Community Re-Entry Readiness Programming: A Growing Impact

In a small conference room in the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse, a group gathers around the large oval table, many bearing notepads and pens. Slowly, the chairs at the table fill up; people begin to line the walls. At the front of the room, a large-screen television shows the opening slides of an educational presentation.

This is a typical meeting of the Public Interest Leadership Program’s (PILP) Community Re-entry Readiness Series, now just past its halfway point. The project was developed to help members of the CARE and RESTART programs reintegrate successfully into society. Many challenges stand in the way – perhaps the most major of which is the complexity of the many legal issues the participants face that most are unprepared to handle.

“I didn’t realize that was such a need until we started actively planning and talking to participants, and found that many members of these programs just don’t know how to navigate these tricky issues,” said Raquel Webster (National Grid), one of the Public Interest Leaders at the heart of planning this workshop series. “I didn’t think it would be as useful as we imagine it’s been.”

The Public Interest Leaders did know from the start that they would have the full support of the court and the BBA behind this project: not long before the PILP class began to meet to develop their programming, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Hillman and U.S. Magistrate Judge Leo Sorokin had approached the BBA about contributing to the programs. When this idea was floated at one of the PILP meetings, the interest was instantaneous.

Webster tells the story: “Many of us were familiar with CARE and RESTART already due to our assistance in a mock interview program that helped prepare participants for the job-hunting process. I myself was very moved by my experience assisting with these interviews – there was one instance in which I worked with an individual about one of his responses to an interview question, and a few weeks later he approached me in a coffee shop and told me he’d gotten a job. It was a small gesture, but I know I made a difference to him. Finding that there was this need, we thought it would be an excellent project.”

Now that the program is well under way, the interest in and impact of the workshops is becoming more apparent. Attendees are densely packed and intently focused on each presentation. There are enough questions to stretch the limits of each session, and many approach the lawyers after their presentations to ask more questions or simply to thank them.

According to Chris Saccardi (Law Offices of Christopher T. Saccardi), who gave the most recent session on housing, “It was clear that participants were speaking from experience and were asking questions based on specific struggles that they have had with landlords. One individual…described how he had just been through the evictions process and was familiar with some of the principles I had been discussing. Based on their level of attention and the questions they asked, I left with the feeling that, if they have not already, they will likely soon be putting some of their newfound housing knowledge to work.”

Likewise, Julia Devanthery (Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School) added, “After each presentation, the judges have consistently given feedback that the presentations are a great success; they also ask the participants how they found the workshops directly after they take place, and there’s been resounding positivity from this polling.”

Without a doubt, there is a high level of engagement; as the program reaches its conclusion and the attendees embark on the reintegration process more fully, the Public Interest Leaders and court officials anticipate positive feedback and, more importantly, hope to hear success stories in action.