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NEW YEAR, NEW START INMATES ENTER '07 WITH GOOD INTENT.

Byline: BRENT HOPKINS Staff Writer

On New Year's Day on Bauchet Street, there were no party hats or champagne toasts.

Behind the walls of the Los Angeles County Twin Towers Correctional Facility, no one woke up late and stumbled out for brunch with their friends. No one went for a jog to work off turkey dinners and eggnog.

The men who blinked their way into sunlight and freedom outside met 2007 with a different sort of beginning.

``I want to start fresh, start something new, you know?'' said Lecy Ayala, a 28-year-old from Sun Valley who spent the past five days behind bars for driving with a suspended license. ``It was messed up, being in there without my family. I just had a daughter, so it was hard to be without her. I just want to be a good dad.''

So Ayala resolved to pay his traffic tickets and get his license restored. This was his second trip to jail on the same charge and he's spent his last two birthdays locked up.

No more missing his family, he pledged; no more screwing around.

More than 250,000 people go through the county's jail system each year. Daily, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department admits between 500 and 600 inmates and lets out about the same number. Over half reoffend.

Once out, Sheriff Lee Baca says, his former charges will face a tough road ahead.

``Life becomes extraordinarily more difficult,'' the sheriff said. ``Their reliability in the work force goes down; they become almost a nuisance to their family because they can't sustain themselves.

``Hopefully, they took a hard look at who they are and what they want to do in five years, three years, one year after they get out and take small steps to get there.''

The portal that sends the men back into society at large is not particularly imposing or poetic. It's a smudged glass door with the words `DO NOT ENTER' emblazoned across the front and `Stair 7' atop the frame.

The released inmates wander past the men offering taxi rides or cheap phone service, past the impatient-looking visitors, past the watchful sheriff's deputies.

Some had rides, girlfriends, mothers or homeboys waiting for them. Some vanished, in pursuit of a cigarette and peace.

``They're happy. They're going, `Yeah! Freedom!''' said Lupe Zamora, 35, a bail agent plying her trade outside. ``Some of them even get down and kiss the floor. DUIs, molestation, fighting, robbery, you name it.''

Some still have the gangster swagger, but many come out, neatly dressed, not looking like criminals at all. Even the hardcore guys show a little emotion.

``A lot of big dudes who you'd think would be pretty tough, once they get out, they're bawling like little girls,'' said J.D., a liaison who's been working for a bail bondsman for several years and declined to give his full name. ``It gets a little uncomfortable sometimes.''

He used to be a chef, working in big-name kitchens across the city, but found the job to be too stressful. Now, J.D. waits for inmates to make their way back into the world and collects a percentage of their bond fees. Sometimes, he'll drive them home as far as Palmdale and wait for hours for them to come up with the money.

Angel Valenzuela remembers well the feeling of stepping through the door into freedom. The 21-year-old cabinetmaker from Santa Fe Springs came up Monday to visit a friend locked up on a murder charge. He missed his buddy during the holidays and wanted him to know he'd been thinking of him.

Valenzuela did time in youth camps, but has tried to stay straight after the birth of his second child. He has no desire to go back behind the wall.

``When you're in there, everyone says, I'm not going to get drunk, I'm not going to smoke weed anymore,'' he said. ``Then the first time you get out, that's the first thing you want to do.''

So that's why Adriana Weiland, a nurse's assistant from Venice, waited in the drab room next to the jail for several hours on Monday morning. Her boyfriend, Claudio, was inside, three months into a 10-month sentence for parole violation. She visits every week and writes letters telling him she loves him, reminding him that when he gets out, things had better go differently.

``When he came out last time, he had a real positive attitude, but he was hanging out with people he shouldn't have been,'' she said. ``He doesn't want to end up here again. No one does. He'll do better when he gets out, with me by his side.

``Otherwise, I'll kick his butt.''

brent.hopkins(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3738

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2 photos

Photo:

(1) Angel Valenzuela came to visit a friend at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles on New Year's Day.

(2) Bail agent Lupe Zamora walks outside the Twin Towers Correctional Facilty in Los Angeles on New Year's Day.

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 2, 2007
Words:838
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