A Welcome Message from Susan Porter, JPC Executive Director
Welcome to the Fall 2012 issue of Justicia, Judicial Process Commission's vehicle for keeping you informed about re-entry and justice issues in Rochester, New York.
Suzanne Schnittman, JPC's new chairperson announces that our fall giving campaign may double your gift to JPC. We also continue to look for male mentors and women that have energy to help us host our winter solstice family party for client and their kids and active mentors. In addition, we hope you enjoy reading our profiles of two JPC clients, current and former, who allowed us to share their stories so that we can better illustrate JPC's positive impact in the community. Many thanks for your continued support!
Susan K. Porter
JPC Executive Director
Justicia is an on-line publication of the Judicial Process Commission that aims to educate our readers on the events and progress made that shape our mission statement of the pursuit of justice and equality for all people. In a truly just society all institutions are based on reconciliation and restoration, instead of retribution and violence. Our vision is the creation and realization of a just, nonviolent community. JPC supports the rights of all people to live in a society that helps people in the criminal justice system to achieve their fullest potential. We do this by providing support services, educating the public and advocating for systemic change.
JPC Clients Share Their Stories
In this new issue of Justicia, JPC leaders thought readers would appreciate hearing real examples of how this organization has positively impacted clients' lives. Two clients - current client Lou Ruta, and former client and current Americorps servicemember Darnell Smith - volunteered to share their stories. We hope you enjoy reading!
Lou Ruta: Once an Inmate, Now an Aspiring Homeowner
Louis Ruta is a charming, dynamic person. Clean-cut and professional, his way of interacting with friends, clients and colleagues on and off the car dealership lot in Rochester where he is currently employed contrasts starkly with his rap sheet. Lou is 33, has a strong handshake, and is extraordinarily well-spoken and engaging. It comes as no surprise that success selling cars has put him in a position to start saving to buy his first house. Five years ago, this was not the Lou Ruta you would have met.
|Lou Ruta, 33, JPC client who is actively and successfully working to get his life back on track|
He was raised by his mother and grandmother in the City of Rochester in what he describes as a "middle class upbringing" filled with love. Despite that support at home, though, Lou began to get involved in criminal activities starting as a young teen at Franklin High School. "I was good with numbers," he said. "I was not a violent person." His strengths made him a skilled bookie, at times dabbling in the sale of narcotics. Lou says he let the allure of money control his life, and as such, spent the majority of his 20s in a series of prisons up and down the East Coast.
Released and back home in Rochester in about 2008, Lou was determined to get his life back on track and once and for all escape the stigma of having a criminal background. Years in and out of jail had opened his heart and mind to the possibilities of an honest lifestyle. He had even worked for an associate's degree in business from Monroe Community College from behind bars, and today aims to turn that into a bachelor's degree.
Upon his most recent release, Lou heard about the Judicial Process Commission through a friend. Needing legal services but without the funds to pay for them, looking for a sounding board where he could share his story and learn more about his rights, he decided to check out JPC. "You come home with nothing," he said. "It's a lot of pressure for people to get out and try and do well. JPC was [my] main road to different outlets." JPC initially connected Lou with some mental health support services, and he says he benefited a great deal from the therapy and men's support group. "This place gave me hope," he said of JPC. "[I learned] there are people out there just like me. There was always somebody next to me going through the same thing," he recalled. "New York State is quick to throw you into jail, but slow to give you your life back."
With help from the JPC staff, Lou was able to stay on top of his own case and eventually find a job doing shipping and receiving at a local firm. Almost three years ago, he got a sales job at a local car dealership where he says he has been able to improve his income significantly because of his sales skills.
Lou is working with JPC right now to apply for a Certificate of Good Conduct through the New York State Division of Parole. When he eventually receives that distinction, he says his options in life will dramatically improve. "I get to come out of the shadow," said Lou. "It's basically saying I'm alright again." When it happens, Lou says he'd like to be a real estate agent. He wants to start a family someday, and he wants to live a simple, honest life. "It's a fight every day," he says of his plight to get back on track. "But [JPC] is giving me the tools I need [to succeed]."
Darnell Smith: From JPC Client to JPC Service Coordinator
JPC Service Coordinator Darnell Smith just celebrated his 50th birthday, but has the energy and drive of someone decades younger. A key member of the JPC team, Darnell helps dozens of clients every day, and does so with the passion of someone who can directly relate to the client experience. Darnell became acquainted with JPC years ago as a client, and today is serves the organization as an AmeriCorps member.
As JPC's Service Coordinator, Darnell assists clients with all types of issues upon their release from correctional facilities or local jails. Whether they are seeking birth certificates, social security cards, interested in applying for Certificates of Good Conduct, job tips, help with housing, etc., Darnell is often the first person a client will interact with when they come to JPC.
Darnell was himself in and out of prison for 17 years for crimes related to his chemical and alcohol dependency. "I can see the anxiety, the frustration in a lot of the clients," says Darnell, referring to what it feels like to be just released from behind bars. "I can relate to them. I know I would feel like the person on the other side of the desk doesn't understand me, so I tell my whole story so they know where I'm coming from."
Following his release years ago, Darnell attended MCC, where he was an eager student actively involved in campus activities, most significantly as a "Peer Leader." "I got a lot of confidence [from that experience]," recalls Darnell. "I got experience speaking to students and parents, guiding people to resources on campus." Sensing Darnell's leadership potential, a friend and schoolmate strongly encouraged him to apply to participate in the AmeriCorps program. Having come to JPC one year prior - in 2008 - as a client to apply for a Certificate of Relief, Darnell already had a relationship with the organization before learning at a training session that he could apply to work for JPC as an Americorps member. Overjoyed at being accepted into AmeriCorps, Darnell seized the opportunity to give back to the organization that helped him begin the journey to get his life back.
Empowered by his experiences at JPC, Darnell - at the age of 50 - is now finishing up his A.S. degree in Addictions Counseling from MCC. His goal is to eventually get a degree in social work, setting a timeline of between three and four years to achieve that milestone. "It's a journey, and I'm still on it," says Darnell, who is now in his last year with AmeriCorps.
"Double Your Money"
JPC Board President Suzanne Shnittman makes the case for the return on investment you can expect from a donation to JPC.
The other day, I overheard two JPC clients talking in the office. Their stories might sound familiar as we've quoted them in recent appeals letters. In case you missed them, their comments bear repeating.
Dwayne (not his real name): "JPC is the only place in town that welcomes me when I need advice on finding a job. And they encourage me at Monday Night Workshops to move my life forward in positive ways. I'd sure like to thank the donors."
Tanya (not her real name): "I agree. When my mentor was on WXXI's Bob Smith show last spring, I called in."
Dwayne: "That took guts."
Tanya: "Well, JPC is making it possible for me to re-enter the community. I was in a residential treatment home until August. I saw my three daughters regularly, but now I'm out and in my own house with them. I'm going to college online."
Dwayne: "Way to go. Why do you still come here?"
Tanya: "I'm part of New Journey, the JPC project in which social workers counsel a targeted group of moms - some are still serving sentences at the Monroe County Correctional Facility and others like me are on parole."
Dwayne: "I hope your program gets enough funds to keep on. I hear the men's meetings on Monday nights have been going for decades."
Tanya: "I'm volunteering my time to help get out an appeals letter this month. There's an anonymous donor who will match up to $5,000 of donations we get this fall."
Dwayne: "How's it going?"
Tanya: "We've raised $2,300, which doubled to $4,600. That's great, but we want to get the rest, another $2,700, which will double to $5,400."
Dwayne: "When are you doing the mailing?"
Tanya: "Next week. Come on over and help on Thursday."
Dwayne: "It will feel good to help. Not sure how'd I keep at my goals without JPC."
If you missed the chance to contribute to the matching fund last month, please do so today. Watch for the letter that will arrive in your snail mail box in mid-October. Use Pay Pal on our website. In December you'll also have a chance to contribute, through ROC The Day. Keep your eyes open for emails on this all month.
Dwayne and Tanya are counting on you to support the JPC office that gave them a new start in life. Whether it's $5.00 for coffee for meetings, $10 for dinners at the Monday night meetings, $15 for bus passes for job interviews, or $50 to hire a grant writer, any amount is welcome. Don't forget, it's doubled this fall!!! And in December, you can spread the word to your friends for ROC The Day!
Do you know:
- $5 will buy coffee for the weekly meetings most clients attend on Monday nights?
- $15 will buy ingredients for free hot meals prepared for the Monday Night Training Workshops?
- $20 will buy bus passes for a client to get to several job interviews?
- $25 will help us provide clients with one hour of assistance in writing a resume?
- $30 will pay for a birth certificate, something everyone needs to establish identification?
- $35 will help us provide office staff to input data on our clients for reporting?
- $40 will buy dinner for our women's group, which meets every other Wednesday?
- $50 will give staff time with our grant writer?
- $60 will help our clients purchase used furniture or used household items from the Volunteers of America?
- $75 will pay for inflatable beds and pillows for clients?
Thanks for helping us provide services for more than 890 clients who seek our help each year. They come to the door, like Dwayne and Tanya, and they write. We treat them all the same. We work hard to serve our clients well. We need you to continue helping us.
JPC Board President
A Message and a Request from JPC Mentor, Minister Robert J. Lovett
According to the Schott Report 2012, which studies the progress of public education, the high school graduation rate for Rochester's African-American males is 9%. This alarming percentage points out the serious need for our community to reach out to these young black men. We, the faith community, need to take a leadership role in mentoring this segment of our community. If we don't, then these young men will most likely turn to a life of crime.
The Judicial Process Commission is conducting mentorship training seminars January 21-22, and 28, 2013. We would like volunteers from your congregation to help us in assisting inmates from the Monroe County Jail and Correctional Facility to re-enter our community upon their release. These men and women need someone positive in their lives to keep them focused on making good decisions and to encourage them during this critical period. Although the mentoring seminars are geared to both men and women, male mentors are desperately needed because the jail population is mostly men. The skills you learn can also be applied to helping our young black men who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out of high school.
For more information please contact Valerie White-Whittick at 585-325-7727. Your participation in our mentoring program will be greatly appreciated.
Minister Robert J. Lovett
Women Needed for Fall and Winter Fun Family Events at JPC
JPC is seeking a gaggle of women with cars and energy to host fun family events for moms and kids this fall or winter on Saturdays or Sundays.
Specifically, Sue Porter is looking for 4 volunteers at 11 AM to pick up clients and kids and help set-up. She will need 4 volunteers that drive to take clients and kids home at 2 PM.
Volunteers are needed during the week to seek donated items for these events. Possible Ideas for the program include:
- Lunch - pizza and soda, other donated items
- Door prizes for adults and kids
- If the weather is good playing outside with kids - we have a large field across the street.
- If the weather is bad we can get a family movie DVD to watch.
- Board Games for kids and someone to lead the games
Interested? Contact Sue at [email protected]
JPC is like a shining little diamond. It is a small organization that tackles a big and difficult job. We obtain excellent results, at the cost of a shoestring, and do it with a high concern for each individual. We're what a non-profit should be.