Ever the recidivist, I was headed back to lockup.
Being in prison is a dreadful, emotional experience. However, this time was different: I was actually an invited guest. At the end of the day, I went home.
As one of Sacramento’s recently released three-strikers, I spent 15 years in prison for a career in serious crime. So, when I returned to Correctional Training Facility in Soledad to give the commencement address at a graduation ceremony on October 25, I closed one chapter and began a new one rooted in social justice.
Seven months after being released, my return to prison marked a milestone. I came back as a guest speaker to congratulate the graduates of high-school-equivalency and college programs, and one I helped develop.
Aided by a Bachelor of Arts degree from Sacramento State University, I co-founded Inside/Outside Solutions. We train long-term offenders to be college-educated drug counselors in prison. While I believe serious offenders should be able to earn good-time credits, these guys volunteer for our program without any direct benefit to their sentences. The process my partners and I developed gives them the tools to better understand themselves by co-facilitating an array of treatment groups while serving the remainder of their time.
The best drug counselors are ex-addicts who meld their street knowledge with formal education on the subject of addiction. These specially trained ex-offenders have the tools to address relapse, which is a part of the recovery process.
I’m a product of my own program, which began as a self-funded startup at Soledad in 2010. Since most offenders don’t have access to money, a handful of us pooled our resources. We made it happen—and now, we have help.
As the program director of Inside/Outside Solutions, it’s my job to coordinate the collaboration between colleges, the corrections system and one of eight substance-abuse licensing agencies. With the backing of Careering Responsible Opportunity Programs, a nonprofit organization, we use state waivers through Palo Verde College to state-certify our incarcerated counselors for relative peanuts.
Going back into to prison is a feeling I’ll never forget. If education is power, then what I experienced is on a whole different level. With offenders as the driving force, these guys are going to make a difference. I should know—I’m one of them.
Eugene Alexander Dey is a Sacramento native who received a 26-year-to-life “three strikes” sentence in 1998 for transporting methamphetamine. He was resentenced earlier this year to time served under Proposition 36. He has testified at other Prop. 36 re-sentencing hearings. He can be reached at email@example.com.