By MEG WATERS     11/21/2023

Janet Carraman grew up in Santa Ana faster than she was ready. The oldest of four children, she began caring for her younger siblings at age 9 due to her father’s alcoholism. At age 12, she was raped. She was continuously bullied at school and at age 15, found herself yoked to an abusive boyfriend who eventually ended up in the California Institution for men in Chino. They ultimately divorced.

Later, she had two daughters with an undocumented boyfriend who had problems with addiction and was eventually deported. Janet was left with two young children and no support.

She landed a job as a business manager, but it was tough to make ends meet.

“Unfortunately, when I struggled to put food on the table, a temptation arose, and I made the wrong choice to embezzle from my employer.”

Ultimately, she was sentenced to 20 years, although she had no criminal background.

While in jail, she was surrounded by people who had mental health issues and drug addiction and was devastated to leave her girls, now aged 5 and 9. She hit rock bottom, and that’s where she met God.

“I promised God that if I got a new public defender named Kelly, who I had heard was good, to appeal my case, I promised to change my life and serve Him and His Kingdom.”

When Janet walked into her first appointment with her new public defender, Kelly was there.

“I knew it was God and just broke down in tears,” she said.

Kelly had her sentence reduced to seven years. She served nine months and was released under mandatory supervision until March 202, and a restitution debt of $100,000.

Francisco Palacios grew up in a rough part of Anaheim, also with an alcoholic and violent father.

“I didn’t learn English until kindergarten, and even then, if I spoke it at home, he hit me,” he recalled. “I had no friends and suffered sexual molestation by a neighbor. I was always on eggshells and felt like trash.”

When he was 11, his dad started to berate him. Francisco had enough. He punched his father in the face and threatened to kill him.

By age 14, he began selling drugs, and his last arrest for assault at age 20 landed him in prison for 17 years. While in prison, he continued selling drugs.

“Another inmate attacked me, slashed me in the face and knocked me unconscious,” he said. “I had 26 stitches, a concussion and a near-death experience. I saw my mom kneeling and crying. I walked up to her, looked into her eyes and saw my whole life reflected there. I realized I was the one who made her cry. I told God that if you allow me to live, I will change my life.”

Once released from the hospital, he asked for psychological treatment and joined Criminal and Gang Members Anonymous (CGA).

“In therapy, I learned about the root of my anger and violent behavior and how to control it,” Francisco said.

He took college classes in prison and received five associate degrees, attaining a 3.89 GPA. As part of his healing, he reconciled with his father, who became sober and turned his life around too.

Francisco was paroled in April 2022.

Janet and Francisco are continuing their education. They also began to look for ways to serve God by serving people coming out of incarceration. They met at Project Rebound, a program at Cal State University Fullerton that supports higher education and successful reintegration of the formerly incarcerated. They learned that there were very few programs available to help and support former inmates. They started Phoenix Arise OC, whose mission is: “To empower and uplift individuals who have been systematically impacted while supporting addiction recovery and facilitating successful reintegration from a criminal past through a holistic approach encompassing healing, hope, training, and unwavering support, we are committed to transforming our communities.”

Francisco grew up at St. Boniface parish in Anaheim and thought the church might be able to provide a location to hold meetings. Fred LaPuzza, the Director of the Office of Restorative Justice for the Diocese of Orange, had met Janet and Francisco. He put the two in touch with Fr. Ed Poettgen, pastor of St. Boniface, who was also looking for a program to help families impacted by the criminal justice system.

Fr. Poettgen quickly responded and opened a parish classroom for the two to set up shop. The Diocese serves as a fiscal sponsor for Phoenix Arise until they can get a 501c3 status and the Office of Restorative Justice also provides support.

Phoenix Arise, Orange County, was born in March of this year. More than 20 people come from Orange County, Inland Empire, Palmdale and even UC Berkeley to participate.

The program emphasizes cognitive therapy to address and change the behaviors that led to incarceration, so the individual has the tools to be successful in civilian life.

“Phoenix Arise is God’s Ministry entrusted to us,” said Janet. “I pray daily to steward His ministry well, and all the glory goes to Him.”

Phoenix Arise is just starting, and more support and programs will be added as space and funding permits. If you wish to donate to Phoenix Arise, contributions can be sent to St. Boniface Church/Phoenix Arise, 120 North Janss Street, Anaheim, CA. 92805.