This program started in 1995 and began with men from diverse backgrounds. An organization called “Promise Keepers” had come out with a program about male accountability encouraging men to take a leading role in their homes. After receiving some books from a representative of Promise Keepers, I asked five men (Eddie Ramirez, Pat Peralo, Sterling Scott, Kevin Kemp and Tim O’Hearn) if they would be interested in participating in an accountability group. I also started 7 other groups within the Protestant Chapel, but our group was different, as these were men from a number of different religious backgrounds Catholic, Protestant and Muslim and various ethnic backgrounds as well. The one thing these men had in common was their commitment to live a life of integrity in the correctional setting.

As we started the group we realize that in spite of our different religious backgrounds we had a lot more in common than simply being detained in a correctional facility. These men were husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, and leaders within their perspective religious bodies. These were men who had made a commitment to go beyond the norm of just doing time; when these men arrived in their situation of detainment they decided that they would not allow their incarceration to keep them detained.

After meeting for over a year and practicing the principles of accountability, we decided rather than each guy in the group getting a book, we would share three books between six individuals. This was a simple test, would each individual be accountable to his partner to read his section of the book and in turn give it to his partner in time for his partner to read his section before we met the following Monday.

I realized that this was more than simply a test in accountability this was also a means whereby we had guys from different religious and ethnic backgrounds openly communicating with one another, the response from the inmate population was quite interesting to say the least. One of the guys in the group was challenged by his faith group more than a few times about why he was spending so much time with the Protestant Chaplain. It did not take long for the group to realize that we were on to something, it was clear to everyone in the group that there were some principles lacking in the inmate population which would in fact prepare them for release into the community. About the time we were having this revelation, I was asked by a friend in the philanthropy field Bettie Hodges, about my interest in starting a Fatherhood Enrichment program in the prison. I told Bettie that we had a program that I felt should be a model for detained men, wanting to deal with their incarceration and the issues of family and accountability. I discussed Bettie’s thoughts with the group and we decided that we wanted to be a Fatherhood Enrichment and Male Accountability program and perhaps be a model for other prisons. Our first goal was to make our concepts available to the inmate population and secondly, to make them available to the community at large. As we sat around in my office one of the guys came up with the name IMPACT but it wasn’t just the name impact it was what those letters represent Incarcerated Men Putting Away Childish Things. After sharing that name he cited a reference from first Corinthians chapter 13 which in part stated, “when I became a man I put away childish things”.

The timeframe in which this program was created was quite interesting because this was a time when California had a governor who stated clearly if you were in prison for taking a life you should do life. I bring this fact out because four of the five men in our group were inmates sentenced to life terms. As I watched some of these men go to the Parole Board time and time again, only to be the denied another year, as I watched the hurt they felt having clean records, having done all that was mandated by the system for them to do in preparation for returning to the community yet they were still not suitable it bothered me. I experienced the hurt of families, as I gave the men the opportunity to call home and tell their families the sad news, once again. In some cases, the men did not want to call home and hear their loved pain, so they would ask me to call and share the news.

One day as we were meeting and we started to talk I asked a simple question,” where will you be when you get where you’re going”? As I prayed, it became clear that until these men could see themselves outside the walls of San Quentin they would not be prepared for release back to their families. I asked a second question, “where do you see yourself once you are released, what do you see yourself doing”? About 2 months after the question was asked “what do you see yourself doing outside the walls of San Quentin”, Pat came to the group and said I have something to share, he said about that question you asked us Chap, well, I see myself with my family at the flea market we are walking around we’re holding hands we’re just looking, laughing and talking. About six weeks later as we were in the midst of our check in the question came up again and this time Kevin said I see myself visiting with my daughter holding her and hugging her and letting her know that I love her. Perhaps a month later Sterling came to the group and said I see myself at home with my pops in the house sitting around playing dominoes, laughing with him and I’m enjoying being with my dad and my family. Sometime later Eddie told the group I see myself at home with my relatives and were having a big party and everyone is there, my families is altogether again.

One evening there was a 60 minutes segment about juvenile delinquents, Pat saw the segment and got all of us excited because Pat said, “that’s it, that’s the answer, that’s what’s wrong in our communities, then we slowed him down and had him explain the segment to us. We told the story to a volunteer named Collette Carroll. and she said she would try to find out more about it. Collette being the true resource and instrument of professionalism that we needed contacted 60 minutes and was able to get a copy of the tape of the program. This 60 minutes segment became our starting point in working with youth as well as working in the communities. The segment portrayed juvenile elephants absent a positive male role model wondering around a game reserve killing rhinoceroses threatening and harassing the community. Some elephants would eventually have to be killed because their rap sheet was too long; society felt these juveniles could no longer be controlled. The problem was simply that these juvenile delinquents were separated from their parents and there was not a male around to tell them what was appropriate as well as what was inappropriate behavior. These juveniles were left to wander aimlessly and to figure life out on their own. The end of the story was very promising as well as revealing, Game wardens shipped some adult male elephants to the game reserve, from the day the adults arrived the killing of rhinoceroses stopped. I believe there was a conversation between the adult elephant and the young elephant the conversation probably went simply “we are elephants we don’t kill rhinoceroses”.

Our group had a vision and we knew what we needed to do, however, there was one problem the Governor said, “If you take a life you should do life”. The guys had a vision without a clear way to see it realized; was this to be a dream deferred; was this to be a great idea that would never see the light of freedom?

Something amazing started to take place; Pat who was the first to say that he could see himself outside the walls of San Quentin went to the Parole Board and was found suitable for release into the community by the Parole Board and the Governor granted his release. One Saturday I talked to Pat after he was at home he called because he wanted let me know he was at the flea market with his family. More than a year after Pat had gone home, Kevin went to the Parole Board he also received a release date, in citing his reasoning for granting Kevin his release the Governor Davis mentioned the IMPACT program and the benefit it could offer to the community. Kevin was home for a very short period of time when he requested permission to visit his daughter who was terminally ill. What I failed to mention was that Kevin’s daughter had been sick the entire time he was in prison in fact she was ill before he went to prison. The major point of concern about Kevin’s vision with his daughter was that she lived in Oregon; Kevin had to leave the state of California on a pass to see his daughter, which was unheard of for a high visibility parolee. Kevin along with Chaplain Donald Wesley made it to see his daughter within 6 weeks of his release from San Quentin and soon after his visit she passed away. After Kevin was released, Sterling went to the Parole Board and he was found suitable for release. After he was released, I called him at home he was playing dominoes with his pops. After Sterling received his release date, Eddie was the last member of the team needing to be found suitable for release back to the community. Eddie went to the Parole Board and he was granted a release date. Although born in Southern California both of Eddies’ parents died while he was very young and he moved around and eventually lived in the Bay Area. Because Eddie was arrested in Southern California, he had to move back there. On the weekend of Eddie’s release I spoke with him on the phone there was a lot of noise in the background the family was having a reunion.

I cite this as important in the history of IMPACT, because without these men seeing themselves outside the walls IMPACT would be no more than simply a dream deferred. Each man was released in the order in which they reported seeing themselves released.

All of these men are productive members of society; they are loving husbands, caring fathers, attentive sons and recognized by their religious communities as men who are accountable and live lives’ of integrity. Of equal importance is that fact that they are still actively involved with IMPACT.

We are certain that IMPACT was conceived to assist society and to make straight the crooked paths that many of us have traveled.