After jail, Santa Clara County reentry program can change lives
Reentry Services Director Javier Aguirre (center) speaks with community workers Brian Evans (left) and Demetrius Felder (right) at the Santa Clara County Reentry Resource Center. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

By providing job training, college education and counseling, Santa Clara County has found a way to help people from getting caught in the revolving door of incarceration.

With county departments on site and partnerships with community organizations, the Santa Clara County Reentry Resource Center provides a critical service in addressing recidivism. The resource center offers formerly incarcerated people services to reestablish themselves in the community, including referrals for mental health and substance use treatment, public benefit enrollment, counseling, health care, education, record expungement, employment and housing information. It has helped more than 20,000 clients in the criminal justice system over the last 10 years.

The center partners with Goodwill of Silicon Valley and Catholic Charities to provide jobs, San Jose City College to offer a Peer Mentor Certificate Program and the Santa Clara County Office of Education to help clients receive a high school diploma. A Custodial Alternative Supervision Program allows individuals to complete their sentences in the community under a sheriff’s supervision.

Jennifer Temoin struggled most of her life. At 26, she started using meth and lost everything, she said. The daughter of alcoholic parents, Temoin battled mental health issues and attempted suicide four times. She was put in a mental health hospital and lived at the Bill Wilson Center and a group home.

“It’s been a journey coming from 27 years of methamphetamine addiction, incarcerations, felonies and misdemeanors,” Temoin told San José Spotlight.

Everything changed when she came to the Reentry Resource Center and became an advocate for others. She joined the Lived Experience Advisory Board and helped clients get clothes, a phone and housing, and will soon receive certification in substance abuse counseling from San Jose City College.

“What fueled my desire to keep going is the ability to help others through my story,” she said. “There’s a lot of trauma from being locked up, especially for those with mental health issues. Being able to help somebody in need… with empathy and no judgement is important to make them feel like they belong.”

Santa Clara County Reentry Resource Center helps people like Jennifer Temoin turn their lives around. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

A life-changing program

Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said the resource center is an invaluable asset by providing immediate help to individuals released from custody when they are most vulnerable and at risk of reoffending.

Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said it’s possible to move away from incarceration and toward treatment for addiction and mental health issues.

“For a decade, the Reentry Resource Center has been an ever-evolving response to what it looks like to meet people where they are, address their needs and challenges and effectively keep them from cycling through the criminal legal system,” Ellenberg said. “As we work to expand treatment for people struggling with mental illness or substance use disorders in the county, we build on the philosophy of the Reentry Resource Center, which is to lead with care rather than punishment.”

Javier Aguirre, director of reentry services, said through education and employment, the center provides people like Brian Evans with opportunities to seek a better life.

“I had more than 14 years behind the walls,” Evans said. “But they were welcoming and walked me through services.”

Now Evans helps others as a community worker at the center. After he attains his peer mentor certification from San Jose City College, he will be able to work as a rehabilitation counselor in the county’s Behavioral Health Department, changing the lives of people suffering from substance abuse and addiction.

“What it took for me to learn was just for me to have the opportunity and be provided the tools,” he told San José Spotlight. “It opens doors for everything.”

Evans said having workers in the reentry program with lived experience makes all the difference to those released from jail.

“When you talk to somebody, they just know you’ve been there,” he told San José Spotlight. “They know they’re not alone. There is hope that the community really does care about fighting recidivism. There’s a hope that there is a chance. There’s hope we’ll be able to support our families. Change is real.”

Community leader Rev. Jeff Moore said more resources such as reentry services and mental health and drug addiction treatment are needed to help people avoid incarceration.

“We need to put money into the people,” he told San José Spotlight. “We have to work to fix the system. We must return to the humane treatment of people rather than putting them in an 8’ x 8’ cell without windows. People in jail can get more forms of mental illness, magnifying the problem. We need to take some of the problems away.”

As many of the center’s clients followed their parents into the criminal justice system, the county is working toward supporting at-risk youth, Aguirre said. The county office of education is asking inmates if they have children in school who are struggling and in need of advocates.

“Our goal is to end the generational curse of our clients,” he said, “especially our clients of color that have a high disparity in our justice system compared to what they make up in the general population.”

Services provided by the Reentry Resource Center helped Demetrius Felder get back on his feet. As a community worker, he shares his lifetime experience with clients and assures them it’s possible to start over.

“It taught me how to be responsible, get a job and depend on others,” he said. “A lot of times we don’t think there’s help out there for us, but there is.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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