Criminal Justice News and VIews

Interesting items related to criminal justice

My Photo
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona, United States

I love teaching and sharing knowledge. The Internet is a free passage to an amazing amount of knowledge provided by some of the greatest minds of the day. MIT, Oxford and other universities are now sharing lecture notes with the public and allowing us to dip into the overflowing fonts of wisdom that abound. Yale is but one university that has put actual lectures on the web.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Everyone Can use a Helping Hand

June 13, 2006
A Fresh Start Needs Hands Willing to Help
GREGORY PEREIRA had plenty of drug convictions and the prison sentences that went with them. They were usually short stretches — a year here, 18 months there — and they finally got Mr. Pereira to realize that life on New York's margins had not worked out. "I wasn't," he said with ample understatement, "that good a criminal."
He turned his life around. First, he managed to stay out of prison. Eventually, he kicked his drug habit. He went to school and earned a bachelor's degree. "I don't know if I had a spiritual awakening or reckoning or what," Mr. Pereira said, "but I realized I had to give something back."
He began to do just that. He managed H.I.V.-prevention programs. And he continued his studies. Now 46, he is getting a master's degree in public administration from Metropolitan College of New York, on Varick Street, where the students are typically well above traditional college age.
There are many ways Mr. Pereira could have taken note of this latest passage. He chose to celebrate the other evening with a dozen men and women who are also receiving degrees this spring from colleges in the city and its suburbs. They had that achievement in common. That, and one other thing:
They were all former convicts.
It is sometimes easy to forget, in this get-tough-on-crime era, that the bad guys eventually get out of prison, or most of them anyway. It is even easier to forget that some are no longer bad guys. They seek redemption. But maybe they need a hand to find it.
Mr. Pereira did. So did the other onetime inmates gathered with him in celebration in an auditorium of the City University Graduate Center.
All belonged to a program called College and Community Fellowship, created six years ago to help former inmates pursue college studies, in most cases while they also hold full-time jobs. More than 100 people have taken part so far. At some point along the way, all had been written off as hopeless lowlifes, even no-lifes. Now they are graduating from college, some with advanced degrees.
And not one, the sponsors say, has landed back in jail.
Participants receive some cash, $600 a semester, to ease the pain of tuition a bit. Perhaps more important, they get mentoring and encouragement and, as the program's name says, fellowship.
"The money helps, but it's really the camaraderie and the hope," said Aracelis Turino, who did 10 years in federal prisons on a drug-related conviction. At 37, she is getting her bachelor's degree in social work from Lehman College, in the Bronx. "We sit together," Ms. Turino said, "and discuss who's having issues, and the barriers we all face, and the stigmas."
FOR sure, this is not the only program in the city for onetime criminals ready to change their lives. The need for such a helping hand should be self-evident. Every now and then, though, a situation comes along to bring the point home.
A good example is the case of a man named Marc La Cloche. He appeared in this column more than once. Mr. La Cloche was a Bronx man who, during an 11-year stretch in New York prisons for first-degree robbery, learned to be a barber. He loved cutting hair. After he was freed in 2001, he sought the state license required to pursue his new craft.
Time and again, the office of New York's secretary of state, Randy A. Daniels, made sure that he didn't succeed. His criminal past, state officials said, proved that he lacked the "good moral character" to be a barber. Ultimately, Mr. La Cloche was beaten down. He died last October at 40, a lonely man not given a shot.
In his attempt to get a license, he had taken Mr. Daniels to court. When Mr. La Cloche died, so did his case. Justice Louis B. York of State Supreme Court in Manhattan signed a formal dismissal order on June 1. But in his ruling the judge did not hide his "outrage and despair" over what the state officials had done, over "the inhumanity exhibited by human beings with power over one person without power."
At least Mr. Pereira, Ms. Turino and the others got a chance to start over. So they celebrated together at the Graduate Center. They heard speeches of encouragement, and they performed a short play of their own about life behind bars and, more hopefully, the road ahead.
There was a printed program for the evening, designed by Mr. Pereira. Its dominating feature was an illustration of a phoenix.

Copyright The New York Times