Parolees Receive a Second Chance in Graduation Ceremony


Emmerson Palencia

Parolees receive a second chance through a graduation that prepares them for life after prison.

Maegan Davis, Author

A truly spectacular event took place on October 24th at the Business Expo Center here in Anaheim. Family, friends, and community members gathered together to celebrate the long-awaited and hard-earned graduation of parolees (some of which served sentences spanning from 15- 40 years) from the GEO reentry program. It was an emotional night, and everyone who attended left with a renewed sense of hope and a happy heart. 

Emmerson Palencia

This, however, was not an easy program for the graduates. There were innumerable trials and tribulations along the way, but the end result would not have been achieved without them. “ I’m an ex-graduate, I graduated almost a year ago, and myself, like everybody here, got out of prison. I served a long time, so when I got out, everything had changed for me, so this program is what held me together. I had no sense of direction, and there was no going back to what I knew, so this program gave me the tools that helped me get a job and helped me go back to school. It taught me the steps I needed to live in society. What inspired me the most, and the reason why I keep coming to these events, is that I see new faces. I consider myself a role model because I’m still, to this day, doing what I do. When I see the program still going strong, and when I see people that I know graduating, it motivates me. It makes me feel good that people are still believing

Families cheering graduates

in themselves and believing in something. The support that we get, this is the first time that we get this. It’s pretty nice that people are actually taking notice and interest in something like this. Hopefully, this keeps going for many years to come, and hopefully, people keep doing good.” said Reynaldo Gerrero, an Alumni from the GEO reentry program.

It takes a great deal of courage and dedication to complete the program. Graduates must complete twelve steps: honesty, trust, acceptance, raising awareness, healing damaging relationships, helping others, creating long term goals, creating short term goals, commitment to change, maintaining positive change, keeping moral commitments, and choosing goals.

Through these steps, graduates can gain a sense of security, knowing that they are prepared to re-enter the community they once knew so well. It is inspiring to see the amount of positive change these graduates were able to make. Jessica Lingo, one of the graduates, said, “I learned an acronym called S.T.A.R. It stands for Stop Think And React. I learned that if I put a little design of a star on my hand and then look at it, it could help remind me to stop think and then react.”

Emmerson Palencia
Graduates turn tassels

By the end of the night, every heart in the room was lifted with renewed optimism as the graduates moved their tassels from the right side of their cap to the left. The room filled with applause from the many supporters. This graduation meant a lot to them, some of them having never accomplished anything meaningful in life. Mrs.Osborne, parole agent 3, said, “ It’s one of our longest programs, most of the time it takes about nine months to complete. You’re talking about a 9-month commitment of coming every day and really opening themselves up to learning about their problems and learning about how they can help themselves in the future. It’s inspiring to see their hard work and how it paid off. I hope you guys can see that they’re really proud to hold their diplomas. It’s really nice to see families taking pictures because this might be their first graduation ceremony. I always love coming to these. We don’t get a whole lot of ‘yays’ sometimes, so it’s good to see them be a success.”

Directors of the program talk to graduates and families

So what can we as a community do to help welcome these graduates back into society and reduce the stigma around parolees? Mr. Gerrero says, “We need support and opportunities. I understand that we’re coming out of a place where we were paying a debt to society for whatever reason, but when we come out, a lot of doors are closed on us because everything is on paper. When they read it and find out where we’re coming from, our possible jobs and schooling become limited. We need your support.” These hardworking graduates have rightfully earned their second chance, and now it is our job as a community to give it to them.