Jasmine Guerrero has spent more than 10 years helping minority girls and young women who have done time behind bars to overcome the resulting social and economic barriers so they can find a better future.
After submitting her senior thesis at California State University, Los Angeles, about the plight of women in jail and the hardships they face when released, Guerrero decided to jump in and help them herself.
"Doing the research and the interviews and hearing the awful experiences of those girls opened a new horizon for me and made me want to help them reenter society," she told Efe in an interview.
She found the right opportunity when she began working with the Girls and Gangs foundation, which helps young females who have run afoul of the law.
"At first it wasn't easy, in fact it never is, since first and foremost you must get the young women to believe in you," Guerrero, now a case manager with Girls and Gangs, said.
The rehab professional said that sexual and psychological abuse, domestic violence and poverty are some of the factors "that push these girls onto the street and into problems with the law."
"It's very sad to see what they've been through - they've generally suffered abuse, most of them since childhood - and now they're trying so hard to find a place in society," she said.
Once she manages to win the young people's trust and while they're still behind bars, she puts together a to-do plan for them for a period of about six months.
"If when they've done their time in a reformatory they don't find specialized guidance, they'll soon be back in the same cycle of violence and imprisonment," Jasmine said.
"They set their own goals - they decide if they want to study or work or both to reinsert themselves in society - and establish the priorities to achieve them," she said.
That's how the process of acquiring the necessary tools to be useful people in their community begins.
Guerrero said that this is the critical point in the process, because the young women return to the same surroundings as before, "where their families are often disfunctional, living in poverty with no future to speak of."
And if they go looking for work, they have neither the necessary experience nor the qualifications, besides having a past that doesn't help them, nor do they have enough confidence in their parole officer to tell him their problems, because they're always thinking he could send them back to jail.
But through the mentoring program they begin to see what they want and what their strengths are and start training themselves to be more competitive - and they also receive professional care to overcome their psychological traumas.
"We show them the different opportunities before them: how they can finish high school and get their diploma if they don't already have it...and get them thinking about whether they would rather attend community college or enroll in the armed forces or get job training," she said.
Guerrero added that what is most important is to teach them not to give up no matter what "obstacles and difficulties they come up against along the way." EFE