California Bar Journal
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VIP: A match of lawyers and parolees
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Continued from Page 1
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Paul Bratner, chair of the bar's Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination, receives a $5,000 grant from bar President Palmer Madden on behalf of the Foundation of the State Bar. The award will be used to publish a consumer education pamphlet devoted to issues regarding sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. For 2001, the Foundation provided $221,000 in grants to 23 different programs: five legal services, four bar associations, three courts, three non-profits, one to the Administrative Office of the Courts, one to a foundation and six to State Bar programs. The other programs range from eliminating unauthorized practice of law to legal education on bankruptcy for low-income residents of California.
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nization which matches youthful offenders with attorneys who give them guidance and advice, Ledet relishes offering new possibilities to kids who have been in trouble with the law.

“You literally transform these kids’ entire lives,” he said, explaining that one-on-one mentoring makes the difference. “We have so many kids who have gone on to very productive lives. I’ve seen some real miracles.”

Ledet was one of five California attorneys recently honored by the youth authority for mentoring parolees through VIP. Founded 28 years ago with the goal of enlisting help from the legal profession to do something about the revolving door that so often characterizes the criminal justice system, VIP is the only California non-profit organization to recruit attorneys to mentor young men and women on parole from state institutions.

Although almost 70 percent of parolees end up back in the criminal justice system, VIP’s mentors are able to reverse that dismal statistic. About 70 percent of the VIP parolees succeed on parole and are able to resist the recidivism which plagues their population.

Last year, 407 attorneys volunteered with the program, mentoring almost 500 young men and women throughout the state at a cost of less than 4 percent of what taxpayers would spend to reincarcerate these individuals for a single year.

Since Ledet began to volunteer in 1986, eight young men have benefitted from his tutelage, receiving encouragement and guidance as well as an introduction to his belief that people must be held accountable for their actions.

As a 10-year member of VIP’s Santa Clara Advisory Commit-tee, Ledet also raises funds, recruits other volunteers and advocates for parolees in the community. He hasn’t missed a meeting in those 10 years and recently was elected chair of the committee.

Ledet stepped into a father figure role for one of his parolees and has taken two teenage brothers under his wing. One parolee who had never been to San Francisco spent a day sightseeing there with Ledet.

“I don’t have a hard and fast rule,” Ledet says, “I pretty much play each situation differently.”

Since 1991, Ledet and another Santa Clara County lawyer have teamed up to take about 150  young people river rafting on the south fork of the American River. Not one has ever had a wilderness experience prior to the river trip.

Co-sponsor Friends of the American River provides guides and equipment, and funds donated by attorneys in the district attorney and public defender offices are used to rent or buy equipment and supplies. Ledet bought enough sleeping bags and camping equipment this year to be able to provide gear to parolees throughout the year who wish to go camping on their own.

Ledet and his colleague usually take between 13 and 22 parolees on the river trips, driving the 240-mile round trip, cooking rice and beans and taking photographs. They devote an extra day to a few who are particularly high risk.

The payoff is real for Ledet’s current match, Shannon, who is applying to the Friends organization for a scholarship to train as a river guide. He also serves as a youth leader, where he shares a new-found interest in astrology, encouraged by the gift of a telescope he received from Ledet a year ago.

“This gives kids responsibility,” Ledet explained. “It’s very effective because when they’re mentoring another young person, it forces them to keep up their standards.”

Michael BuleyNewport Beach attorney Michael Buley, of Colby and Buley, was recognized by CYA for mentoring Sam, a 24-year-old Asian-American who was committed to the youth authority for assault with a deadly weapon, stemming from his involvement with a local gang. Paroled in 1996 after 40 months, Sam quickly landed two part-time jobs, enrolled in Cypress College and made the required restitution of $197 the following year.

After earning an Associate of Arts (AA) degree with honors, Sam was accepted at UCLA, graduating last summer with a degree in history. He currently is enrolled in a Christian Seminary School program.

Ann AugustAlso honored by the CYA for their mentoring activities were Los Angeles attorney Michael D. Cramer, Ann August, a VIP volunteer since the mid-1970s, and Brian Cardoza, a lawyer in the Southern California Edison’s general counsel office in Los Angeles.

A VIP mentor since 1994, Cramer helps young men while they are still institutionalized at the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility and later when they are paroled to Los Angeles County. The Ventura assignments are particularly challenging because mentors can visit their parolees only one weekend a month. Cramer drives 180 miles round-trip to make his visits.

In addition to his mentoring activities, Cramer is a member and current chair of the local VIP advisory committee and recruits other volunteers for the program. He has been honored twice as an outstanding volunteer and in 1998, he and his parolee received an “Outstanding Match of the Year” award.

August began her career as a mentor in San Jose in the mid-1970s and joined the organization’s San Diego operation when she moved south in 1979. Since then, she has mentored more than 32 parolees, remaining in contact with several over the years.

Also a recipient of other awards honoring her commitment to volunteerism, August says, “The power of mentoring can best be measured by the difference — between hope and despair; between self-esteem and worthlessness; between happiness and sadness; between serenity and anxiety; and, ultimately, between success and failure in pursuit of the good life.”