Graduation Ceremony Honors Students Forging New Lives Outside of Prison
Thirty formerly incarcerated individuals intent on turning their lives around, including students from Santa Barbara City College’s EOPS (Extended Opportunity Programs and Services) program, were honored at the Santa Barbara Day Reporting Center (DRC) commencement ceremony on Tuesday, August 23, at the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort. The graduates were nominated by their parole agents to participate in the comprehensive program to re-enter society upon exiting prison. Those chosen demonstrated that they have taken steps to make positive changes in their lives, and for many, City College has been a key vehicle to do just that.
In addition to recognizing the graduates, awards were distributed to community members who have made a difference in the lives of the program participants. Adjunct SBCC faculty member and EOPS employee Noel Gomez received the first annual DRC Martin Leyva Educational Partner award. Gomez is an EOPS Student Program Advisor and coordinates the Transitions Summer Bridge Program as part of his duties.
The mission of the Transitions Program is to provide access to higher education to individuals released from the California criminal justice system and create a smooth transition from prison to the community college. Gomez also teaches credit courses at the Santa Barbara County Jail. Martin Leyva, the award’s namesake and former prison inmate, is the founder of SBCC’s Transitions Program. Leyva, who is currently starting a Master’s degree program at CSU, San Marcos, told his own story as the ceremony’s keynote speaker.
Sheriff Bill Brown, who developed the Santa Barbara County programs to assist local recently released parolees through substance abuse treatment programs, anger management therapy and other behavioral issues, said, “People do change … There is such a thing as redemption.”
Other SBCC honorees included former EOPS CARE student and former EOPS Peer Advisor, Dierdre Smith, who received the DRC Program Developer award; and Scott Burns, a 2016 Transitions student currently in the EOPS culinary program, who received the DRC Client of the Year award. Since leaving SBCC, Smith has graduated with her Master’s degree from Cal Lutheran and currently works as the Program Coordinator at the Daily Reporting Center. A spoken word presentation was given by 2014 Transitions student and peer mentor Miguel Cruz.