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Pitchess East graduates first EBI class

Posted: March 28, 2013 6:22 p.m.
Updated: March 28, 2013 6:22 p.m.

Inmate graduates attend ceremony Thursday at the Pitchess East facility. About 60 were the facility's first graduating class from the Sheriff Department's newly launched program called Education Based Incarceration. Signal photo by Jim Holt

Five dozen inmates at the Pitchess Detention Center proudly took the jail’s podium Thursday as the east facility's first graduating class from the Sheriff Department’s newly launched Education Based Incarceration program.

In many ways it was like any other graduation ceremony — a series of testimonials punctuated with hugs, tears and standing ovations.

But the stories the graduates shared during Thursday’s in-custody ceremony were not the typical ones told by optimistic, fresh-faced grads with their lives ahead of them.

“I now recognize the fear that keeps me from creative growth,” inmate Jay Bass told his fellow graduates.

“Because of some interferers telling me it’s stupid and not to do it, I can now see how this fear limits me.”

“I looked at the mess I made of my life and realize I made this mess,” said Bass, who excelled in an art class offered through the program. “I created this life, like I created this picture.”

The graduation Thursday was the first held by the Sheriff’s Department‘s Education Based Incarceration Bureau at Pitchess Detention Center, East Facility.

The graduates completed a 12-week course on life skills, which included courses in anger management, drug education, occupation preparation, computer use, resume training and art.

The program, with its roots in the county’s Maximizing Education Reaching Individual Transformation (MERIT) program, is designed to meet the goals and vision of Sheriff Leroy D. Baca of reducing recidivism, re-integration back into the community and reducing crime within the jail and community.

Teachers for each class invited one student to give a testimonial for the graduating class.

First to the podium was graduate Jesse Mejia.

“I’d like to thank God for rescuing me,” he began.

“Wasn’t much love growing up,” he said. “My parents were loaded all day on heroin.”

“What I learned was where to put the syringe when my parents passed out, so that my little brothers and sisters wouldn’t get hurt.”
When he was arrested in December 2011, Mejia was given a chance to get an education through the EBI program.

“I learned how to accept myself,” he said, calling his learning a transformation.

“I wasn’t a good husband to my wife. I wasn’t a good father to my children and I wasn’t a friend to those who loved me,” he said. “Now I am.”

At least seven of the 60 graduates earned their General Educational Development certificates, two graduated from art class and five completed a computer course, earning specific computer skills.

What did Chris Arredondo learn from his life skills course?

“I was walking through life asleep,” he said. “I didn’t know that I didn’t know.”

Jail official Dr. Brant Choate, who chaired the event and who has visited the county’s other jails, said the heart of the EBI is the traditional MERIT program.

“What you see happening here is happening everywhere,” he said, to vigorous applause.

“It’s exciting to see the transformation.”
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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