Probationers Share Tales of Reconciliation
Marin Probation’s inspiring ‘Wall of Change’ newcomers honored at special event

Probationers Share Tales of Reconciliation

San Rafael, CA – James Mayberry’s painful childhood and young adult years were the start of a long path toward healing and his second chance at life.

He was a young boy when he witnessed his mother’s death at the hands of his father. James was quickly separated from his siblings – they settled with relatives and he entered the foster care system. Depressed and traumatized, his teen years became overpowered by his alcoholism, and soon after began his period of lawbreaking. By his late 20s, Mayberry was separated from his job, his house, his car, and most importantly, his kids and “everyone I loved.”

A domestic violence charge in Marin County forced him to a relationship with the Marin County Probation Department, where for almost three years he struggled to commit to get sober and turn his life around.

Mayberry, now 31, did commit. He was one of 14 people honored January 18 at the Marin County Civic Center’s Board of Supervisors chamber for accepting renewed responsibilities and becoming a positive role model for others. The group are among the newest probationers honored on the Wall of Change, where personal stories of their transformation are documented in the department’s lobby for all probationers to see. The event opened with a short documentary film about the honorees created by Vincent Cortez of Mitchell Street Pictures.

In addition to Mayberry, the 2022 honorees were Deann Ashley, Hannah Cahoon, Kimberly Clayton, Abdalla “Jimmy” Khaled Sayed, Samuel Lawrence, Cody Lewis, Matthew McCarthy, Gabino Mendoza, Hengly Osiel-Calderon, Fletcher Pinkham, Justin Sheets, Nordia Valdivia-Rodriguez, and Tino Wilson Jr. All of them have powerful stories to tell.

In a statement to the Wall of Change committee, Mayberry wrote that his struggles were rooted in the death of his mother. 

“At such a young age I was left to navigate my grief and pain alone, then eventually I became numb to my own emotions,” he wrote. “All I knew was pain, and the thought of happiness was far from my reach. I felt like I had no one to go to even though I knew I had people who knew my situation and loved me, but I didn’t want to be a burden to them.”

Heather Donoho, a senior deputy probation officer assigned to Mayberry’s case, said Mayberry once blew one of the highest blood-alcohol measurements she had ever seen during a compliance check. She said he was testing positive for alcohol use – a violation of probation terms – twice a week on a regular basis.

“We had a serious conversation,” Donoho said. “I was prepared to recommend that he go to jail for a year. Then I found that James had never been offered an addiction treatment program, a recovery coach, or medication and counseling to help him with his trauma. He deserved a shot.”

As those recovery tools became available, Mayberry stopped testing positive for alcohol and stopped missing scheduled appointments. Today, he is sober and no longer homeless. He has a good job walking distance from his home, he helps others in the recovery community, he has reconnected with his childhood church family, and his four kids are back in his life.

“His willingness to work with me changed drastically for the better,” Donoho said. “It sounds cliché, but he’s a good reminder of why I went into this field. Unfortunately, there are so many negative situations we deal with as probation officers, but when you get a chance to work with somebody like James, it’s incredibly rewarding.”

“One day,” Mayberry wrote, “I just decided to be honest with myself and tell the truth because I could not continue living the way I was living.”

Once a year, an emotional celebration is held for those who come to a similar realization and make it on the Wall of Change, selected by a committee for providing the department’s most inspirational success stories of the year. The Wall of Change stories and photos include a first-person account from the honoree and words from their assigned probation coach. The annual ceremony also shows appreciation for the Probation officers and other supporters who sometimes find themselves as the only people who believe in their ability to succeed.

The in-person ceremony was hosted by Marin County Probation Chief Marlon Washington and his staff. Terry Wright, the Probation Department’s Adult Division Director, served as the emcee. Dr. Todd Schirmer, the County’s Director of Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, delivered the keynote speech.

For Mayberry and many other Wall of Change honorees, it’s not just the Probation staff that proves vital to their transformation but also trusted workers from law enforcement agencies, the judges of Marin County Superior Court, the Public Defender’s Office, detoxification centers, supportive nonprofits, social workers, and others. Several recovery coaches and counselors who played critical roles in supporting the honorees attended the Wall of Change ceremony.

Mayberry is finally getting used to hearing that friends and family are proud of him.

“I’m truly blessed to have a second chance at life with all the help and support system that has been giving to me,” he wrote. “I also want to help someone else who may be going through the same thing that I have experienced. There is hope in every situation, good or bad, but you have to believe within yourself and have faith that all things will work out for the good once you start making changes for yourself.” 

Learn more about Marin County Probation online.