Honor Yard lets inmates be ‘brothers’ despite race

first_imgLANCASTER – Ruben Reyes said he considers Travielle Craig to be “a brother,” their friendship cemented in their Christian faith. In most settings, an embrace after a prayer between close friends of different races would attract little attention. That Reyes, who is Hispanic, and Craig, who is black, are able to embrace openly in relative safety at a maximum-security prison, however, is unusual. Reyes and Craig are among 600 inmates assigned to the Honor Yard at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, in Lancaster. The program, which was the subject of a recent state Senate hearing, is considered among the prison system’s most impressive success stories. “The environment created by the Honor Yard Program reflects my goals of reducing violence, improving prison and public safety, and reducing recidivism,” said James E. Tilton, the state’s Corrections and Rehabilitation secretary, said in a statement. Since the program’s inception in 2000, no major violent incident has occurred among its participants. Its safety record is especially remarkable considering most of its inmates were convicted of violent crimes. Many are serving life sentences, so are not eligible for parole. Criteria for Honor Yard eligibility includes a clean disciplinary record, a commitment to avoiding gang activity, and an agreement to live drug-free. It is a deal not all inmates are willing to make. But for those who do, rewards abound. Instead of carrying concealed weapons and other contraband, Honor Guard inmates typically carry books, paint brushes and musical instruments. Many are involved in educational programs, pursuing high school equivalency and even college degrees. An art program has produced Christmas toys for needy area children, and raised more than $50,000 for local charities. Inmates participating in a Lion’s Club program refurbish eyeglasses for the indigent throughout the world. Scott Johnson, 37, who is serving life in prison for a first-degree murder conviction, said the program has fostered an environment that makes rehabilitation possible. Johnson, who said he “couldn’t draw a stick” when he entered the Honor Yard’s art program, is now an award-winning artist. “I don’t have to worry about racial politics or racial violence here,” Johnson said. “I can just focus on becoming a better person.” The Honor Yard was created by inmates, who also develop its programming. State Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, recently proposed legislation that would establish the Honor Yard as a model for expansion in prisons statewide. In addition to providing rehabilitation resources, the Honor Yard benefits society, Lancaster prison spokesman Ken Lewis said, noting that the virtual elimination of violence has reduced costs associated with housing inmates, and has created a safer environment for prison employees. “In the general population yards, you have a lot of incidents because the inmates are involved in gangs, and they’ve got a lot of contraband in their possession,” Lewis said. “Here, those numbers are very low.” Kacey Ephriam, 35, who will spend the rest of his life behind bars for a kidnapping and murder committed when he was 17, said the Honor Yard offers him a better life. “You get a chance to understand life,” he said. “It basically teaches you how to get along with others, and learn other cultures.” For Reyes, being able to live in harmony with inmates of other races was among the reasons he sought out the Honor Yard. Before joining the Honor Yard, Reyes and Craig were active gang members separated along racial lines, as is nearly the entire state prison inmate population. Reyes, 42, is a third-striker serving a 77-year-sentence for armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. Craig, 33, is serving life without parole for a murder committed during the chaos of the 1992 Los Angeles riots. “This is how it should be,” Reyes said. “I’m a Christian, and this is my brother. After we pray, we hug each other.” [email protected] (661) 267-7802 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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