San Diego, California - More than 800 young probationers filled their day with uplifting speeches, workshops and exhibits as part of the annual Passport to Life Career and Education Expo at San Diego City College on August 8.
The audience was made up mostly of teenagers and youth in their early 20s who are on probation or have a probation history.
Chief Probation Officer Mack Jenkins said he hoped participants felt the support that the day demonstrated.
The goal of the sixth annual Passport to Life event was not to “scare you straight,” Jenkins told a crowd gathered in a gym on the downtown San Diego campus. The mission, rather, was to show that Probation, as well as the courts, law enforcement and the educational communities care about them and their futures.
All it takes is a moment to decide you are going to start on a new path, he said.
“Try to make this day that moment for you,” Jenkins said.
The event was founded six years ago by Superior Court Judge Carolyn Caietti, and has come to attract not only youth but their parents as well. Many agencies have stepped in to help put it on each year, including the Probation Department, San Diego Superior Court, San Diego County Office of Education, Juvenile Court and Community Schools, San Diego County District Attorney and San Diego County Public Defender’s Office. Also collaborating on the event were the San Diego Workforce Partnership and San Diego City College.
Among the most remarkable speakers was Anakaren Ruano, a 19- year- old former meth addict and veteran of the juvenile justice system. Ruano delivered one of the keynote speeches, in which she gave an unvarnished account of her struggles with her family, drugs, school and her health. She talked of blacking out for days at a time and her weight dropping to unhealthy levels. Now two years sober and a college student studying criminology, she said she feels lucky to be alive.
Meth had once made her feel like “Wonder Woman,” she said. But, reflecting back on the feeling she got while graduating from high school with her class last summer, she said that feeling was better, because she had accomplished the success on her own.
“No drug gave me that high!” she told the crowd.
The nearly 80 exhibitors offered information on educational, career, job skills and military-related opportunities. Workshops included those with titles, “Don’t Allow Your Past to Punish Your Future,” “Landing and Keeping a Job,” and “Being Responsible Online.” The event also included a fashion show, which featured clothes that would be appropriate for job interviews or employment.