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From The Heart . . . Stories of Thanks and Redemption


The road to change begins when we choose or we're forced to take a hard look at the way we're living. Change is never easy and never quick. No one is ever too broken, too scarred, or too far gone to change their life, and that is how these words came to be. To inspire, to share in your journey, to invite you into mine, and to say how much I believe in this program, in each of you, and what it is we're seeking by being here.

No one wakes up one morning and decides to become an addict or an alcoholic. Addiction is the sharpest arrow in the enemy's arsenal. When one of them pierces the heart, it poisons the body, corrupts the mind, and destroys the spirit. Now that we're in recovery, a great journey must be taken, and a life changing battle must be fought...

...I believe that we all have more in common with each other than we do differences. None of us are immune to the occasional feelings of guilt, shame, and the thoughts of whether or not we have what it takes to recover. When these thoughts come swooping in, they can leave even the bravest of souls too weak to fight. There will be good days and bad days in our recovery. The sooner we understand that taking care of ourselves never ends, the sooner we can stop doubting and feeling like there is something wrong with us...

...I am an active writer in my recovery and I wrote much of the time while in the MERIT Program. I have included something I just finished that speaks to my commitment to my recovery and my heartfelt desire to help and bring hope to others.

Submitted by Gary E. McDowell Jr.

EBI alumna

July, 2015

I believe that each of us lives in a prison of our own making; prisoners of our own hearts and emotion; restrained by unfulfilled goals and dreams that have dissolved. Jail is a condition of our life right now. When we lose one kind of freedom, we simply must look for another. You can look at your bars or you can look through them. Well I think I can speak for all of us when I say, "experience is a hard teacher", because it gives the test first and the lessons afterwards. The conflict between who we are and who we want to be is at the core of the human struggle. We are all living with the wreckage of failed ideals that once seemed like perfect solutions.

A society's civilization can be appraised on the way their jails and prisons are. Education is the one public service that is connected with almost every economic, social, public health, and civic strength, and its absence or failure is associated with nearly every economic, social, health, and civil problem. There is a direct correlation between education and the majority of needs in our society.

At this time I would like to thank Sheriff Lee Baca for his insight and vision in creating the Education Based Incarceration and MERIT program, which focus on values, attitudes, and thinking. Sheriff Lee Baca realized our future depends on undoing our past. To Captain Michael Bornman, Lieutenant Ramirez, Director Dr. Brant Choate, Sergeant Harley, Senior Bates, and Deputy Buckman for helping us realize that the key to success is to have a vision and for reinforcing the idea that no part is more important than the whole.

My special thanks to both Deputy Aragon and Deputy Reynoso who go the extra mile to make things happen and who are always telling us "It doesn't matter where we start in life; it matters where we finish. That God put us on earth to finish something. He never consults our past to determine our future."

To Deputy Schiavone and Officer Murphy, who are always encouraging us to make decisions based on principles.

To the Twin Towers Staff, Captain Clay Porlier, Lieutenant Badali, Sergeant Largent, Deputy Rodriguez, Officer Gonzalez, Deputy Barron, Deputy Morales, Officer Chavez, and Officer Melgar, thank you for realizing that good people are sometimes capable of doing bad things and allow stupidity to overcome rational thought, and for believing that we are all much more than the worst thing we have ever done.

To our Civil Transition Unit staff, Officer Eze, Officer Sidney, and Officer Macias, thank you for turning what we have into enough and more and for helping us turn chaos into order and confusion into clarity. For helping us realize it's not what we do occasionally that makes us who we are; it's what we do consistently.

Sometimes we become scared of what we will find if we look inside ourselves. Instead of shame, we feel compassion. Instead of embarrassment, we gain courage. Instead of limitation, we experience freedom. What's inside us has the power to radically and positively alter our lives. Those of us who are realistic know that a single person's will, strengthen by integrity and purpose, can be more powerful than anything.

At this time I would like to thank LA Works Director, Karla Galindo, who brings life skills, computer, and GED into this facility. She teaches occupational and personal success. Ms. Galindo has taught us to allow the problems in our life to be our teachers. That we really are strong and beautiful and that we really do have self-worth.

To our life skills instructors, Mr. McCullum and Ms. Johnson, for showing us that endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory. For believing in the power we have for change and recovery. For helping us transform our way of thinking and being, and to become a productive member of humanity. For showing us that we may have fresh start any moment you chose, for this thing we call "failure" is not the falling down but the staying down. And special thank you to Mr. McCullum, for having me realize that "Big Mama" is more than a character in a Tyler Perry Movie.

To our computer instructor, Ms. Ballard, who goes beyond teaching us a skill we can use in the job market. Ms. Ballard teaches programs such as Excel, Access, and Word. She shows us how to EXCEL, to surpass and go beyond; to be resilient by teaching us to see through our fears. To ACCESS realistic ideas, expect the best, and most for ourselves. And finally WORD, to learn self-acceptance and have self-confidence. In her classroom, attitude defies limitation and exceeds expectations. Ms. Ballard creates an environment in which we feel challenged.

To our GED instructor, Mr. Guerrero, who teaches us not to look back unless you intend to go that way. Mr. Guerrero asks the questions that force his students to apply the material to everyday life. He sees that learning causes a fundamental change in the student. Mr. Guerrero helps us to pierce the veil between who we think we are and who we really want to be. The take home message "the person who knows "how", will always have a job. The person who knows "why", will always be the boss."

Remember opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune or temporary defeat. If I could wish for my life to be perfect, it would be tempting, but I would have to decline, for life would no longer teach me anything. Nobody trips over mountains. It is the small pebbles that cause one to stumble. Pass all the pebbles in your path and you will find you have crossed the mountain. Sometimes winning isn't what it seems. Sometimes the knowledge gained from the battle is the most precious of all, and sometimes the victory is simply a deeper love for those who shared the fight.

I fought, I laughed, I cried, we won.

Finally, I wish all of you good fortune in your quest for answers and when you have found them the wisdom to know what to do with them.

-MERIT Graduate

September 2013

On behalf of the Inmate Answering Service (IAS), we would like to thank the Sheriff's Department and LA Works for providing us the opportunity to experience Telecommunications Skills and working with the public.

We honor and appreciate the ability to feel like a respected citizen while serving our debt to society. We would also like to thank CA Gonzales, CA Leyva, CA Soloman, CA Ortiz, Ms. Ballard, and the rest of the IAS staff for their respect and support.

This wonderful experience has motivated us to conduct ourselves in a professional manner, which we believe will help us in integrating ourselves back into our productive lives upon release. It is opportunities such as this that give us hope and faith for a better future. Thank you for believing in us and giving us the opportunity for change.

This program is an honor and it is our pleasure in giving back.

Thank you.

-MERIT Graduate

September 2013

Today I had one of the biggest success since my time in Sheriff Baca's MERIT Program. I had an interview with the President of Los Angeles Trade-Technical College asking for an internship as Assistant Dean of Student Services. My application was accepted. Without having the opportunity to make positive changes in my life, this would not have been possible. Thank you for believing in us and providing us with a chance to better ourselves.


-Charles Roseland

Being able to see is one of the most powerful of our senses. I've struggled with vision all my life. It would be mostly impossible for me to receive a pair of glasses from anyone on the streets. Being able to receive a pair while I'm in custody is amazing. With budget crisis and resources thin you still made it happen. Thank you Captain Bornman and Officer Lubinsky.

-Current EBI Student Inm


Life in LA County Jail can be rough, there are many that live in fear and pretend to be tough. There are big guys, small guys, tall, hairy, bald, and fat, there are many and plenty of guys that mix fantasies and facts, like life saver of many flavors, white, asians latinos and blacks, they live in crowded dorms and sleep having dreams on things called bed racks. They have low ambitions and limited goals, they're afraid of the success and their hearts have big holes. They flirt with insanity and lurk in lost hopes, to escape their trouble they take refuge in dope, there is one thing inmates need, it's another chance, to show society they're ready to wear theta big boy pants. A program that's one of a kind, something so amazing, in any other county jail it's hard to find it offer a chance to become a new you, it teaches you to better yourself and to start a new. Through life skills you learn to change your ways to become a hardworking man instead of a boy who plays. To be the better person, when push comes to shove, to wear badges of respect, integrity, truth, and love. M.E.R.I.T. Shows the way but you must walk the path, you must go the whole way and not only half, become the man, who others really want to see, the new you is not that far away, it's achievable, believe me. I am a EBI student and we are MERIT here to change our lives for real and have begun to unbind our minds, mend our broken hearts and truly begin to heal.

-Current EBI Student Inm

"I don't respond to blogs and/or submit comments to articles I read on a daily basis but, this one (Custody Canine Program Inside LA Co. Men's Central Jail) really made me think to write this short note.

Kudos to Mr. Rick Belmonte and the Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail (Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald) for an excellent program in rehabilitation of inmates. This is the utmost plausible action and types of programs that should constitute the norm in assisting and giving the opportunity to inmates and the community. Excellent Job!!!"

-An Anonymous Thank You

I attended The Merit Program at Pitchess Detention Center Jan 24, 2013, for my husband's graduation. It was great to see you, I was sitting in the counselor area by accident, 2nd row back with a black jacket; anyhow I was very pleased with this program and how you are at the front lines giving our inmates another chance at life. I was very touched by your speech to all the inmates, it was almost a father to son talk. I want you to know from the bottom of my heart, "Thank You Sheriff Baca!" In case You didn't know somebody appreciates the job you do, Deputy Bates, please thank him too. I was amazed at the reaction the inmates displayed toward all the deputies. The energy in the air seemed so strong; it made me forget we were ' at a jail facility graduation ceremony. I hope this gets forwarded to you... I hope you can reply so I know you received this. I hesitated to write thinking you probably wouldn't get this, but imagine if we all thought that way. We would never spread our appreciation to people who deserve it.

We the men of MERIT would like to thank Sheriff Lee Baca, Chief Yim, Senior Bates, Commander Cooper and the entire Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the MERIT staff with our deepest gratitude.

I have been given this golden opportunity to be a part of this powerful program "BREAKING HISTORY" through MERIT. I feel the program is helping mend a tarnished past between the Sheriff's Department and county jail inmates.

As I stand before you today with renewed faith instilled by the many programs facilitators, like Rudy who has helped mold me to the new man I am today. Thank you so much Rudy, Tom, James, Liz and Marcia.

When the time comes for me to be released back into society I plan to take my new way of positive thinking and be a productive citizen to my community. I am a former student of MERIT and I'm honored to have been a part of "BREAKING HISTORY". Thank you and GOD bless.

"Gentlemen Ramon was in MCJ MERIT from March December 2012. He learned to type in MERIT. Today, he started a full time job at a prestigious Beverly Hills Entertainment Law Firm, making $50,000/year plus medical and dental. They gave him a test run the last two weeks and he passed. In suit and tie. He would not be employed if it wasn't for the MERIT classes. Amazing story.

As you know Ramon has been engaged at (Firm name) over the past two weeks as an unpaid intern. During this time, Ramon has performed very well. He has an excellent work ethic, he arrives early every day, he is prepared, bright, professional in his appearance and conduct, learns quickly and is willing to do everything asked of him. Ramon has an excellent disposition, he remains calm under pressure and he has made a very positive impression on everyone he has interacted with.

After careful consideration of the above, today (Firm name) officially offered full time employment to Ramon. We are delighted that Ramon has accepted the offer. Ramon will finish out the week as an unpaid intern and will start as an official full time employee on Tuesday, January 22, 2013. As a condition of employment, Ramon has agreed to enroll in and complete two college level English classes this Spring Semester. He will take classes at night. We expect Ramon will remain in college continuously while employed here. We are very excited to have Ramon at the Company. We believe he will be an asset to the company, our culture and the service we provide. Best."

"After entering the education dorm, classes and codes of conduct were initiated to keep peace and provide a place where change from destructive bad behaviors could begin. We forget that a bad attitude, drugs, anger, stealing, not listening to others and not wanting to be a better person all contribute to the cycle of incarceration. It did for me. You changed my life, very profoundly for the better, and I will continue to use and pass on this new information I gained from you and EBI to anyone who will listen to me, especially friends and loved ones."

"The amount of joy I get from working with the inmates is beyond words. All I can say is that it puts the biggest smile back on my face and love in my heart. When you go through a lot of pain, sometimes you forget how to smile, so thank you for helping me find my smile and love again."

"Just wanted to say thank you for everything. It's been very hectic on my side with work and all, but I thought I should give you an update. I have custody of my son. Wow! I can't express to you enough, that I really appreciate all that you have taught me. Not only do I have my son, I've also received a promotion at work and I'm looking into buying a house for my family before spring time. Thank you so much and God Bless."

Contact Information:

Education Based Incarceration Bureau - (323) 526-5380


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