Why the California Reentry Program Matters

During my 12 years as a crime reporter for The Associated Press, I gravitated towards stories about criminal justice – and very often discovered that people really didn’t want to hear them. I talked to men and women accused and convicted of all kind of heinous crimes -- husbands who killed their wives, mothers who killed their children, rapists and child molesters. I talked to kids who spent more time in gangs than in school.

I also talked to the families left behind – the women whose husbands were on death row, the children whose moms were doing life without parole. And even though these stories were full of genuine human drama -- not to mention startling truths about how our taxpayer money is wasted, my editors told me that no one really wanted to hear.

“No one cares about criminals,” they said. “No one cares about prisoners.”
And they were right. It’s a newsroom joke that people only like to hear about kids and dogs, but, to a degree, it’s true. It’s easier to raise money for the SPCA than for a program like the California Reentry Program (http://www.ca-reentry.org).

But I want to tell you why you should consider supporting CRP, a small nonprofit that helps inmates at San Quentin State Prison who are getting ready to parole. Prisoners aren’t a popular cause. But facts are facts. The vast majority of men and women currently locked up in California’s prisons will someday be released. And most of those men and women will end up back in prison within a year or two. Why? Because the system sets them up to fail.

Many have no families, no job skills, no real education. As a volunteer for CRP, I watch grown men at San Quentin struggle mightily to add simple numbers, to string words together into a coherent sentence.  They leave prison with little more than the clothes on their backs. Oftentimes, all they have is hope. And of course, hope is not enough.
That’s where CRP steps in. A group of about 30 volunteers travels to San Quentin State Prison twice a week to provide counseling to inmates getting ready for release. From a new driver's license or a copy of a birth certificate, to an updated resume or housing application, we provide prisoners with specialized attention they don't receive anywhere else.

One volunteer asked me last week why I continue to volunteer with CRP.  For three years, every Tuesday, I head north to San Quentin to talk to men who may or may not want to change, who may or may not be listening, who may or may not have hope.

Do I make a difference? The truth is – I don’t know. But I figure it’s the least I can do to help these people a bit on their path to stability.  Please consider helping a bit too by supporting CRP. You can even have a great time while doing so, if you attend our upcoming fundraiser on Sunday, Jan. 15 in San Francisco’s Mission District. There’ll be great music, food and wine.  Please join us, and please help. Details are here: http://crp.pingg.com/show.

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