California’s recidivism rate clocks in at 67.5 percent. Compare that figure with Santa Barbara City College students who have been incarcerated, and who have completed the Transitions program: a recidivism rate of 5 percent. For these students, education is the only successful intervention, and their experience has shown that their best hope for staying off the streets and in school is working with other students who are making the same transition.

All Transitions students are parolees or probationers. Some are one strike shy of life in “the system.” Others have never known an adult life outside the criminal justice system. College is the last place any of them expect to end up. Thanks to The Fund for Santa Barbara, these individuals are successfully turning around their lives — and their futures.

“I rely on this program like it’s my life,” said Transitions student Tia Macias, a recovering addict now studying to be a drug and alcohol counselor. “It is my life.”

Outside of class time, these students meet weekly to share emotional stories and to motivate and inspire each other to move beyond the past. Program Director Noel Gomez is one of the key reasons these parolees and probationers show up at SBCC. A native of Boyle Heights, Gomez grew up in the gang capital of America in the turbulent 1990s.

“If I’d pledged allegiance to any of these gangs, I would have been dead in two or three days,” Gomez said.

So Gomez stayed “out,” got through high school, and against the advice of a school counselor, applied and was accepted to UCSB (and ultimately to Harvard). Gomez’s journey is what inspires these students to take what for them is a terrifying leap of faith and join SBCC’s six-week summer college-readiness program, Transitions.

As part of the Transitions program, Gomez and his peer advisors teach these students how to navigate the SBCC campus, how to write essays and how to read a syllabus. Just as important, Gomez and his staff of peer mentors (all former Transitions students) teach trust, how to stay out of trouble and believe in oneself.

A college education has become one of the most valuable assets in the United States — a bachelor’s degree is worth more than $1 million in lifetime earnings. Gainful employment is one of the defining characteristics of successful reentry, and successful reentry and readjustment into society ultimately lower the likelihood of an individual turning to illegal activity. And the benefits go well beyond each individual — postsecondary education programs have demonstrated a break in the harrowing cycle of intergenerational incarceration.

“This program is changing lives, families and future generations,” SBCC Extended Opportunities Programs and Services Director Marsha Wright said. “And so far, education has proven to be the only answer to the problem of recidivism.”

The Fund for Santa Barbara just granted the Transitions program $7,000, which will help pay for crucial elements of the six-week summer programming.

“Without ongoing funding from The Fund for Santa Barbara, this program would not remain in existence,” said Madeline Jacobson, SBCC Foundation board president. “Social change is taking place right here on campus thanks to The Fund.”

The consistency of The Fund for Santa Barbara’s support of Transitions has had a direct impact on the viability and sustainability of this program.

“We are so appreciative that The Fund understands the impact Transitions is having on this entire community, and the long term change it is creating,” Jacobson said.

“After going through the Transitions program I have developed a passion for learning, a passion for education, and I want to further my education and further my career goals,” said Larry Davidson, Transitions student at SBCC. “The program has given me a chance to reevaluate my life and the determination to succeed and become a productive part of society. I have gained a sense of self-worth, a sense of pride and sense of accomplishment.”

Peer counselor Mauricio Isaac, who just returned from a semester abroad in Italy, said: “I never dreamed while sitting in my jail cell that I really could change my life — Transitions changed my life and my mind.”

— Candice Tang Nyholt is a publicist representing the SBCC Foundation.