Clayton woman honored for prison work

By Peggy Spear on April 4, 2016

Bonilla_Collette Carroll WOTY for websiteClayton resident Collette Carroll (left) on the arm of Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) was named the Assembly District 14 Woman of the Year for her volunteer work with the California Reentry Institute. Carroll works with inmates nearing parole, preparing them for the transition to life on the outside.

Collette Carroll doesn’t see herself as “anything special.” But tell that to the 43 recent graduates of the California Reentry Institute – a nonprofit that prepares and supports men through the transition from prison – and you can see that she is changing lives for the better.

Because of Carroll’s work with CRI, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) honored Carroll as the 2016 Assembly District 14’s Woman of the Year, an announcement made at San Quentin during the CRI graduation in February.

“Of course I was surprised,” Carroll said. “But the best thing was having it announced there. Everyone went nuts.”

Through her Empowered Reentry Program based out of San Quentin, Carroll provides inmates with tools and assistance to become contributing members of society, proving that with preparation and support, the cycle of incarceration can be broken.

“It is an honor to recognize Collette for her courageous work and its impact on California,” said Bonilla. “Her dedication, passion and commitment have transformed the lives of CRI graduates. The work she has accomplished inside and outside of our prisons for more than 16 years proves that change and rehabilitation can happen, when given the opportunity and support.”

This isn’t the first time Carroll has been widely recognized for her work. Last August, she was named a “CNN Hero.” The humble Carroll isn’t sure how to feel about the honors. “It’s not about me, it’s never been about me,” she said. “But what I had to come to understand was that this enables me to give a voice to the men who have worked so very hard to change and prepare to be an asset to society. Because the truth is, while we [CRI] give them the tools, they are the ones who do the work.”

Carroll created CRI in 2008, after volunteering at the prison for years. She realized the work she was doing was simply scratching the surface and in order to make a successful transition from incarceration to freedom, the men needed a solid and seamless pre- and post-release program. The comprehensive program which Collette runs inside San Quentin is for a minimum 20 months. She has a remarkable, zero percent recidivism rate for all graduates.

Carroll said that the honor has “opened some doors, and I am being invited to the table and my expertise in reentry is being listened to.”

She is considering expanding to other institutions and wants to open more reentry houses. “We have offered to assist anyone who wants to listen to what we believe is the key to our success,” said Carroll, who would also like to help other reentry programs run effectively.

“But of course, this all takes time and money … and as you know, I’m still doing all of this as a volunteer,” she added.

Carroll gives a lot of credit to her late husband Roland, who helped her start her enterprise. “I’d like to think he would say, ‘Well done, honey, but where’s the money to help open more houses and continue providing the support services when these men come home?’ ”

Locals can help CRI by shopping at 2nd Chance Boutique, 4305 Clayton Road, Concord. It offers gently used and new fashionable apparel.

For more information about CRI, visit www.californiareentryinstitute.org.

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