"I think without Saint Martin’s I wouldn’t be at Green Hill because the education I got was very helpful for me – very motivating, and very engaging. It provided hope for me."
Reggie Parker '90 is the associate superintendent for Green Hill School for Incarcerated Youth, in Chehalis, where he works with young men between the ages of 16 and 20. Parker also does gang prevention training for state and local law enforcement agencies, schools and other organizations. Story by Deanna Partlow.
Growing up in Oakland, California, Reggie Parker ’90, worked hard to avoid the trouble that scarred and took the lives of many young men there. Since graduating from Saint Martin’s, he has made a career of rehabilitating similar youth who have run afoul of the law.
As associate superintendent for Green Hill School for Incarcerated Youth in Chehalis, he works with young men between the ages of 16 and 20 convicted of crimes. At any given time, about 180 are confined at the school, a part of the state’s Department of Social and Health Services’ Juvenile Justice and Rehabilitation Administration.
It is a tough job. But it’s worth the effort, he says. It’s also a world apart from the music career he dreamed of as a kid.
Reggie was born in an area where music is king – Houma, Louisiana, a diverse community not far from New Orleans.
He went from being part of a 300-piece band at his old school to one of only six members of Fremont High School’s band in Oakland, where he had moved. Then he discovered another niche. Athletic and a towering 6’6” in height, he was scooped up by the school’s basketball team. He became a good player and made new friends.
While his SAT scores didn’t make him a college shoo-in, his skills on the court spurred scholarship offers from several schools. He chose Santa Rosa Junior College, a place that promised him a good future. Although it was a large school, Reggie found his footing, both in classes and on the basketball court.
“I became a good player and was well-known in the community – I kinda became a star there,” he says.
Scouts from four-year schools took notice, Saint Martin’s Coach Bob Grisham (now athletic director), among them. He brought Reggie to campus and introduced him two Saints team members – Steve Smothers and Eric Crawford – who later became close friends. He found Saint Martin’s was “comfortable.”
“I think without Saint Martin’s I wouldn’t be at Green Hill because the education I got there was very helpful for me – very motivating, and very engaging. It provided hope for me.”
At Saint Martin’s, he also fell in love and later married his college sweetheart Julie Frare ’89, now CFO for the Thurston County Public Utility District. Later, they would have two daughters, Jamika and Tiana.
As his education progressed, he realized he wanted to work with kids and majored in community services. Smothers and Crawford were doing paid internships at Green Hill; his first thought was, “Oh wow, that’s nice!” he says. Soon, he joined them.
He later returned to Green Hill for a second internship. The school then hired him in as a security officer while he was still completing his degree, and when he graduated, Reggie was made an assistant counselor. From there, he has continued to move up the ladder in responsibility.
The young men at the school have already been sentenced for crimes committed in their communities. Most of them are at the school for six to eight months; some stay longer. At 21, youth who are still serving a sentence must finish their time in an adult correctional facility.
At Green Hill, they are involved in a variety of counseling, practical life skills training and education activities. Many finish high school through a program with Chehalis School District. Some learn vocational skills like culinary arts and welding, and some take online college classes through South Seattle Community College.
Rehabilitation programs and activities aim to build skills to avoid the violence, drugs and emotional triggers they’ll have to cope with when they go home. They learn to set goals, deal with peer pressure and practice alternative behaviors to aggression, for example.
In groups for African-American, Latino, Native American and Asian/Pacific Island students, they learn more about their cultural identity and history. Every year, each club puts on a program for the others to help break down barriers and celebrate who they are.
Part of Reggie’s work is gang prevention training, something he also does for state and local law enforcement agencies, schools and other organizations. He’s taken part in activities of the Washington Alliance of Black School Educators and is involved in other efforts to support Black youth, including the Black Child Development Institute. The Institute now comes to Green Hill every quarter to work with youth and get them involved in the “Alive & Free Prescription.” The prescription is a violence prevention program that helps them develop skills they need to avoid violent situations and individuals, encounters that too often result in incarceration or death.
“We sell it here, and we try to get buy-in from the kids we teach in the skills groups, but you either realize it or you don’t,” he says of efforts to alter the attitudes, values and actions that keep the boys at risk.
Many who leave Green Hill end up in the same environment they left – back to gangs who “are family” to them – so they go back and get caught up in it again, Reggie says.
“Some kids – you see a news flash, and you go, ‘oh, man – that’s one of my kids.’ They can be a perfect student here, but if they go back into the same environment, the streets – back into the same neighborhood – they get right back into the violence. We can give them all the resources that you need, but if they go back to the same environment, they can’t get out of it. We’ve got kids that don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Still, Reggie says, “We try to send a message. If I get through to one or two, that’s good.”
And that’s what keeps him inspired.
“I do find it rewarding,” he says. “A lot of them don’t make it when they leave, but I’ve seen kids who’ve actually made it and who come back and talk to the current population and tell their stories – how they got here, how angry they were, how I was trying to help them – and how I’m still here trying to help them. The main reason I’m still here is for the kids.”
Through the years, he’s also witnessed a growing awareness and a coinciding growth of support, resources and vocational programs to help incarcerated kids make a fresh start.
When he gets discouraged and thoughts of doing something easier sneak in, he asks himself if he’d find the change rewarding.
“With things here, I know that I can help some kids … I’m constantly seeing the revolving door of different kids coming in, and I think ‘I’m going to see what their skill set’s about.’ It’s always changing – and I learn a lot from the kids.
“I do have kids – they’re young men – and they’ll call me and say, ‘Reg, thank you for the opportunity and I’m doing good.’ I do have those kids who’ll check back in, and as long as they’re out there alive and free, that’s good.”
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