“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

Upon meeting Jose, one finds a dedicated father, a loyal son, a student furthering his education, and a hard working intern at Amity’s Amistad de Los Angeles community. Jose is actively involved in Amistad’s mentoring program; helping others while he helps himself navigate the transition from prison life to successful re-entry into the community.

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 (www.extensionsllc.com). 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.”

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.”

At the recent acknowledgement ceremony at Amistad de Los Angeles, Rod Mullen, President/ CEO and Founding Director of Amity Foundation (www.amityfdn.org) recognized Jose Perez and his personal demonstration which will pave the way for others to follow. 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.”

Author's Bio: 

Mary Stanton, senior counselor with Amity Foundation, began her professional career in 1976 as a research chemist after receiving her BS in biochemistry and math from the University of New Mexico. Later, as the mother of three sons, she changed careers to teaching, completing her graduate coursework in Education and Library Science. Stanton taught high school and worked as a school librarian for a total of fifteen years prior to entering the counseling profession. During the five years she has been with Amity Foundation, Stanton has worked in a variety of capacities including counseling and training, developing and implementing new programs, grant writing, and writing for Amity’s websites (www.circletreeranch.org and www.amityfdn.org).

Biography — Naya Arbiter
Naya Arbiter is the principal of Extensions, LLC (www.extensionsllc.com), a private consulting group which she founded. Recognized for her ability to develop new restorative paradigms and practices for marginalized populations, Ms. Arbiter has been a featured speaker at national and international conferences. Her career spans over three decades during which she has developed innovative and effective services for pregnant addicts, addicted mothers and their children, and both adolescents and adults with histories of chronic addiction, criminality, violence, and incarceration. Ms. Arbiter was appointed by President Reagan in 1987 to serve as a conferee to the White House Conference for a Drug Free America. She has written over 13 volumes of copyrighted curriculum to be used by behavioral health organizations—including teacher’s manuals and an extensive quality assurance system to report on progress of students and faculty.

Additional Resources on Intervention can be found at:

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