CROP program looks to move people from prison to tech

Photo by Lightspring Via Shutterstock

Getting out of prison is one thing: staying out as a productive member of society can be another entirely.

With California’s high levels of recidivism in mind, Oakland-based nonprofit Creating Restorative Opportunities and Programs (CROP) is set to open a reentry campus there for formerly incarcerated people in early April. It is a mission that defines the life arcs of Ted Gray and Jason Bryant, the organization’s co-founders. The duo met as state prisoners after felony convictions in their early 20s.

“The Ready 4 Life program is CROP’s expression of a reimagined reentry program,” Bryant says. “When our proximate leaders envisioned this program, we knew the development and implementation of a holistic program would be a huge mountain to climb. We anticipated there would be challenges and winding paths . . . so in that regard, what has transpired is exactly what we expected. Beyond this, we’ve remained anchored in our commitment to put our Fellow’s needs first and ensure that all programmatic components are aimed at supporting people’s success in the community.”

CROP won’t be going it alone. It is partnering with SAP Academy for Engineering, the software giant’s new effort to help participants obtain careers in the tech industry.

That possibility has drawn a lot of interest from potential enrollees. Terah Lawyer-Harper, CROP’s executive director and a formerly incarcerated person who served 15 years of a life sentence, says community support and demand for the program’s services has been incredible. Over 150 either currently or formerly incarcerated people have been in contact about enrolling.

Twelve of the 20 individuals already enrolled in the program will receive up to a year of onsite housing, with all participants receiving job and leadership training, financial coaching and money managing skills. CROP’s long-term goal is for them to gain full-time tech-focused jobs that provide sufficient wage-income for permanent housing.

This goal is no mean feat, given that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland is $2,200 a month, according to the website, a six percent increase from a year-ago. To be sure, prisoner reentry is not just about paying monthly rent, though that is a big piece in the restorative equation.

“Holistic services aren’t just important, they’re paramount. It makes communities safer. It makes families closer. This is the pathway into more success for the community beyond the person who is formerly incarcerated,” says Lawyer-Harper.

“Holistic services aren’t just important, they’re paramount. It makes communities safer. It makes families closer.”

To this end, CROP’s reentry program, set to expand to Los Angeles, is funded with $28.5 million in workforce and housing grants from the state of California, which Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) has played a pivotal role. She helped CROP secure $27 million for the Ready 4 Life program from the 2021-22 General Fund. That includes programming and housing costs, and another $1.5 million that supports improvements and renovations at the career campus.

“For the first time in the history of the California Budget, we have created a justice driven budget that’s focused on creating opportunities and reducing recidivism,” she said in an emailed statement to Capitol Weekly. “It’s fiscally responsible and less costly to California taxpayers to create opportunities related to workforce development, skills training, housing and mental health services for justice impacted individuals, when compared to the costs associated with incarceration.”

The $28.5 million in CROP funding is 0.002 percentage points of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed 2023-2024 $14.5 billion budget for the CDCR.

Back in Oakland, 47 year old Lamar Simms is a member of the first CROP class. He learned about the program from the communication grapevine of incarcerated people, finding its approach to rehabilitation worth pursuing.

“I recently returned home from prison after nearly 30 years of incarceration,” he says. “Given the length and extent of my confinement, I truly understood that my successful reintegration back into society will largely depend on the nature and quality of my support system. The availability of resources plays a pivotal role in an offender’s rehabilitation. In anticipation of my re-entry back into society, I began to assess various transitional programs to find one that offered me the greatest opportunity to successfully acclimatize back into the community.”

He believes CROP’s mission and vision of wraparound support could be a game changer for the program participants.

“This has the potential to reshape how we think about rehabilitation,” he says. “Another major selling point for me was that the program’s approach to rehabilitation closely aligns with my own personal belief that when there is a genuine investment in human potential human nature generally responds favorably. As the saying goes, ‘if you knew better you would do better!’ In terms of my expectations, I see it as reciprocal; I’m expecting CROP to live up to its billing and in return, I’m going to see to it that the program is a success story!”

No person is an island in CROP’s vision of restoring the lives of the formerly incarcerated.

“You talk about the ripple effect of crime,” Lawyer-Harper says. “This is the ripple effect of amends. This is how we repair our communities. This is how the voices of those who have been impacted by their own poor choices and incarceration can turn around and give back to their communities that are still struggling with crime.”

Seth Sandronsky lives and works in Sacramento. He is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email

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