Raul Tapia is a regular dad, optimistic about his family's future.
He coaches Little League and one of his sons takes part in First Tee of Monterey County, a golf and life-skills program for children.
Dressed to the nines on a weekday night, he said it wasn't always that way.
"I actually took from my family more than I provided to them," he said. "I shouldn't be comfortable with that."
Tapia, 35, was one of 19 men and women who were honored at a "transition ceremony" on Tuesday, graduates of the county's Day Reporting Center for people on probation who are serious about change.
Tapia said his past includes a history of alcoholism, violence and crime, but after attending the reporting center since April, he has a new view of life.
"This program does what it's intended to do for true inner change," he said.
"You have to want it more than anything," said his wife, Pamela Gordon, who attended the ceremony with their two sons.
Tapia smiled and said, "It's a family affair."
Tapia said the center's "clients" chose the evening's theme, based on the adage, "Be the change you want to see in the world."
The center, housed at 427 Pajaro St. in Salinas, is a small but key part of Monterey County's contribution to California's prisoner realignment effort, which shifts responsibility for thousands of low-level felons to local jails and probation departments.
With 75 probationers enrolled in the reporting center, there is a wait to get into the
The program serves as an alternative to jail time, providing an intensive mix of counseling, job preparedness and other assistance to highly motivated probationers.
Tuesday's ceremony, held at the Salinas Elks Lodge, drew probationers' families, friends and probation officers.
Graduates had to complete a cognitive behavioral program designed to change criminal behavior, stay off drugs and take part in prescribed group meetings.
When they start out, probationers come to the Pajaro Street center seven days a week.
They take an alcohol breath test daily and are subject to random drug testing. They take part in individual therapy, group sessions and life-skills training.
Getting jobs or going to school is another goal of participants.
The center helps clients with application and interview skills but doesn't have employers lining up with offers. Instead, probationers — many of whom are felons — go out and get jobs themselves.
The center is operated by the firm BI Inc., which is owned by GEO Group, one of the nation's largest private corrections companies.
In an emailed statement, a BI Inc. spokeswoman said the company's goals for the Monterey County center include "reducing the jail population, reducing probation revocations and helping probationers stay crime-free once released to the community."
The center, which has been in full operation since January 2010, has shown remarkably low recidivism rates for those who complete the program.
Of the first 30 graduates, only two committed a new crime or probation violation, according to a center report last year.
As the evening's graduates took turns speaking at the podium, one young woman said she didn't want to be there when she started the program, and just wanted to finish her jail term.
But slowly, she said, she began to learn how to be a better parent and learned she could talk to the center's staff about any problem she had.
"It's good to know I can finally trust people," she said.
Olive Burks of Salinas was one of the relatives beaming with pride at the ceremony. She was there with her husband, John Burks, to support her son, Greg Warren, 32, who said he has been going to the center for "about a year."
Like Tapia, she said the program works.
"It turns them around and gives them pride," she said. "You're on your way. My son got a job."
Julia Reynolds can be reached at 648-1187 or email@example.com.