Walden House for ex-prison inmates opens in MacArthur Park

Walden House opened a new residential treatment facility near MacArthur Park for drug addicts and former prison inmates.
Walden House opened a new residential treatment facility near MacArthur Park for drug addicts and former prison inmates.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

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A new Los Angeles residential treatment facility for drug addicts and ex-cons is one bright spot in an otherwise sparse landscape of programs for men and women that society’s largely abandoned.

The nonprofit Walden House runs programs in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“We are helping to put productive men back in the community," Wayne Garcia said. Garcia manages programming for the organization.

“It is in this place that men discover their better selves," Walden House President Vitka Eisen said.
"They take the steps necessary to free themselves from addiction and crime, from gangs and violence and incarceration.”

Ex-convicts who want to turn their lives around say there are not a lot of place like this.

Dwayne Cesar Edwards was born and raised in Pasadena, but liked to feed his crack habit with burglaries and other crimes in Inglewood and Pomona.

“I been in and out of the prison system since I was 13 years old."

Edwards, 48, left prison in April, entered Walden House, and has been clean and sober ever since.

“I believe in the program because I seen staff who I knew from the penitentiary who’s life has changed," he said.

That kind of peer counseling, a warm bed and hot meals, and programs for anger management and job skills are hard to find even in good times, said Walden House development director Richard Jimenez.

“People have a tendency to give money to schools, to cancer."

The challenge, said Jimenez, is that the people Walden House serves are not "warm, fuzzy guys. So it’s my job to de-stigmatize the folks."

The new facility has room for 200 people, but money for just 140.

L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, who attended the Walden House opening, decried state funding cuts — including the governor’s proposal to slash $53 million for methadone programs for heroin addicts.

“There’s a whole vacuum of capability," he said. "It’s a pretty desperate situation.”

Walden House officials say California’s also cut the number of substance abuse programs inside state prisons from 35 to 13.

The result, said the sheriff, is more crime by addicts who may just need a little hope.

That, said Walden House Program Director Garcia, is what the new treatment facility seeks to provide.

“We instill hope." he said. "We help them change their life. We provide them the courage to walk through the open doors that will be coming their way.”

With so few programs available, the revolving doors of state prison may be the only ones most criminal addicts will ever see.