East Palo Alto police introduce parolee program

March 20, 2009 12:37:23 PM PDT
East Palo Alto parolee Maurice Brown used to assume police were the enemy.

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"That was what the community told you," he said this morning. "But all along they were our friends."

Brown discussed his new belief as he joked with members of the East Palo Alto Police Department and his co-workers, also parolees, today while waiting to begin his second day of work of picking up trash and cleaning the side of state highways for the California Department of Transportation.

The 20 parolees, who wore bright-colored vests and clutched orange construction hats, are the first group from the East Palo Alto re-entry program to participate in the Caltrans job program.

The program gives parolees a chance to earn money, build their resumes and it introduces them back into the community in a healthy fashion, according to East Palo Alto police Capt. Carl Estelle.

"It all comes out of you when you're sitting in those cells, thinking you want to do a better thing," Brown said of why he decided to change his life since being placed on parole.

"I'm just tired of being negative," he said.

Another parolee, Sonia Carrasco, said she doesn't want to be cuffs anymore.

"You gotta want to change," Carrasco said. "I'm tired of the road I was living out there."

After the parolees report for work at the Police Department, they are briefed and then taken to various sites to clean the sides of the highways.

Today was the group's first full day of work, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and their second day in the field. The parolees are paid $10 an hour.

Parolee Cheryl Walker said she is grateful for the work since her last real job was in 1985.

"For 20 years I was in and out of prison with no opportunities, until this program came about," she said.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and Caltrans funded the $1 million program, according to Estelle.

The program is part of the second phase of a three-phase plan to help parolees adjust to life outside prison, Robert Hoover, director of Day Reporting Center, said.

The first phase includes an assessment of the parolee to determine if any documents, such as a driver's license or other form of identification, are needed. Job readiness classes are also offered during phase one, according to Hoover.

The second phase involves a job search and classes such as cognitive development, substance abuse education, family reintegration and anger management, Hoover said.

The third phase continues long-term thinking with parolees to establish a life plan.

The re-entry program was implemented in January 2008. Today's group of parolees is the first to work with Caltrans through the new program, Hoover said.

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