Our Success is Measured in the Impact on People’s Lives.

The impact of Friends Outside’s services on individuals and families is best articulated by the clients whose lives have been changed in big ways and sometimes made better in small but significant ways. The following are some of their stories, as told through their own letters, emails, and testimonials.

Montrell Harrell

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Sam’s Story: A True Turnaround

Sam Spicer, a man who really turned his life around after participating in FOLA’s programs, talks about his life – the ups and downs from court-ordered volunteer work to working for FOLA full-time. Spicer juggled multiple jobs while learning to be a Case Manager. Eventually, he earned Bachelors and Masters college degrees. Today he is employed by Head Start and the Optimist Home. Sam’s many successes earned him a Pardon from the Governor of California.

Be inspired and learn from Sam’s amazingly successful story!

Receiving isPardon from the Governor of California makes him feel “whole as a human being again”. To Sam, the little piece of paper means all that he has been doing for the past 19 years was well worth it!

Sam discusses the process taking him from receiving his Certificate of Rehabilitation in 1994 from the State of California to receiving a Pardon from the Governor in 2013.

Sam describes how seeking a Pardon gave him motivation to stay on task with no deviations or doing what he shouldn’t. Friends Outside encouraged him, wrote letters on his behalf and encouraged him to keep on trying.

Spicer greatly appreciates all of the support given by FOLA staff members and board members.

Sam reflects upon the moment when his wife brought the Pardon to him. At the time, he was in the hospital for testing. Seeing the Pardon gave him his energy back, encouraged him to raise up in his bed, look at the tasks he still needed to do and get going.

Sam joyfully recounts the moment that his wife brought his Pardon to him when he was in the hospital. The Pardon represents years of staying on track and out of trouble. He could hardly believe that he finally received it!

Sam is a former Client, volunteer and staff member of Friends Outside in Los Angeles County (FOLA). During his 18 years with FOLA, he learned a lot about what leads to success after incarceration. He encourages Clients to appreciate the opportunities that FOLA is offering them and to follow thru with what they say they are going to do.

Ernie’s Story:

I grew up in Southeast Los Angeles where three generations of my family lived and began using drugs and alcohol at age seven. My father was a heroin supplier to the East Los Angeles area, and was either in prison or just never home. My mom was a nurse, but eventually lost her job due to a heroin addiction. All of my family members were active in gang life. My first arrest was at age eight and I continued in a life of crime for many years after that, spending a total of seven years in prison. In 2008, I left prison for the last time, with a determination to put my life on the right track. Through a collaboration in which Friends Outside was a partner (the “Re-entry Employment Options Program for Parolees” or “REEOP”), I completed a behavioral modification program, took classes at a local trade college, and began to volunteer. The REEOP program helped me find housing and obtain employment. Once I completed these major accomplishments, I was ready to address my most important goal, which was to retain custody of my daughter, which I did in 2009. I am now one of Friends Outside’s Job Specialists, helping other “ex-offenders” find jobs. Me and my wife recently bought a home.”

About Ernie:

Ernest grew up in Southeast Los Angeles where three generations of his family lived. He began using drugs and alcohol at a very young age, using on his own by age seven. Ernest’s father was a heroin supplier to the East Los Angeles area, and was either in prison or never home. His mom was a nurse, but eventually lost her job due to heroin addiction. All of Ernest’s family members were active in gang life. Ernest remembers that no one really worked, but money was always around.

Ernest’s first visit to Juvenile Hall was at age 8 for stealing bikes. By age 14, Ernest was arrested for grand theft auto and placed in the California Youth Authority (CYA) where he was to serve his first 6-12 month term. He escaped from CYA and went to Arizona, where his life continued in a downward spiral. Ernest became addicted to methamphetamines, and committed armed robbery, multiple home invasions, and stealing gas for food. Ernest was eventually caught and sentenced to prison. According to Ernest, his stay in prison really “hardened” him, and he became emotionally detached and more prone to violence.

Ernest was released to an Indian Reservation shortly before his 18th birthday. Having earned his GED while incarcerated, he completed training in carpentry, masonry and plumbing. Alcohol and drug free, Ernest became involved in a relationship with a local woman that ended tragically with a car accident, resulting in her death as well as her brother and mother. Ernest was the driver and only survivor and bore the tragedy of the accident. In pain and not being able to “center himself,” Ernest returned home. Within a few months, Ernest was heavily involved in gang life and on the road back to prison.

Ernest went to prison three times following his return home from Arizona. With periods of sobriety, each of Ernest’s incarcerations involved drug and alcohol use – ranging from driving under the influence and causing bodily injury/death to possession/sales and weapon charges. In total, Ernest spent seven years in prison, with little time between arrests. Many of his stays were in maximum-security prisons, such as San Quentin and Folsom.

In 2007, Ernest left prison with a determination to get his life back on track. While completing a mandatory behavioral modification program, a condition of his parole, joined Toastmasters, and signed up at a local trade college where he completed over 10 courses on various topics, including grant writing, violence prevention and completion of a community safety certification. He also began volunteering with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), speaking at a Teen Boot Camp about his life experiences. Ernest’s personal goal was to regain custody of his 17-year-old daughter. Ernest began completing all of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) requirements. Recognizing a deficit in available services, Ernest became an advocate for single fathers leaving prison.

Although he had no money and no job, Ernest was determined to keep moving forward. Ernest connected with a case manager from the REEOP program. He convinced a sober living program to allow him to move in, with a promise of paying his rent within two weeks. In between classes, Ernest worked at Labor Ready and did a variety of side jobs. Bythe end of the month, he had the first as well as the second month’s rent. With a roof now over his head, Ernest had 30 days to find suitable housing for his family. Not content with apartment living, Ernest set out to find a house. One week before his daughter was set to move in, Ernest convinced a landlord to take a chance on him.

Although he could only pay the landlord $1,200 per month, which was over $600 less than the asking price, Ernest committed to paying his rent on time and to making the house “look nice” by painting and taking care of the yard. In 2008, with a week to spare, Ernest moved in with his girlfriend, their nine children, including Ernest’s daughter, and three dogs, two of which Ernest rescued.

With so many things going on, Ernest credits his REEOP case manager, Stan, with making it okay to keep doing what he was doing by “lifting some of the burden and giving me room to grow.” In his words, “Stan made it easy.” After four months in the Conservation Corps, Ernest began working for a homeless service agency in the downtown Los Angeles area and has been working there since January 2009. His short-term goal is to begin managing the housing program he’s working for. His long-term goal is to open a family-oriented learning center called “Our House,” where community members, through mentoring and vocational training, can reach their highest potential. He says he owes it to his teachers to give back. Ernest remains connected to the REEOP program, and says his case manager is “like the brother he never had.”

When asked by friends what’s easier – doing the right or wrong thing – Ernest’s response is honest. The wrong thing “is way easier.” It’s a stress every day for him to try and do the right thing, especially when all he’s known is the wrong thing. His advice to others is that it’s okay to be scared. “If you’re not doing something different, you’re not trying. I was scared and uncomfortable and am still scared, but we’re almost two years down the line. It’s okay, and it gets better.” Once he discovered what he was supposed to do, he said that things became a lot easier. This included understanding his own feelings. Ernest said he actually had to get a dictionary to understand his feelings, especially since he’d repressed them for so long. Ernest is currently developing a curriculum on emotional literacy in an effort to educate others.

David’s Story:

David had been incarcerated for 17 months due to a substance abuse problem. Upon release from prison, David lived with his sickly great-aunt but his housing situation was unstable.

After completing our “Parole to Payroll” Job Readiness Workshop, (Do we want to be consistent with the voice we are using – first or third?) David immediately began a full-time job search, using the information provided during the Workshop. One of his job leads was a new location for a supermarket chain called “North Gate.” A man of African-American heritage, David did not let the fact that the chain of markets primarily catered to Spanish-speaking customers deter him. And although he isn’t bi-lingual, David decided to apply for a position of butcher just the same. Shortly after being granted an interview, he received the good news that he had been hired. The program and resulting employment has helped him greatly improve his standard of living. He recently purchased his own vehicle and has been able to move into his own place of residence. David has expressed appreciation for what the program has provided him, saying, “My accomplishments and successes are because you guys have been there for me and never quit on me and no matter what I always have someone to talk to.”

David is one of only two African-Americans who work for the store, and is the first employee to receive a raise since the store opened. And, in racially tense Los Angeles, he was voted “Employee of the Month” by the store’s own customers! David was also recently given a promotion to department manager. Not one to rest on his laurels, David plans to enroll in an adult class to learn Spanish.

Thomas’ Story:

Thomas is a high school dropout who completed his G.E.D. After being incarcerated for 5 ½ years for a drug related offense, Thomas was released from custody. He was referred to our program by his fiancée.

Thomas was initially reluctant to join the program, and was very insecure about his abilities. For example, he expressed great concern about his inability to create a resume and felt inadequate because he did not know how to apply for a job on-line. As a result of the Job Readiness Workshop and one-to-one staff support, Thomas learned how to create his own resume and cover letter in a Word Document and also how to apply for employment through on-line applications. These new skills instilled in him a noticeable new sense of self-confidence.

He was then interviewed by staff regarding the possibility of participating in occupational training and he expressed a sincere desire to do so. Staff referred him to “HazMat” Safety Awareness Training, which he completed according to schedule. He then began to actively seek employment with the guidance of our Job Specialist, Ernie, and eventually landed the highest-paying job of all of our clients to date – $45.90 per hour, working on the remodeling of the Forum in Inglewood!

Thomas has expressed a great deal of happiness and gratitude for the assistance he received from Friends Outside in Los Angeles County. Focusing on more than the financial benefits of having a job, Thomas noted, “Being employed allows me to be a leader for my family and to be an example for my son and grandson.” A very special person, Thomas shared with us that he now gives back to his community by feeding the homeless every Sunday. Thomas says he wants his children and grandchildren to experience the feeling of helping others, noting that his children and grandchildren did not want to share their candy at first but later began to offer their candy to the homeless.

Jamie’s Story:

Hi Korina, I’m writing this email to express my thanks and appreciation for the staff at Friends Outside. Lupe and John have been a tremendous asset helping me secure employment, as well as the information I’ve received in the parole to payroll program, and assistance with clothing and transportation. All of this has helped me once again become a productive member of society. John’s passion and dedication is unparalleled. He is a great inspiration/coach/ instructor to me and countless others. I have learned some things that will be beneficial to me in my professional arena, as well as my personal and family life. Words hardly express how grateful I am. Kudos to you all!!”

Michael’s Story:

When staff met Michael, he had just been released to the community from prison and was living in a transitional living home. Having two minor children, he was especially interested in the job readiness program. He completed the “Parole to Payroll” workshop, being punctual and staying late to use the computers to develop his resume and conduct job-seeking activities. After completing the workshop, he was given job leads by the Job Specialist and landed his first (temporary) job with United Parcel Service. He went through two more interviews and was offered two more part-time jobs! His goal is to earn enough money so he can transition into a residence in which his two children can live with him.

Tyrone’s Story:

Tyrone is a resident of one of the substance abuse treatment facilities in which the Dads Back! program is located. Although his initial interest was the employment component, he immersed himself into the Inside/Out Dad (fatherhood) groups and began to focus more on his relationship with his two daughters. During involvement with the program, he has increased his contact with his daughters and especially enjoys attending their soccer matches. He has earned the position of a “Core” member at the treatment facility, a position that carries with it a great deal of respect because it denotes recognition of him as a leader and mentor. An active member of the fatherhood groups, he is learning to co-facilitate the fatherhood groups and is actively involved in the Fatherhood Advisory Committee. He is continuing to earn trust within the facility, which has resulted in permission to make more frequent off-site visits to see his family. He says he is feeling more and more confident in himself and in his ability to care for his family.

Praise for Friends Outside In Los Angeles County

Without Friends Outside, most inmates will continue to go in and out of the jail’s revolving door.”
– Captain William Martin, Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

Friends Outside assisted me with getting into recovery for drug abuse and then helping me attain my first job. Five years later, I am now the Director of a substance abuse treatment program.”
— Laurie L.

Because of the services at Friends Outside, I was accepted into a temporary shelter after I got out of federal prison. Four months later, the staff helped me find employment.”
— Salvador S.

Dealing with a drug problem can be very difficult for a family. My husband is fighting a drug addiction problem. However, because of Friends Outside my husband is in a drug treatment program. Without Friends Outside, my husband would have just been sitting in jail and not facing his real problem. Your services are important for many families.”
— Veronica

I am a medical social worker at a hospital in West Covina. Recently, I needed to assist a patient’s gravely ill son. Your case manager was very helpful with facilitating arrangements so his incarcerated family member could be notified and involved in a life and death decision regarding his son. This is a very valuable service for families. I hope that funding will continue to be provided to programs like this one.”
— Nancy S.

Friends Outside helped me get a job when I was pregnant and my husband was in prison. They also helped with bus tokens, food, stamps, paper and envelopes so I could write to my husband. Those letters helped keep us together. They seem like little things but they were big to me at the time because I was living on pennies. Friends Outside provided a safe place for me to talk about very private issues and I was never judged. My life has changed. I am now stable and self-sufficient. I have a good job and I can give back to the community. I am taking what I received when I was a client and using my knowledge and new skills to help others.”
– Leticia

Vineta and her daughter, Lindy, attended Friends Outside’s Thomas Fleming Rhodes Memorial Holiday for Children. The letter they sent to Friends Outside speaks for itself:

I would like to thank you all for the wonderful time we had at the Christmas party. My husband is in prison but we never thought that there were [so many] families in the same situation as we are. The smile that Lindy had on her face the day of the party is still on her face. The next time we saw her daddy, she told him what was going on at the party. My husband just broke down into tears.”
— Vineta & Lindy

I had been in and out of city, county, and state facilities for 20 years. I am an addict. It is very difficult to make any arrangements or attain assistance (while in jail). Some facilities had “Friends Outside” from which inmates could attain services– family contact, children’s services, and referrals of many kinds. Their people are indispensable. Without their services, I would not have found out about recovery services that are available to me and about a life that is possible after jail. It was through Friends Outside people, both inside the facility and outside in the community, that I got assistance getting into recovery and attaining my first job. It is now five years later. Instead of doing time, I am running a residential program and attaining a master’s degree. Without Friends Outside I would probably be back doing time. I will be forever indebted to the dedicated people working at Friends Outside.”
— From Prison Numbers to Success by Laurie L.