Lives Touched Thanks to an Offender at the Taft Facility

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“Alright, alright. Everybody OK?”

It’s a powerful way to welcome new inmates to the Taft Correctional Institution in California.

“Listen. If you guys need to talk to me about anything, we’re going to get a lot of that done today.”

Dean Gross has been incarcerated for more than four years. He knows what it feels like to walk into a prison and realize that you’re not leaving for a while.

“You know at first it was tough. I’m not going to lie. Because I had been married for 30 years, and honestly I’d been apart from my wife for maybe ten days in over 30 years, so coming here was an absolute, complete shock.”

Dean addresses a room full of newly arrived offenders at Taft.

“You guys are going through the shock and awe process. Right now you’re feeling like you’ve let your family down. There’s a lot going on in your lives. I know. I’ve been there. I know what you’re talking about. And I know what you’re feeling. I know the tears that you’ve got. It’s OK, you can let them flow. That’s what today is about. We’re going to make that OK.”

Dean is a mentor to every new inmate who walks through the doors of the Taft camp.

“Once the orientation process starts, I spend a week with 100 percent of every man who comes through this compound.”

His goal? To help them realize that it’s up to them to make real changes in their lives.

“So here in this place, it’s up to us to do what we want to do to be ready when we go home: to be a better father, a better husband, a better son, a better brother, a better friend.”

“Today is about how you guys want to really take control of your lives and be ready, because every one of you here have an out date. Do we all understand that? You’re all going home at some point. What are you going to do to be ready to go home?”

He encourages newly arrived offenders to take advantage of the facility’s many programs, to learn, to grow.

“Do something. Read a book. Write a book. Learn a new language. It’s all here. Go to anger management classes if you have to. But I’m telling you right now that for me, for me—I took advantage of everything here when I first got here. And now, I’m ready to go.”

It didn’t take long for Dean to earn a degree in Bible studies and become the senior inmate pastor.

“Because of that college degree, I was able to completely immerse myself into the church here and help the men change their lives, really transform their lives. I live with them, so it’s a little different than being a pastor on the outside where you go home. They’re right there in my room. It’s very rewarding. I’m honestly blessed. Honestly, I can tell you this. I’m blessed to have been given that opportunity here.”

And Dean says without the support of Warden Craig Apker and his staff—there’s no way he would have been able to make as much personal progress as he has.

“They’re not in this room, so obviously I’m telling you the truth here. Without the staff, you can’t do anything. The staff here at this institution—they are definitely pro-inmate as far as helping you get ready to get out of here.”

“We want to go home. I want to go home. Staff here will allow you the opportunity to get your degree, to get your anger management classes; whatever you need to do to better yourself, to become better and not bitter, to get out of here, the staff at this institution—100 percent on board from the warden on down.”

And Dean says that goes for all the men at the facility, but it’s up to them to choose to change their lives. For Dean, who’s going home in a few months, there was never any doubt in his mind.

“I made a promise to my wife that this is not going to be in vain, and to my children. I owe it to them to come out a better man.”