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East Palo Alto community honors David Lewis

Prisoner re-entry program in East Palo Alto named after longtime activist

A successful reentry program that helps parolees transition back into their communities held a celebration Wednesday honoring slain East Palo Alto activist David Lewis.

A crowd of around 200 law enforcement officers, parolees, volunteers and residents from East Palo Alto and San Mateo County gathered at The David Lewis Community Reentry Program's headquarters Wednesday afternoon for a special lunch celebrating the activist's legacy.

Lewis, who was fatally shot at the Hillsdale Shopping Center on June 9, 2010, was a tireless advocate for improving services for former inmates and prisoners who are trying to find jobs, reintigrate into society and turn their lives around. County Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson, an East Palo Alto native, said naming the city's thriving reentry program after Lewis was a fitting tribute to the activist who successfully transitioned from parolee to community leader.

"It warms my heart to know the center is being named after David Lewis," she said. "It was the right thing to do."

In the first four years of a state-funded pilot reentry program that started in 2006, East Palo Alto's recidivism rate dropped to 14 percent, far below a statewide average of 60 percent. When state funding for the program dried up in 2010, East Palo Alto City Council members and Police Chief Ron Davis worked together to find the necessary funds in the city's budget to keep the program going, and it was successfully reinstated in October 2010.

The police chief credited Dave Lewis with helping the community embrace "the core values of forgiveness" and commit the necessary resources to bolster reentry efforts over repeated incarceration. Davis said the Community Reentry Program has helped improve the community's relationship with its police force and made the city safer.

"Safer suggests we've made advancements," Davis said. "There is still work to be done."

Jose Cabrera, one of the program's caseworkers who participated as a parolee when he got out of prison in 2008, spoke to former inmates in the audience as he hailed the success of reentry efforts in East Palo Alto.

"You will get a second chance," Cabrera said. "If I can do it, anybody can do it."

— Bay City News Service

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