Recently I was afforded the opportunity to join a new program here at Corcoran called REACH: Rehabilitation Education and Creating Hope. This is a special program designed to steer teens away from poor lifestyle choices that would lead to prison. Some of you may be familiar with the old “scared straight” programs, REACH moves away from the concept of scaring teens and instead seeks to educate them about the reality of their choices and where the outcome of those choices may lead.
It is awesome to be able to participate in this program and hopefully show some at risk young men that a negative lifestyle is not worth living. I joined this program as soon as I heard about it because of what has been done to me. No one should have to experience the injustice I have suffered. Unfortunately many people, especially teens, have no idea how serious the consequences of life can be. How many teens know they can be tried as an adult in court? How many know they can be sentenced to life or longer in prison without any physical evidence? At their age I sure didn’t.
On October 19, 2016 the first group of young men came through our REACH program at Corcoran State Prison. I introduced myself with “My name is Sean O’Brien. When I was only 16 years old my freedom was taken away from me. I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole plus an additional 10 years for a crime I did not commit. No one cared that I was just a kid. But today someone cares about you. That’s why you’re here, so pay attention.”
Through the REACH program I, along with 24 of my fellow REACH brothers, got to share our life stories with 10 young men between 15 and 18 years old. We were able to share the knowledge from our personal experiences of what leads to a life in prison.We also took the time to listen to the teens talk about their own lives and offer our best advice. Every single one of them left that day saying they never want to come to prison. No one does. But only a few get to actually see the terrible, painful, scary, shameful reality of prison before they are sentenced here.
Throughout the day the young men in the REACH program got to see a lot of what prison life is like. Starting with a brief tour through Education and the Program Office, past the Chapel, Medical Clinic, Clothing Room and Canteen. In the Gym the teens heard our introductions and several biography speeches given by my fellow REACH brothers. Between each speech we had the opportunity to talk to the the young men; learning more about them and letting them know we understand and care about what they are going through.
Following this the young men got a real prison lunch in the Dining Hall. They were served one of the better lunches we receive here and not a single teen was impressed. Then they got to see a housing unit; going into the cells, the showers, even trying to call home on the phone. Prison is a sad life and it became apparent to these kids. Especially when they heard the family values speech and realized just how far away we are from our families.
We made our way back to the Gym where the young men got to hear speeches on gang prevention, education, bullying, drugs & alcohol, and laws & enhancements. There was also more time for us to talk to the young men in small groups, to get the m to open up more about themselves and the choices that led them to being in the REACH program. Eventually the conversations turned toward what goals and choices they were going to make to turn their lives around. Every single kid committed to doing something to keep themselves out of trouble and from a life that would lead to prison. At the end when the young man that I was assigned to mentor got up in front of the group and announced his four goals, I was incredibly proud as he said his fourth goal. A goal we should all strive to hold ourselves to because it would help everyone make better choices. And that is to value our futures.
Written by Sean