PHOTOS BY JIM KNOWLES
PREP staff member Eunice Feathers hands a diploma to David Hughes at the graduation ceremony at Humanist Hall in Oakland.
By Jim Knowles • San Leandro Times
Class valedictorian Ronald Broach stepped up to the podium and looked around the room at all the people staring up at him.
“Oh, my God,” Broach said. “This is the biggest crowd I’ve spoken to since my sentencing.”
Broach is now gainfully employed, as are all 11 of the graduates who got their diplomas at the Partners in Reentry Employment Program (PREP) on March 31.
PREP is a job-training program for people convicted of non-violent crimes who have been released from prison, funded through Assembly Bill 109 prison realignment money to break the cycle of recidivism.
All 11 graduates who completed the program now have full-time jobs and they all spoke at the ceremony at Humanist Hall in downtown Oakland. The jobs they’ve landed are in several occupations – plumbing, manufacturing, one is a worker at Tesla and another grad is a chef at the San Francisco Academy of Sciences.
Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson spoke earlier in the ceremony and he reminded the audience of the parable of when the Pharisees tried trip up Jesus on a trick question, and Jesus replied, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Carson said he got into trouble when he was a kid and was caught and handcuffed. A man who he didn’t know came along and offered a deal, he could go to jail or he could go to this man’s program. Through that program, Carson said, he learned about politics and became what he is today.
Carson told the graduates they all took a major step to get back into society.
“You stepped up through the challenges you had to get to where you are now,” Carson said.
Other speakers also said these graduates can be mentors to young people in trouble. “We need you who’ve had that experience to say, ‘Hey, man, that ain’t cool.’”
Another speaker said, “Because the only thing a hard head will listen to is another hard head.”
Broach said he was in a “criminal justice system typhoon” and developed a self-defeatist attitude. He was referred to the Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS) program that helps poor and homeless people become self sufficient, working in their Clean Streets Program.
Now Broach is a BOSS residential counselor and makes regular presentations to the Alameda County Probation Department.
Broach said he thanked God for making all this possible, and the support of his family, as he pointed out his wife Jasmine, nieces, nephews and everybody who came to his graduation.
Several of the graduates also thanked their probation officers who were in attendance.
Broach, who could possibly have a career in public speaking, added, “I’ve never been in a room with six probation officers and didn’t get arrested.”
One of the speakers recalled a famous quotation, that success isn’t measured by the position you hold, but the obstacles you had to overcome.
The PREP program takes three months of successfully holding a job and then you become a PREP graduate. But you’re still part of the program, because if you lose your job, PREP will help you find another.
PREP graduate Gregory Armstrong said he thought he was out of luck but his probation officer had a plan mapped out for him.
“PREP is one of the best things that ever happened to me in my life,” Armstrong said.
CAPTION: Ronald Broach posed for photos with his wife Jasmine after his graduation at the PREP program.