Corcoran prison officials highlight success of new trauma-based program for inmates

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Building Resilience was introduced to the prison last year as a pilot program. It focuses on trauma that inmates have experienced and that they have inflicted on others. (KFSN)

Dozens of Corcoran State Prison Level Four Sensitive Needs Yard inmates received certificates of completion Tuesday morning. They were for finishing the Building Resilience program created by Dr. Stephanie Covington.

Building Resilience was introduced to the prison last year as a pilot program. It focuses on the trauma that inmates have experienced and that they have inflicted on others.

The goal is to help understand their troubled pasts and improve their lives on the inside or outside - if they're ever released. Through word of mouth, the program has become increasingly popular among inmates.

It's even expanded to the prison's security housing unit. On the yard, prison officials say there's been a dramatic decrease in violent incidents, which has restored a sense of calm.

"I grew up in violence my whole life," said one graduating inmate. "But the main thing that I want to say today is that we don't have to live in violence, we can break that pattern."

"It's allowed them to be a human with each other, instead of that gang member or instead of that hardcore convict persona they've gotta put on out there," said Michael Tann, a correctional counselor at Corcoran State Prison.

Tann says inmate facilitators are now in charge of Building Resilience, a program he could see expanding across all California state prisons.

But it's not the kind of program inmates could have taken part in some years ago.

"They left prison worse than when they came in," Tann said. "We didn't give the public a good product in return for all the money they invested in us. Right now, the money they're investing in us, we're trying to give them a better product."

"There's not a day in life I don't wish I could go back to that day," inmate and Building Resilience facilitator Walter Farmer told Action News.

Farmer has been locked up for 33 years. When he was in his early 20s, he stabbed a man to death in Northern California. He spent many years in the security housing unit and was part of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang.

Farmer compares the program to getting a tune-up on your car. But instead of a car, it's a repair job on an inmate's life - one where they discover their trauma then develop self-worth and a values system.

"So you come in here, you realize what you have (and) once you've learned what you have, now we're making you available to tools to help utilize so you have a better sense of options of being in control," Farmer said.

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