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A Story of Hope
(continued)

The landscape of Jose’s life was quite different in 2004 when he was incarcerated at the Correctional Training Facility (CTF) in Soledad. Although he had spent much of the previous eight years of his life incarcerated, the Level III yard was a new environment for Jose. Being cut off from family, unable to make phone calls, encountering the slow process of sending and receiving mail all contributed to his feelings of guilt, frustration, regret, and hopelessness.

It wasn’t until July of 2005 that Jose became involved with Amity at Soledad. He states, “When I finally hit that yard I was lost. I was tired of doing time. My oldest daughter, who was 11 years old, wrote me a letter that made me cry. It still makes me cry today. She said, “you’re always in the streets…do you even love me?” It was true. The only time I ever wrote her was when I got busted. I asked myself, how much time I had really spent in her life?”

Amity Foundation is acutely aware that the increasing number of children with incarcerated parents constitutes one of the largest at-risk populations in the United States. Every individual is embedded in a family, which is embedded in an extended family, which is embedded in a community, and so forth in ever widening circles. Therefore, the successful re-entry of one person has an exponential impact on families and society.

All Amity projects utilize the Extensions curriculum authored by Naya Arbiter and Fernando Mendez. The intent of the curriculum is to help individuals accept and reconcile the reality of their life experiences, building bridges back toward a healthy lifestyle and healthy relationships. “At first I was resistant. I started listening and doing the curriculum, and little by little I was connecting with the process. I was noticing this isn’t even my vocabulary anymore. I started to connect with one of the counselors, even though I didn’t want to admit it. When it came close to my release I felt the fear coming up. Where am I going to go? What do I want to do when I get out? My mom and dad are getting old. My kid’s…what about my kids? The Amity staff at Soledad gave me some direction. They told me about their residential communities where they’d help me get my GED, my I.D., enroll in Voc. Rehab, and find a job. I was afraid of being a father, but they said they’d help me with that too. So I told them, let me try Amistad.”
Fortunately for Jose and many others, Amity’s Therapeutic Community in Soledad ranks first in the state of California in referrals to community based treatment. “When I got to Amistad in October, 2006, I made some commitments: to get off of high control, to get off of parole, to be a better father and a better son, to have a respectable job, and to live a sober life. So far, things are falling into place. Now I’m getting visits from my family. I’m beginning to model what I see and hear in a positive way. The things my teachers said I’m now saying, but in my own way.”

“Before I came to Amistad, nobody ever took time to teach me how to do something. I just had to figure it out on my own. Now I have mentors who are like me. They have been drug addicts and they have been incarcerated but they are doing something different with their life today. I could relate. I started to open up, build my confidence, and pay attention to what people were saying. I used to say I don’t need help… I know what I’m doing. Now when someone opens a door for me I accept it. I’m not closing doors anymore; I’m actually going through that threshold.”

- Jose Perez, Amistad de Los Angeles

As Jose continued in his process he took on leadership roles within the Amistad community, becoming a role model and applying for an intern position. “When I was offered an apprenticeship I had to make a decision. I thought, maybe I could do this --- maybe I should try it. I’ve done everything else and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere.”

Jose’s story is not unique within the Amity community. Amity Foundation is committed to helping previously incarcerated persons through the re-entry process, obtaining access to the services they need to live full and productive lives. “My experiences have me thinking a different way now. I don’t learn that fast, but sometimes I just catch myself doing something different. Today there are people in my life who see something in me that I don’t see. They challenge me and encourage me. I notice my kids are looking at me different now. My dad looks at me and kinda smiles like “I’ll be damned!” Everything in my life is new to me today. I always had really low self esteem. Today I still know I have a lot to learn, but I also believe I have something to teach.”

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