From ‘locked up’ to ‘life changing’: A proposal to consider
“We are still a long way from the time when our conscience can be certain of having done everything possible to prevent crime and to control it effectively so that it no longer does harm and, at the same time, to offer to those who commit crimes a way of redeeming themselves and making a positive return to society. If all those in some way involved in the problem tried to ... develop this line of thought, perhaps humanity as a whole could take a great step forward in creating a more serene and peaceful society.”
---Pope John Paul II, July 9, 2000
It is past 7 p.m. on a weekday as a dozen or so Loyola Marymount University students gather in the lobby of a campus residential building for a special conversation, a “fireside chat.”
The speaker is Francisco “Franky” Carrillo Jr., a 37-year-old man released 10 months ago from prison, where he spent two decades of his life after being wrongfully accused and convicted of a crime he did not commit. For an hour he tells listeners about his ordeal and how he is now starting to fulfill his dream of becoming the first in his family to attend college.
It is, certainly, an eye-opening encounter for the students, who praise their alma mater for giving them the opportunity to listen and learn from people with different backgrounds that otherwise they would never hear.
“It adds a much-needed element of diversity,” said sociology junior Megan Attore. “It also helps to see in real life the inconsistencies of the justice system.”
“It is very important to be surrounded by people of different backgrounds,” declares Jasmine Chiong, a screenwriting and philosophy sophomore. “And we have them here in our same hometown. It is a learning experience.”
But it is potentially much more. For not only is Carrillo a part-time LMU student who recently was hired as a part-time office receptionist at the university; he also is a pioneer in a potentially groundbreaking effort that would involve five West Coast Jesuit-operated universities in educating and improving the futures of formerly incarcerated youth to fully reintegrate into their communities.
Education: ‘Powerful transformation’
In December, the Culver City-based Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative (JRJI) submitted the Second Chance Scholarship proposal, seeking to partner with Jesuit schools in creating a scholarship for students with a criminal record. In addition to LMU, the schools are Gonzaga University, University of San Francisco, Seattle University and Santa Clara University. (If approved, it would probably be the first of its kind in the country.)
“When someone is locked up and has changed their life, education becomes a piece of a powerful transformation that leads the person to new possibilities,” said Jesuit Father Michael Kennedy, founder and executive director of JRJI, and co-chaplain at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar.
“When I have visited various prisons that have college dorms, I am always impressed with the passion that emerges with their desire to continue their education when they are released,” continued Father Kennedy, who ministers to the incarcerated in different prisons around California, including Folsom State Prison where Franky Carrillo spent 10 years. “I have received countless letters from youth who are soon to be released expressing their desire to go to a Jesuit university.”
Carrillo had not even graduated from high school when he was mistakenly identified in a lineup after a drive-by shooting committed by alleged gang members in front of his home in Lynwood, where an innocent man was struck by a bullet and died.
His incarceration years allegedly included being choked by a deputy almost to the point of death just a few days after being booked in a juvenile hall. Yet he never lost his desire to one day pursue a career, he told LMU students at the recent “chat.”
The path, he knew, would be hard: Neither of his parents, both from Mexico, had finished elementary school. His dad, who died 11 years ago while Franky was in prison, was a construction worker; his mother left her four children and husband when Carrillo was nine years old, visiting her family only occasionally.
But Carrillo persisted, earning a General Education Development (GED) certificate as well as college credits. For several years he was a teacher’s aide while he learned trades. He got involved in a prison project for the visually impaired, transcribing material for the blind and refurbishing used eyeglasses. He was a volunteer at Catholic liturgies.
He is now in his second semester at LMU, where he has been invited to speak with students. He tells them he is following the footsteps of Scott Wood, a clinical professor of law at Loyola Law School and head and founder of the school’s Center for Restorative Justice.
“I am living my dream now,” he told the students.
‘Gifts of the incarcerated’
“I realize that some of our universities have helped some formerly incarcerated to attend a university,” declared Father Kennedy. “Of course, the financial blessing to the person is enormous, but I sometimes wonder if we throw into the equation that the tremendous asset to the life of the university are the gifts and experience that the formerly incarcerated bring, that our very universities would be actively recruiting some exceptional human beings who were formerly locked up.”
He is referring to students such as David Veerman, a 23-year-old junior at Santa Clara University majoring in philosophy and English.
Veerman’s family offered him many opportunities and options to stay away from a negative lifestyle, but he did not listen, and ended up serving over three years in juvenile hall (he had faced 36 years to life). Chastened, he exhibited good behavior during that time, including a desire to study (he took several college courses), which was noticed by Father Kennedy, a key person in Veerman’s enrollment at Santa Clara where he was granted financial support.
Today Veerman is enjoying his life as a regular student.
“This is beyond my expectations,” he said by phone from his room in a campus residential building. “I was telling my friends the other day when I went home that this is all I have --- that if I don’t graduate, I don’t know what I am going to do.”
While admitting that the first months on campus he went through a “culture shock” and that he is not “an angel who has everything in life figured out,” he appreciated many significant values passed along to him by the university community.
“They have helped me change my perspective in life,” he said, “I am learning in the classroom, especially this junior year, that I have a purpose in life not only for my own benefit, but for the benefit of the community as a whole.”
“Every method of thinking is a different way of looking at the truth,” he adds, citing St. Thomas Aquinas. “I feel I’m a much better person now and I am being taught to navigate my way to progress and one day I will return the gift Jesus gave me.”
Something he learned in juvenile halls from volunteers and chaplains like Father Kennedy, he noted, is that “spirituality and education go hand in hand.”
Loyola Law School’s Wood, educated in Jesuit schools, cannot agree more with that statement. Thus, he believes the scholarship proposal for the formerly incarcerated should have a “very high priority.”
“I understand there is a competition for scholarships,” he said. “But if we go by the Jesuit ideals of bringing more healing and rehabilitation for people impacted by crime --- and in most cases the offenders are also victims --- this scholarship should be at the top of the list.”
That doesn’t mean ignoring bad acts and serious crimes committed, he added. “Offenders should take responsibility and be held accountable for what they did,” he asserted. “But once they serve their time they should be reintegrated and helped in their healing process to help them become the people God made them to be.”
He believes the learning goes both ways between the formerly incarcerated and regular students. Franky Carrillo is an example.
“LMU is treating Franky very well and Franky is contributing a lot to LMU as well,” he said. “Because of his age and his experience, he is kind of a mentor to those students, the middle-guy between the students and the teachers.”
He said Jesuit institutions should continue underscoring the preferential option for the poor, and “people like Franky [and most of the incarcerated], who come from desperately poor families.”
‘The jury believed in him’
So does Eduardo Galicia, a 17-year-old recently released from Sylmar’s juvenile hall, defying all odds in that he testified in his own behalf --- “against the usual advice from almost any attorney,” noted William Wimsatt, a retired lawyer and longtime volunteer at the juvenile hall.
The high school student had spent more than a year in juvenile hall. He was facing life in prison.
“The jury believed in him and he was acquitted,” continued Wimsatt, who prepared Galicia for his confirmation. “He must have taken a strong belief in his own innocence, perhaps a bit of naiveté, and a lot of courage, to put his life in the hands of people [a jury] he had never met.”
Soon after being released, the teenager went back to a continuation school and soon will be transferred to an adult school.
Galicia said he is willing to do whatever it takes to right the wrong and pursue a higher education, but is struggling with obtaining necessary funding. His father is a maintenance worker at an apartment building who can barely make ends meet, while his step-mother takes care of the home. He has a younger brother in his early teens attending middle school. His biological mother has not lived with the family since he was five years old.
“I would definitely take advantage of a scholarship like that [Second Chance] if I were offered the opportunity,” Galicia told The Tidings, “but first I know I need to focus on finishing high school and getting a job.”
His father Raul says this is the first time that anyone in his family --- with strong Catholic roots in Mexico --- has ever had an encounter with the prison system, and “hopefully the last.”
Admitting he feels somewhat guilty of what happened to his son, Raul has realized that stronger father-son communication is needed.
“One thing I keep telling him is that although we come from a very poor family, we came to this country to succeed and he has what it takes to become a professional, the first one in the family,” says Raul, who only finished second grade in his native Mexico.
His son nods. “Sometimes it doesn’t seem I have faith,” he says, “but I do have faith.”
“Our dream at JRJI together with many other organizations with whom we collaborate,” said Father Kennedy, “is to invite our Jesuit universities to establish a systemic and structural commitment that within the vast pool of applicants at least one outstanding formerly incarcerated will be helped each year.
“Their contribution of how to keep kids from making serious mistakes could be enormous and this could provide a wonderful witness of how our Jesuit universities stand with those who society has already condemned as being of no value.”
California’s prison system is the largest in the country: 33 prisons, 40 camps, 12 community correctional facilities, and an incarcerated population of 170,000, according to 2008 data provided in the scholarship proposal.
The state spends about $10 billion per year on prisons and $250,000 per year per an incarcerated juvenile. Recidivism (people incarcerated more than once) rate remains at 70 percent.
“These staggering statistics predominantly affect minority groups,” is stated in the document. “Demographics in 2005 were 38 percent Latino, 29 percent African American and six percent other/white.”
In the proposed program, JRJI offers to identify a pool of applicants with criminal records who have completed at least one year of community college with a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.0. Scholarship recipients will be awarded for the duration of the completion of a four-year bachelor’s degree.
Eligible applicants must submit proof of application for all state/federal financial aid and demonstrate sincere efforts to earn private scholarships. It is recommended that some part of the scholarship be awarded in the form of a work-study program, and recipients must maintain a good standing to renew their scholarship each academic year, with the measure of good standing regulated by the university.
The proposal was endorsed by Javier Stauring, co-director of the archdiocesan Office of Restorative Justice; Jesuit Fathers Greg Boyle, founder and executive director of Homeboy Industries; Scott Santarosa, pastor of Dolores Mission Church; and Jeff Putthoff, executive director of Hopeworks ‘N Camden in New Jersey.
The Jesuit university presidents contacted by The Tidings agreed the proposal is within the scope of their mission, but said they are limited by financial constraints.
“We’re very interested in supporting the work of JRJI and particularly supporting those who are incarcerated and turning around their lives and giving them a second chance,” declared Jesuit Father Joseph LaBrie, special assistant to LMU’s president David Burcham.
How that will play out in terms of the specific proposal at LMU, given the financial constraints around financial aid and other projects, is uncertain, Father LaBrie said. Still, he added, “We’re definitely interested in (future) significant dialogue with JRJI to put in place something what would be a nice collaborative effort between JRJI and Loyola Marymount University.”
“We are considering it, but there are several very special programs that we have here at Seattle University, helping foster kids and others, that we’re not so sure we’re going to take it up and be part of Second Chance,” said Jesuit Father Stephen Sundborg, president of Seattle University.
“Conceptually, it’s a great idea,” said Jesuit Father Stephen Privett, president of the University of San Francisco. But “were we to accept it, we would face financial issues. How it would work is a huge unanswered question. We would need to have a capacity to generate philanthropic support to secure the more than $50,000 per student per year.”
“Given the severe budget constraints that we are facing at Santa Clara, and with the governor's proposed further cutbacks in state aid to the CalGrant program, it is not prudent to commit to new unfunded scholarship proposals,” Jesuit Father Michael Engh, president of Santa Clara University, wrote in an email.
“Until I received the proposal in mid-December, I don't believe our institution has previously considered, in a formal manner, the prospect of supporting restorative justice for incarcerated persons,” Dr. Thayne McCulloh, president of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, wrote in an email.
“I am not yet prepared to respond to the invitation to participate, as I would want to involve certain key constituents of our community in conversation about it, and we have just begun the spring semester. I am committed to seriously considering it, for the reality of the need is evident; in many ways, the question is one, of priorities alongside the extent of commitments which are part of the efforts reflected in our strategic plan.”
The proposal was welcomed by the California Jesuit provincial, Father Michael Weiler, who said he “heartily endorses the efforts of Jesuit universities” in assisting students with crime records to achieve a “quality education.”
“I know from personal knowledge that such students do today study on the campuses of Jesuit institutions,” he noted.
The document states that the program created specifically for the formerly incarcerated would serve as a “prophetic witness to the principles of restorative justice and our Jesuit mission and ultimately to preach the Gospel value of reconciliation.”
- Hayden Christmas Pageant
December 12, 2013 (8:30 AM)
- Nazareth House Auxiliary Christmas Luncheon & Card Party
December 12, 2013 (11:30 AM)
- Good Shepherd 90th Anniversary
December 12, 2013 (7:30 PM)
Prayer of the MonthPapal intentions for November: That priests who experience difficulties may find comfort in their suffering, support in their doubts, and confirmation in their fidelity. That as fruit of the continental mission, Latin American Churches may send missionaries to other Churches.
Papal intentions for December: That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.