Inmates get chance to move beyond jail

March 16, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Department of Justice reports nearly one in every 30 adults is either in prison, in jail or on parole. Santa Clara County is trying to break that cycle of incarceration with a new program.

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Monica Galindo is a single mother who recently served seven months at Elmwood Correctional Complex in Milpitas for petty theft.

"I regretted being away from my kids, so I learned from it and I'm not really a bad person so I know it won't happen again," Galindo said.

Galindo is one of six non violent, low level inmates who got a second chance at Elmwood when they took part in a program called the ladder project.

"Most of the women in jail right now are repeat offenders so if we can break that cycle we can save incredible amounts of money," Office of Women's Policy spokesperson Carla Collins said.

It costs $42,000 a year to house a single inmate at Elmwood. The pilot project that helped half a dozen of those women cost a mere $19,000.

Monica and the other interns each spent 100 hours learning carpentry at a Habitat for Humanity site in Santa Clara. They got public transit vouchers, stipends for child care and most importantly, a mentor who believed in them.

"Everyone is telling me, 'yes, you can and I will help you,' and I am so thankful for that," former inmate Pacita Banks said.

Monday, the program graduates received these certificates of recognition and a carpenter's belt.

"I really do believe that we'll make a difference in their lives and I'm going to cry because I'm very moved by it," mentor Bayla Bromberg said.

Galindo was moved too. When she went on stage to accept her award, her children spontaneously followed and made everyone realize the Ladder Project changes more than one life at a time.

"I'd like to thank the program, it really changed me and to do positive things for me and my children," Galindo said.

Galindo has already found construction work at a community college. The others say the tool belt merely represents what is possible.

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