Marin County Probationers Honored for Remarkable Turnarounds
Probation’s inspiring ‘Wall of Change’ recipients bask in pride at ceremony

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From Marin County Probation New Release.

San Rafael, CA – Boris Rodriguez of Novato is a responsible young man now, but for much of his adult life he was responsible for a lot of anguish. 

Three convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs got him intimately involved with the justice system, of which the Marin County Probation Department is a critical public safety cog. After Rodriguez served time in both Marin County Jail and state prison, Probation Department officers sought a personal commitment from Rodriguez to get sober and turn his life around. And he did.

Rodriguez was one of nine people honored on February 7th at the Marin County Civic Center’s Board of Supervisors chamber for accepting renewed responsibilities and becoming positive role models for others. They were the newest probationers honored on the Probation Department’s Wall of Change, on which personal stories of their transformations are documented in the department’s lobby for all visitors to see. 

In addition to Rodriguez, the 2023 honorees were (in alphabetical order) Bandit Bo Adair, Leticia Algere-Garcia, Jeff Barbe, Craig Dennis, Dionicio Hernandez Lorenzo, Briana Leppanen, Caitlin Longini, and Emily Pizzagrani.   

The ceremony was hosted by Marin County Probation Chief Marlon Washington and his staff; recovery coach Alan Miller served as the emcee. Michael Salinas, a former gang member and prisoner who founded and runs a nonprofit called Youth Recovery Connections, delivered the keynote speech. The event opened with a short documentary film about the honorees created by Vincent Cortez and Sofia of Mitchell Street Pictures. 

All of the Wall of Change honorees through the years have incredible comeback stories to tell. Many of them were lucky to survive. 

Rodriguez, a native of Guatemala who moved to Marin when he was 11, earned his first DUI at the age of 18. Lesson not learned, he was nailed with his second one was when he was 24, prompting 16 months behind bars. The third DUI came in 2020, when he was 29. 

“At the beginning, I didn’t want to admit that I had violated probation,” Rodriguez said. “I was in denial.”

Heather Donoho, a senior deputy probation officer assigned to Rodriguez’s case, said Rodriguez’s attitude at the time was frustrating.

“I told Boris I won’t vouch for him if he wasn’t honest with me,” she said. “I was prepared to recommend imposition of his state prison sentence if he wasn’t going to be forthcoming. Fortunately, he came clean and we talked about all the good things he has done prior to his relapse, what led to his relapse, and what we needed to do to move forward. Boris needed to learn how to deal with life’s stressors without turning to drugs and alcohol. I knew he wouldn’t learn that skill in prison, but in a treatment program he would.”

“Heather finally told me, ‘I am giving you one more chance, and otherwise it’s gonna be bad for you,’” Rodriguez said. “At the time, my wife had told me we were expecting another baby. Since then, I have been doing the right thing.”

Rodriguez was sentenced to 21 more days in jail followed by four months in substance abuse rehab and had to wear a tracking anklet. Today, at 32, he has a job with an excavation company and works with teams that grade land before a building is constructed. 

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 framed Wall of Change stories and photos include a first-person account from the probationer 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 the probationer.

For Rodriguez 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 supportive friends and family who have not given up on them. Several recovery coaches and counselors who played critical roles in supporting the probationers attended the Wall of Change ceremony.

Donoho was beaming when she listened to Rodriguez tell the audience his story and thank those who made positive influences on his life. 

“To this day I tell Boris that I don’t think I could have followed through with the many arduous tasks that were asked of him,” she said, “but he did, and he did so with huge success. Boris would not have been successful if not for his resiliency.”

“Before, nothing was for sure,” Rodriguez said. “I could’ve lost my job any time because of another mistake. Life is way better now, and I am proud. I am happy looking back at what I have accomplished. My parents and my family are happy for me.”

Learn more about Marin County Probation online or view the Wall of Change video.