The Now took and inside look into the lives of people who have experienced life both in and outside of the Lerdo Detention Facility to learn more about the opportunities available to inmates after they are released.
The California system tries to step in with schooling and aftercare intended to help inmates assimilate themselves back into society. One woman took advantage of those opportunities to make life outside of the facility a little better once she was released."
"The last crime that I committed, my last arrest I was arrested with an AR 15, 500 rounds of ammunition and 27 grams of methamphetamine," Former Lerdo inmate Deanna Blankenship said.
Blankenship said she was deep in the game of selling and doing drugs before she was sentenced to nearly seven years of jail time, "Transportation, sales, maintaining a house for sales things like that."
However, the mother of two boys had a different motivation than other women at the Lerdo Detention facility in Kern County. "Being away from my children you know for six years, by the time I get out my children won't even know.. and I won't know who they are," Blankenship said.
According to Blankenship, the isolation process during her life at Lerdo impacted her spiritually, mentally and emotionally but she was also faced with the same temptations at Lerdo that she had before her sentence. "People still bringing things from the old lifestyle and the old ways and the old habits bringing that in here. You just have to make a decision if that's what you want to go back to."
Blankenship copped a deal and was offered a year of incarceration and a year in a mandatory program when she got out. While incarcerated Blankenship got heavily involved in the parenting, anger management, moral development and sobriety programs offered in the matrix program at Lerdo.
By doing that she was choosing a road toward change with others facing the same types of challenges then and now.
Unlike Blankenship Samuel Ruesga is a return offender on drug charges, "In the process of selling drugs I ended up catching this drug charge. I've been in an out of jails and prisons for the last 25 years if you do the math," Ruesga said.
According to Ruesga he's never had this same opportunity and he said that the classes are giving him a chance to dig deeper into his heart and better understand what made him ultimately choose to abuse drugs. He also said he’s thankful for the classes helping him reconstruct his moral behavior, "It easier to take a drink of beer or put some drugs in my system and not feel the emotions, than it is to sit down and really feel and sort out your feelings and emotions you know."
The programs are voluntary for the majority of the inmates to attend throughout the year except people under maximum security. Ruesga is currently serving out a two year sentence at Lerdo but after he gets out he says he plans to continue his aftercare through a sober living home.
These homes of support are offered through the Sheriff’s Office and the Community Corrections Partnership in Kern County. It connects inmates with proper programs to maintain their sobriety and reduce the chances of recidivism.
When Blankenship made the commitment to continue her progress toward sobriety, that's when she was met with open arms by Lynn Huckaby, the executive director of The Freedom House Program.
"With willingness we become teachable and that's what Deanna was, you know she’s one of the miracles of this program," Huckaby said.
The sober living program at The Freedom House offers group meeting sessions, employment development, job search and training assistance. The programs helped Blankenship get a firm grip back on her feet and into the workforce after her incarceration.
Blankenship took Now reporters on a tour of her sober living home for the last year, we looked back on some of her fondest memories and the people she shared it with.
Huckaby saw Blankenship's commitment to The Freedom House philosophy so Huckaby did his best to help keep Blankenship on the right path, "So what I had talked to her about doing is if you will go to school I will sponsor you," Huckaby said.
Blankenship also received another scholarship sponsor from the Kern County Department of Probation, for her outstanding commitment to change and she enrolled at Bakersfield College. Blankenship received an Associate’s degree in communication, psychology and human services from Bakersfield College. Now she plans to give back to the system that she said gave her a second chance, "Become a drug and alcohol counselor at Wasco State Prison, continue on with my education," Blankenship said.
Blankenship is now leaving behind her past with hopes of inspiring others to walk in the same path that she chose after Lerdo. "So that now it's their turn to give back and do the same thing that I did, it's my turn to move on and I'm being sent to help a new group of people now," Blankenship said.
Blankenship ended up landing the job as an alcohol counselor at the Wasco State Prison. She will be moving into another sober living home through The Freedom House program to help coach more women through their sobriety.
Since incarceration, Blankenship also helped start a program at Bakersfield College called, "Free on the Outside," to establish a support system for formerly incarcerated students and she is just a few classes shy of walking with a Bachelors degree.
If you would like more information on the programs offered for formally incarcerated people you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org