Daniel Silva, Co-Founder, Self-Awareness and Recovery
Photo and Story By Albert Rivas, Chief, Office of External Affairs
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is committed to investing in public safety through offender rehabilitation and successful community reentry.
Adult inmates are provided access to programming to transition out of destructive lifestyles, such as gang affiliations. All inmates are encouraged to participate in academic and career technical education, substance use disorder treatment, cognitive behavioral treatment programs, family relations, criminogenic thinking, and positive inmate-led rehabilitative achievement credit programs.
Innovative Programming Grants started in the 2013-14 fiscal year with $5.5 million to create 74 programs at 20 adult institutions to expand community-based services and support to institutions and facilities. The 2016-17 budget contained $3 million for additional grants, including $5.5 million specifically to provide programs for long-term inmates. Funded programs are those that focus on the rehabilitation of inmates, and that have proven to reduce recidivism substantially, create fewer victims, and contribute to safe communities.
Grant funding has provided resources for programs to expand such as: the Last Mile, which offers technology and computer coding training; Insight Garden Project, which teaches life lessons through the establishment of a physical garden inside a prison; Family2Child literacy project, which provides incarcerated parents with an opportunity to support literacy by recording inmates reading books for their children, and sends the book and recorded message to each child; and Guiding Rage into Power, a year-long inmate accountability and restorative justice program.
The objective for innovative grant recipients is to make community-based volunteer services available at hard-to-reach institutions and facilities. Additional rehabilitative and reentry support has proven to have a positive impact on all parties involved.
Self-Awareness and Recovery (SAR), is one of the many providers delivering rehabilitation program services behind prison walls. This unique program was developed in 2005 by inmates in state prison for fellow inmates behind prison walls.
“SAR aims to provide an emotional outlet for group participants to learn and speak about the root causes of their destructive behaviors,” said Daniel Silva, co-founder of SAR
He and his co-founder recognize the personal impact of their own backgrounds, including involvement with neighborhood street gangs and the trauma this caused in the community.
Daniel, who was sentenced to state prison at 19 years old, and served 38 years; before being paroled. Now, on a very different path, he recognizes his life journey has changed. Today he’s working with trauma by training staff and leading groups with adult and youth offenders. When asked how they get to the core, he describes a four-step model process that resembles peeling back the layers of an onion. With some adults there’s layer upon layer of trauma that ultimately must get peeled away to reveal the inner core or inner child that is broken.
SAR has helped hundreds of offenders in state prison before the founding members paroled. Today, the organization is finding success healing families in the community, youth at local high schools, and representatives are passionate about helping others use learn and use curriculum to excel in a positive way through their healing. The team includes former lifers, attorneys, academic administrators, graduate students, and other passionate volunteers who travel several hours to engage in the public service.
“I believe that SAR workshops provide participants with an opportunity to transcend the mental walls of imprisonment and learn to become productive members of society,” said Daniel Silva
More than 15 years since its inception, the SAR model is available at nearly all CDCR prisons and in the community. Services to state law enforcement, counties, faith-based or public-service organizations are provided through formal contracts. Some community-based services are provided through funding from California foundations for underserved communities.
SAR representatives embrace a philosophy of service to the community and are energized when they can make a positive difference. One of the organization’s goals is to support healing to California communities. Contracted funding helps support positive working relationships with local schools to provide rehabilitation and recovery, and services to at-risk-youth or to divert students from gangs. In the process, students are encouraged to overcome trauma, find healing, and are educated about the importance of making positive choices; to avoid California’s criminal justice system.
Robin Casarjian, Founder and Director
Robin Casarjian is the Founder and Director of the Lionheart Foundation and its National Emotional Literacy Projects. Lionheart’s prison program provides education, rehabilitation and reentry support to incarcerated men and women in prisons and jails throughout the United States.
“The Lionheart Foundation has been an avid supporter of SAR for over a decade,” said Casarjian “When Daniel Silva (who was then incarcerated at Mule Creek) contacted Lionheart, I was inspired by his sincerity, enthusiasm, and desire to help fellow inmates. Having participated in Lionheart’s Houses of Healing Social–Emotional Learning Curricula for prisoners, Daniel sought our support to utilize “House of Healing” as a centerpiece of the SAR program.”
Her programs provide prison inmates encouragement and the necessary support to take stock of the life experiences that propelled them into criminal activity; take responsibility for their criminal behavior; change life-long patterns of violence and addiction; and build productive lives.
Self-Awareness and Recovery
California Medical Facility
Photo by Cecilia Arzaga, Self-Help Sponsor
“Not a person to be deterred from giving back in a positive way to the community, Daniel along with other long-termers who were SAR facilitators while inside the walls are now bringing this message to the communities in which they live – especially to highly at-risk adolescents to help them learn positive coping skills, step onto a life-affirming trajectory, and avoid the hard-learned lessons and involvement with the criminal justice system that Daniel and his co-facilitators experienced,” said Casarjian
Structured programming and patented resources give SAR the in-depth support necessary to tackle some of the most challenging offender needs. Under a contract with Lionheart Foundation, SAR provides power-source programming for at-risk youth, and training long-term offenders and lifers to facilitate youth-offender healing. This is similar to adult programs for youth ages 17-25 years to start the recovery process early on, as opposed to later in life. The program provides participants with anger management, substance-use disorder treatment, family relations, transformation, recovery and much more.
SAR Facilitators are passionate about helping adults and youth with their healing. With a growing number of success stories, the curriculum helps to empower facilitators and transform lives.
Daniel, now a proud grandfather, is pleased that his family has successfully broken the cycle of gang violence. He hopes through his services he can inspire people to move through a healing journey, and prevent others from continuing down a destructive path with the result of fewer victims in California. His daughter is a county employee and his grandson is currently serving a tour of military duty in Afghanistan.
Starting in August 2017, Daniel began using his lived experiences from the outside of prison walls by providing contracted services at California Medical Facility State Prison, where inmates have an opportunity to work with SAR staff to work through various stages of rehabilitation programming.
With the rollout of Proposition 57, inmates participating in a 12-week program, including SAR, for 52 hours can earn one week off their sentence. In fiscal year 2017-18 there were nearly 400 classes and 830 hours completed by offenders who participated in self-awareness and recovery programs. Among other locations, SAR is also providing contracted services to county adult reentry drug court participants to help offenders with their recovery. Other partners include the California Endowment and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.
Faith Johnston is a community volunteer who personally found healing while actively volunteering with SAR. A graduate student and staff member with Project Rebound at California State University of Sacramento, she makes time to volunteer to contribute to the successful rehabilitation and reentry readiness for offenders who may transition from custody to community.
SAR Volunteer and California State University Graduate Student
“Using the SAR model of transformation, individual participants are encouraged and supported by other group members and facilitators to reflect upon the factors that have caused the trauma that has fueled their destructive lifestyles,” said Faith. “In doing so, they are able to experience healing and continue to develop in positive ways, ultimately having an effect on public safety as they come back into their communities and families with better understanding of themselves.”
She enjoys the opportunity to partner with SAR staff, and when possible helps facilitate group sessions. Through SAR, Johnston believes she can have a positive impact. She also believes the organization provides a unique opportunity to better understand trauma that has impacted her life.
“My personal experience and engagement with the SAR model of transformation has allowed me to reflect upon the emotional wounds of past negative experiences with a new framework for understanding them. Utilizing this framework I have been more successful at both assimilating those experiences and releasing them, thus yielding positive growth in my individual development and in my relationships with my community and my family.”
For information about the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, please contact Albert Rivas, Chief, Office of External Affairs at (916) 445-4950.