members and drug users. All are being given another chance at life. Like many recovery programs, there's a high washout rate. But for those who stay, the odds of success are great.

"The 40 percent that complete the program have a very high percentage of long term success, 25 to 30 percentage remain clean and don't offend again," said Etchison.

Compare that to the national success rate of only 2 percent for long term recovery.

Miguel Gonzales is cooking for his roommates for the first time at one of the project's boarding houses. They're given chores, taught basic skills like folding clothes and making beds, which they've learned to do meticulously. Their drawers are neat and orderly. Everything is a life lesson.

"We start with our drawers and work our way up from there. And like Sir always says, 'if you can't keep your drawers straight, how can you keep your lives straight?'" said Nick Rogers, a Jericho participant.

The regimen here is highly structured, just like the military.

"Many of these men have not had structure to their life, they've had no purpose, no direction. And so we provide that and they respond to it," said Etchison.

Another thing these men never had is job skills. That's the centerpiece of The Jericho Project.

"If somebody wants to stop using and stop the criminal behavior, stop stealing, and get their life together it means they're to work. And a lot of programs don't address that issue," said Etchison.

The job training classrooms are held in a large warehouse which serves as the program's offices and training facility.

Like the rest of the staff, Damon Kasparian is a graduate of Jericho. He is now in charge of the construction and warehousing training program.

"Everything we do is focused on helping our men develop legitimate self esteem. I think that a purpose and a purpose that results in self esteem is the key," said Kasparian.

Students here are learning to be plumbers. Those in the class next to them are being trained to become electricians. Jovon Allen is an eager student. He says Jericho changed his life.

"I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, so I started gangbanging. I started using drugs. I started committing crimes. And I came here and I'm pursing becoming an electrician," said Allen.

Like the name of the project Jericho these men are breaking down their own walls, the walls of crime and addiction.

The Jericho Project is funded through corporate sponsorships.


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