Thinking Past the Lockup

May/June 2010

Reading time min

Thinking Past the Lockup

Karen T. Borchers

When Dave Gonzales joined the board of directors for Friends Outside in Santa Clara County, a nonprofit organization that helps families and individuals affected by incarceration, he had decades of experience in law enforcement. He went from being a Stanford sociology major to the police force in Berkeley, and later, at the Santa Clara County Sheriff's department, he rose from sergeant to assistant chief of the Department of Correction. But something said on that day about offenders took root in his mind: "The key always turns twice."

"You may lock them up," explains Gonzales, "but at some point you need to let them out in the community. And you want to make sure they come out better than they came in." Gonzales now works toward that goal as the executive director of Friends Outside in Santa Clara County.

If Gonzales's initial career goal was to improve public safety by taking offenders off the street, his interests soon expanded. He brought Milpitas adult education classes into the Elmwood Correctional Complex: What started with hundreds of inmates showing up for the first class blossomed into a program in which roughly half of the Santa Clara County Department of Correction's 4,000 inmates were enrolled on any given day. When Gonzales realized how many inmates lacked basic reading skills, he and his colleagues got a grant from IBM to help put computer labs and learning software in the housing units. In 2007, Gonzales, who had retired from the police force, was tapped as the executive director for Friends Outside—as an experienced administrator who knew the agency's work and one whose background gave it an extra dollop of gravitas.

"A lot of people think you're playing against type, going from putting people in jail to helping them," says Gonzales. "That gets me a little extra attention and some credibility. . . . I have a good understanding of what these people need to help them."

Friends Outside, more than half a century old and with a budget of about $975,000 a year and 14 staff members, facilitates visits with prisoners and acts as a link between inmates and their families. Staff and volunteers help with such tasks as verifying court dates, contacting probation officers or providing clothes for jury trials. They also assist prisoners' families—who, as Gonzales points out, are unintended victims of crime. The organization's parent-education program focuses on helping young children impacted by incarceration, and their caregivers.

"Dave has this great law enforcement experience," notes Friends Outside board member Jeff Schwartz. "Many people come out of that experience negative about inmates, and cynical. Dave has none of that. Dave is not someone who is real judgmental about folks. He has been marvelous."

BRIAN EULE, '01, is a frequent contributor to Stanford and the author of Match Day: One Day and One Dramatic Year in the Lives of Three New Doctors.

You May Also Like

© Stanford University. Stanford, California 94305.