Randy Carter, a case manager for Felton’s Law Enforcement Assistance Diversion (LEAD) program, grew up in Oakland, arriving in the Bay Area at the tender age of three. His family roots are in Louisiana; Randy is the fifth of six children, with three sisters and two brothers completing the family of eight.
“An important value that I was taught growing up is that family and friendships are important and that we were to look out for one another and stick together. Unfortunately, I also learned some very hard lessons growing up, both within my family and, also, at school. Lessons such as how to keep secrets, because it was safer to keep silent, not to talk about feelings, bullying by my siblings and peer pressure to do things that I knew weren’t right and could get me into trouble. I survived by suffering in silence and participating in activities that I really didn’t want to do, but couldn’t dismiss myself from, without ridicule by my peers.
“I learned as a black boy in a predominately white school system, that I wasn’t encouraged or supported academically or socially. In fact, at 14 years of age, I had a teacher call the police on me because I pulled my arm out of her grip, and she accused me of assault. A much harsher punishment than if a non-black student would have done the same. This single incident is what began my career in the criminal justice system.”
Randy is featured in “The 50”, a feature-length documentary by Brenton Gieser that follows the lived experiences of 50 incarcerated men serving life or long term sentences in California, and their journeys to become certified drug and alcohol counselors in a first-of-its-kind program at Solano State Prison.
Randy’s life changed dramatically after his parents divorced when he was nine years old.
He shares “My mother, younger brother and I relocated to San Diego where my mother remarried. Because of the verbal and physical abuse that I suffered at the hands of my stepfather, I moved back to Oakland to live with my father at the age of 13.
“The family support and guidance that I so needed during my formative teenage years weren’t available to me because my mother lived in San Diego and my dad worked a lot and wasn’t around much. I was, therefore, pretty much alone and left to my own devices with no parental guidance as a teenager in Oakland in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
“When I was in 9th grade, I was arrested because of the assault accusation made by my teacher and got sent to Juvenile Camp for six months. After 30 days, I ran away, was rearrested and ordered to complete a 90-day sentence in Juvenile Hall in San Leandro. I failed to complete the 90-day sentence without incident, and I was sentenced to 14 months in the California Youth Authority. After 13 months, I was released at the age of 17, I never returned to public school but I earned my GED and continued education while in prison.
“For the next year, I worked until I committed my crime at the age of 18, was found guilty and sentenced to 27 years to life. I served 34 years in the California prison system and was released from prison in 2016 at the age of 52.”
Before his incarceration, Randy had dreamed of going into the Air Force as a career because he saw it as a way to escape and become independent. He shares, “(I wanted to) get away from a life that was destined for disaster at the rate I was going.” After his release from prison, Randy worked as a supervisor at the Civic Center providing direct community services, educating the public and maintaining order in the Civic Center Commons. He began working at Felton almost two and a half years ago first as an outreach worker for the Felton Engagement Specialists Team (FEST), then he was promoted to case manager as a member of the LEAD Team.
Felton’s LEAD services are provided as part of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (SF-LEAD), a multi-agency collaborative partnership program designed to divert repeat, low-level adult offenders at their earliest contact with law enforcement. LEAD services are an alternative to jail and prosecution for those experiencing mental health, substance use and co-occurring disorders. Felton’s LEAD team works with residents referred in the 16th Street/Mission neighborhood.
“What attracted me to the job at Felton Institute is that the job seemed to be a perfect fit that required little transition on my part and fit right into my skill set and my credential as a Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor. Additionally, I had already been working in the same neighborhoods and serving the same population of people that I’d be serving at Felton in my new position, so it spoke to me. And just like I thought, it turned out to be the right job for me. I’m passionate about helping the marginalized people in our communities live better lives, if at all possible.
“I see the work that Felton does in the criminal justice arena helping the formerly incarcerated re-enter society as exceptional and very important work. The most rewarding part of my job at Felton is being able to assist clients with overcoming their challenges, whatever they may be. I love being of service to others who are in need.”
In his spare time, Randy enjoys working out at his favorite childhood hang out, Oakland’s Lake Merritt, which he considers an important aspect of his self-care. He relishes being in nature and near the ocean, collecting cars, traveling, watching sports (he is a 49ers fan) and spending quality time with family and friends.
Randy shares, “The personal motto that I live by is to live my life to the fullest every day and, also, to remain mindful that I am not a prisoner of my past. It was a lesson and not a life sentence. I believe in redemption.”
About Felton Institute: Founded in 1889, Felton Institute responds to human needs by providing cutting edge, evidence-based mental health and social services that transform lives. Felton Institute is a tax-exempt organization registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit under EIN 94-1156530.
Offering more than 60 acclaimed and honored programs that address homelessness, mental health, prenatal, adolescent, adult and senior needs, Felton Institute provides services in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Marin, and Monterey counties.
Felton is named for its social services pioneer and executive director Dr. Katharine “Kitty” Felton who was called the ”conscience of San Francisco” and was committed to ensuring that children and families in crisis have access to social services and resources in order to help them build upon their inherent strengths and develop self-sufficiency. www.felton.org