Ex-convicts open up to Alejandra Bautista, in part, because she, too, served time in a federal prison. What is unusual about her story is that as a college student she needed money to continue paying for her tuition, and with no one to turn to, she decided to do the unthinkable -- rob a bank.
"I thought, well, I'll try this and I'll do it only once and I'll never speak of it," said Bautista.
In March 2008, Bautista ended up robbing a Bank of the West in Sacramento. She didn't have a gun, just a note -- and she pulled it off. With a few thousand dollars in hand her next stop was the UC Davis cashier's office.
"I paid for my school," she said. "I went to the cashier's office and paid the student cashier."
Bautista was overwhelmed with school and several part-time jobs. Her grades had dropped. That's when she lost her financial aid. One month later on April 17, 2008, she tried it again, but this time she was stopped by police and sheriff's deputies on her way to school.
"I caught a glimpse of how many there were and there must have been 10," she recalled. "I thought I was going to get shot."
She says it was especially hard for her mom.
"I had never done anything like that before and for her to hear me call her from the county jail saying I had been arrested for bank robbery, it was horrible," said Bautista. "It was really bad."
Bautista was given the minimum 30 months. She served most of it at the Dublin federal prison. When she was paroled, she met Elizabeth Marlow, the co-founder of The Gamble Institute, a non-profit helping parolees get back into society.
"They stay off drugs, they stop doing crime, they go back to school, they get jobs, they reconnect with their families and they still remain in touch with us," said Marlow.
Bautista has done more than that. She now helps others become computer literate.
Earthy Young spent 26 years in jail. He got out six months ago and is now enrolled in a community college. He says he can connect with Bautista.
"It's like a hidden type of form of communication because we both understand that we need each other on different type of levels, especially when it comes to strengthening our minds, nurturing our hearts, pampering our spirits," said Young.
"There is no other limit than those that you put on yourself, especially when a person offers a second chance, that's golden, or a third of fourth chance," said Bautista. "It's never too late to change."
Bautista is completing those credits that she couldn't finish and still has two more years to go. She wants to apply to UC Berkeley and go into public health.