How SOS Began...

     The concept of Starting Over Strong (S.O.S.) began the moment I set foot on California State University, Chico (CSUC ) in 2007.  At the time I had no idea how great the need for this movement was or how successful the outcome would be.  After all, we were just students; and formerly incarcerated students at that.  I attended class just like every student did.  I wrote papers, took tests, attended rallies, applied and was accepted into the social work professional sequence just like most students. I made sure I got enough rest, good food to eat and was fortunate to have a roof over my head and a curious, intelligent mind just like most other students.  I was even aware that my criminal history would not make me ineligible to attain a bachelor’s degree in social work.  However nice it is to know that CSUC was rooting for me, I knew I had one big obstacle in my way:  I am a formerly incarcerated individual and that the world did not care how many degrees I may have or the fact that, that picture or image no longer represented who I am.  That automatically put me in a completely different category than other students.  None of this stopped me from trying to reach my dreams. 

     Prior to my academic career it really never occurred to me that I was being discriminated against unjustly or that I even deserved equal treatment among my fellows. Nevertheless, here I was getting educated and I wanted my degree to mean as much as my colleagues’ did and I did not want my past to handicap me professionally or personally any longer.  I did not want to listen to those who voiced the opinion “Why would you even try, I mean who will hire a person like you?” Society wanted me to be a productive member of society.  However, I wanted not just to have any old job when I graduated. My desire was to find meaningful employment.  My aspiration was to live, work and participate in my community.

     So every day I drove to school and I prayed to God that I would somehow make it through this semester and the next.  But, the closer I got to actually reaching my dreams and as graduation was drawing nearer, the more discouraged I became.  My professors told me that they could not guarantee that because I earned a degree in social work that would be enough for me to become employable.  Then one day as I was driving to school a feeling of desperation and hopelessness consumed me so hard that I had to pull over and park.  I was overwhelmed with an ache in my heart and I must have cried for a good twenty minutes.  I cried out to God “Why me God, why me?”  The answer came back “Why not you?”  In the deepest part of me I knew that God would make a way for me but all I had to do was ask for help.  So thus began my vision and journey to developing Starting Over Strong.

     On that same day I approached the director of field education within the social work department with a proposal of starting a program within the School of Social Work at CSUC that would provide formerly incarcerated students with access to information, forms and resources that would address financial, social and legal barriers that discourage academic and professional success.  To my amazement, she was interested and agreed that there was a great need for formerly incarcerated students to have a way to overcome what seemed to be insurmountable barriers.  She advised me to write a proposal of my vision and mission statement of where I wanted this movement to go and how I proposed to do that.

     This was during my junior year at CSUC and while other students were attending internships, I was given the special privilege of developing a program that would strive to make a significant difference in the lives of students who wished to put the past behind them.  I put my whole heart and soul into researching California Penal Code 1203.4 & 1203.4a and the expungement process.  I wanted the program to give formerly incarcerated students the opportunity to gain knowledge on the forms, petitions, applications and resources to assist them in the expungement process.  Soon, other students were interested and others began to come around too, not only those who had been formerly incarcerated but, those who had friends and family members who suffered from this social injustice.   Before long our mission statement came to life and we were students empowering people to advocate, access, and achieve social and economic justice.

     We know that we are only beginning to scratch the surface on the problems that exist for formerly incarcerated individuals and their families.  This kind of change will only happen by assisting formerly incarcerated people in pursuing social change and creating a pathway to achieve personal, professional, and social standing in the community.  Starting Over Strong aspires to help and encourage all individuals facing social and legal inequities to achieve their goals and dreams. Our desire is to end the discrimination of formerly incarcerated people.                                                                                            Sharon Darse
P.O. Box 2104
  Willows, CA 95988

              Sharon              Stephanie               Alma
       (530) 867-3296   (530) 370-6880   (619) 955-3678