gilroy center for the arts javier aguirre office of diversion and reentry services
Javier Aguirre (center), director of the Office of Diversion and Reentry Services, introduces the panel of speakers during a reception for “Rising” at the Gilroy Center for the Arts on Jan. 23. Photo: Erik Chalhoub
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When Mark Ashford was nearing the end of his prison sentence about three years ago, he said he went “full force” into turning his life around.

The Gilroy resident, who spent 25 years in and out of the prison system after getting involved in the gang lifestyle at a young age, dialed into the programs of the Santa Clara County Reentry Resource Center, taking classes and earning many certificates to help him be successful upon his return to the outside world.

Now, Ashford is employed with a local trade union, volunteers with PitStop Outreach, and facilitates healing circles through the nonprofit Carry the Vision.

Ashford joined top county law enforcement brass, artists, nonprofit leaders and others during a Jan. 23 reception for “Rising,” an exhibit at the Gilroy Center for the Arts featuring artwork by incarcerated men, as well as those who were formerly incarcerated now living in South County.

The artwork served as the inspiration behind a large mural created by artist Rolando Barron, depicting a man holding a child in the air.

Ashford was one of about 10 others who participated in a group discussion led by Mark Segovia, the youth diversion coordinator with Carry the Vision. Participants were asked two questions: 1. What is your highest vision for healing and transformation? 2. What is the invitation to our community to join in and be a part of it?

Those participating in the discussion included newly elected County Sheriff Bob Jonsen, County Chief Probation Officer Laura Garnette, Inmate Rehabilitation Officer Patrick Marshall, and Gilroy City Councilmembers Zach Hilton and Carol Marques.

Javier Aguirre, director of the Office of Diversion and Reentry Services, said Ashford is a testament to the services the office provides to those released from incarceration.

“I know that he will be inspiring others to follow his journey in coming back to his community,” he said.

Ashford noted that the resources are available to those in need.

“It is possible for people to change,” he said. “You just have to want to do it.”

“Rising” runs through Jan. 31 at the Gilroy Center for the Arts, 7341 Monterey St.

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


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