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Walking the Yard program Fair Chance Project

How We Walk The Yard At Pleasant Valley State Prison “A” Yard

Aug 25, 2023

By Mentor Delfino, Muñiz H43407
Edited by Mentee Michael Russo #BS8157
August 25, 2023

Over the years of my incarceration, I had lived a destructive life style. It wasn’t until 2016, that I started to get involved with self-help groups and started caring about myself and being genuinely concerned for others.

Without realizing what I was doing, I had initiated my healing process and positive thinking which led to a big change in my life by 2020. I was exhausted and guilty about letting my family and myself down by living a life that was going nowhere, so I began the process of change.

The road to a changed life-style was certainly not easy, but it had to be done. During my time at High Desert State Prison Ad-Seg, I met a youngster who was going through some emotional turmoil but wanted to make a change in his life as well. I began to share my life stories with him because I had walked down his path in life before and I explained where it got me. It was a great feeling to see how my words and inspiration had an impact on his life in a positive and constructive way.

I had a spiritual enlightenment regarding what I wanted to do in life, which was to help others. In that moment I had a flashback about my conversation with Ms. Geri Silva at the Fair Chance Project and Families United to End Life without Parole (FUEL).  She told me about a program called “Walking the Yard.”  I realized that what I did for this young man was an indirect reference to the Walking the Yard program by being a Mentor to him and providing insight for navigation in his life. Without the support of Ms. Geri and others after my transfer such as Lt. Moreno, Capt. Martin, Capt. Lopez, and Officer Gonzalez, this program here at Pleasant Valley wouldn’t be alive today.

Back in March of 2022 Lt. Moreno (now Captain) called me into his office because he remembered me from Corcoran State Prison. During our discussion, I seized on the opportunity to express my desire for developing a Walking the Yard program.  I told him it was based on my desire to help those looking for guidance in life. He thought it was a great idea and gave me the building blocks to organize a team of like-minded individuals.

By granting me access to the chapel, gym and recently even an office, I began to choreograph the Walking the Yard program. My initial steps were to find people from each housing unit and select individuals who fit the criteria and who would be beneficial to furthering the success of the program. (The requirements were simple: No illicit or illegal activities conducted on the yard in essence as the qualification for becoming a Mentor.) For those who were interested, I explained the program in more detail and reiterated what exactly would be asked of them.

Each of our Mentors had to sign a mentor agreement acknowledging the standards of being a Mentor and that they must participate whole heartedly without being biased, discriminatory or judgmental towards others. Over the weeks and months of solid dedication we began with eight Mentors and 15 Mentees, which rapidly turned into 18 Mentors and over eighty Mentees after spreading the word about the program.

Our Mentors were in every block, in school and in the Law Library. We were blessed with overwhelming support from family members from all walks of life who were more than willing to fund our mission by typing and printing paperwork. Such as bios and life stories, the bio idea came from one of our Mentors that was granted parole.  A bio was created by Mentors, including stories that consist of their Causative Factors, Character Defects, Internal/External Triggers, Internal/External Consequences and Defining Moments/Solutions.

The process of building this program was similar to starting a business where it starts from a simple idea, to a period of expansion and networking, exploring new clients, contacts, finding partners from other companies and teamwork. I couldn’t have done it alone, together we (Mentors and Mentees) created an environment where people looking for help and answers in their life can come and not have to worry about being discriminated against or judged. As our numbers continually grew, we created an executive body selected from individuals with experience in self-help education, communication skills and a desire to help the person next to them. We also insured that we had Spanish/English bilingual members for those who have difficulty understanding English.

It was imperative that we create an executive body within the Walking the Yard program.  We were expanding quickly and needed to ensure we maintained an organized structure so that the program stayed alive because as men were transferring to other facilities or going home. If the numbers of Mentors decreased, we offered the task to our Mentees to help facilitate the program.

Throughout this entire process, I want to emphasize how important it was and still is, that this program is truly a collective and team effort. Without one another, this program wouldn’t been possible. Granted, I came with the idea, but I knew I needed help with the development.  I’d like to congratulate all those people who helped build the foundation to a successful program.  They were an invaluable presence both mentally and physically to our objective, which was to create an outlet for people to find the proper help, especially from their peers in blue.

Even though this program is fairly new to the facility we’ve had so much success that we’ve earned the trust of staff to pilot others programs. We’re in the process of establishing an Anger Management program, a lifer’s group in Spanish program, a FUEL chapter and a resume class. All the programs were created under the umbrella of Walking The Yard.

I want to thank and give credit to everyone involved in our pursuit of happiness and dedication to a better version of ourselves. Everyone has a role; even sharing life stories can make a change in a person’s life. You don’t know your hidden abilities unless you apply yourself. Dedicating our lives to a healing process and helping others will turn people lives around in such a way you never thought could happen. To be successful in life, sacrifices must be made, it’s not so much where we stand, but which direction we are walking, the choice is yours!

Walking the Yard Chairman
at P.V.S.P. “A” Yard
Delfino, Muñiz H43407

Learn more about the WALKING THE YARD program