By Leon Worden/SCVNEWS.com
Thirty-six inmates graduated Wednesday from Sheriff Lee Baca’s M.E.R.I.T. program at the Pitchess Detention Center’s South Facility in Castaic.
M.E.R.I.T. is Maximizing Education Reaching Individual Transformation, a 12-week program that treats inmates as individuals and teaches them to make good decisions.
“When you change a person’s heart, you change their mind,” said Deputy David D. Bates, the program coordinator. “That’s what we focus on. That is true rehabilitation.”
The program runs five days a week at the jail, Bates said. Wednesday’s graduation ceremony will usher in the start of a new round of classes.
“This is education-based incarceration,” Chief Alexander R. Yim told an audience of 120 inmates and several members of the county grand jury, who sat in on the ceremony prior to touring the jail complex.
“This is not a concept,” Yim said. “This is not something that’s still on the drawing board. This is something that is happening that is effecting change in an individual’s life.”
M.E.R.I.T. teaches life skills, anger management, drug education, computer skills and film making, and it gives inmates an opportunity to earn their GED. Partners include L.A. Works Career Technical Education and Hollywood Impact Studios, a nonprofit organization run by Gary Hall, senior vice president of post-production for Twentieth Century Fox Television.
Inmate Justin Phillips was a graduating veteran who participated in more than one of the 12-week sessions during his incarceration.
“In the seven months of M.E.R.I.T. I’ve learned more about myself and about life than in the past seven years of state (prison),” Phillips said. “You see, in prison, all I got was a drug habit. But through the M.E.R.I.T. program, I’ve gotten hope.”
Graduate Cleveland Rose thanked the program and its instructors for “allowing me to show what integrity means and does. That’s doing the right thing when no one’s looking.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich congratulated the graduates for their perseverance.
“There are three types of people in the world,” Antonovich said, “those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. Each of you has made things happen by graduating today in this program.”
Inmate Daniel Wyman said he was baptized at Pitchess and learned he’s got a choice in the way he behaves.
“I’m only 27 and I’ve been locked up more time – more in jail than I’ve been free. And I’m done,” Wyman said. “I’m done.”