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From Detention to Prevention

Adventist university alumnus works to give incarcerated people a second chance.

Angela Chavez, a native of Moreno Valley, California, United States, knows well the pain of the incarcerated individuals she encounters as a volunteer at Riverside’s Robert Presley Detention Center. Years ago, she was among them.

Currently, the 53-year-old wife and mother is enrolled in an advanced Master of Social Work program at Loma Linda University after graduating on June 18 from La Sierra University with a Bachelor of Social Work degree. During her undergraduate studies, she earned an institutional grade point average of 3.89 qualifying her as a member of social work’s Phi Alpha Honor Society. She is the first in her family to pursue a graduate degree, and the second to earn a bachelor’s. Her career interests include helping re-direct troubled teens and young adults who have become involved in the justice system.

Chavez’s life wasn’t always on an upward trajectory. Like many people, she had to push through major storms before achieving success. Her accomplishments and goals derive from a difficult past of roughly 30 years of substance abuse which began with experimentation at age 12 following a traumatic experience. Complicating matters, a major depressive disorder went undiagnosed. Consistent drug use began at age 15, and full-on addiction resulted a few years later leading to homelessness and criminal acts to support the dependency. “There were several trips to jail,” Chavez says, adding, “I choose to look at it now as a way to use my experience to help others. And that’s my main goal. I would like to start helping them before they get to where they’ve wasted their entire lives as I did.”

“God Intervened in My Life”

Chavez believes God guided her toward a 12-step program which she had learned about years earlier while incarcerated at the Riverside detention center. “Ultimately God intervened in my life through a series of events,” she said. These included a death threat from a drug dealer and the words of her mother, which served as a catalyst to change.

Supported by her family, she continues down the path of lifelong recovery determined to change a multigenerational pattern of substance abuse. She has held regional and local positions with her 12-step organization and is a member of its fellowship service outreach. Through the latter program, Chavez was cleared to function as one of four women who volunteer at the detention center in Riverside empowering female inmates who are interested in changing their lives. She was also asked by a volunteer coordinator to submit clearance papers for participation in a similar program at the California Institution for Women in Chino.

The Role of Education and Prayer

Chavez’s metamorphic change included bettering her life through higher education. Four years into her recovery process, Chavez enrolled at the Moreno Valley campus of Riverside Community College. There a human services class instructor introduced her to the social work field, and Chavez was hooked. “The diversity of services social workers can provide, the wide range of populations and a wide range of career choices [were] all attractive to me,” she said.

Chavez chose to continue her education at La Sierra University in part because of its small, intimate campus. However, upon arrival, she encountered an even deeper experience than anticipated. “One of the biggest impacts on my life that this school has had, it has helped me increase my reliance on God,” Chavez said. “From the very first time when I went to turn in my application, Carrie [Engevik] at EADP [Evening Adult Degree Program] prayed with me. She prayed for my successful application.”

Throughout her undergraduate schooling, Chavez also cared for her mother who had developed Alzheimer’s. Her husband, Scott Mabus, and daughter, Samantha Mabus functioned as her cheerleaders and willingly participated in “fend-for-yourself” dinner nights several nights a week to lighten the load, Chavez said. “They’re excited for me. I share all of my achievements, my grades, all my fears and my anxieties. They’re my biggest supporters.”

Chavez's graduation from La Sierra was a particularly impactful event for her daughter. “I was very emotional because she worked so hard to get where she is now,” Samantha Mabus said.

Samantha is a 21-year-old future paramedic who aims to work for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Services. She is inspired by her mother’s example and noted her admiration for Chavez and all that she’s accomplished. Mabus described the influence of her mother’s drive to improve her life and the dedication to her schooling which involved studying until the early morning hours and while on vacation. “Through the years, she has not only become a better person but a better mom,” said Mabus. “She taught me that if you set your mind to something, you will get it done even if you struggle.”

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