Posts Tagged ‘incarcerated’

Photo: Pat Greenhouse/ Globe staff.
Donor Michael Solomon, left, demonstrates the use of the chair topper to store a folding wheelchair to car recipient Alan Mack of Quincy at Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School. It’s all in a day’s work for Second Chance Cars.

Dan Holin is a local nonprofit entrepreneur that I’ve worked with in connection with a couple different organizations. I met him in the early 2000s, when he was running the Jericho Road Project, and when he went to UTEC in Lowell, Mass., I wrote how he brought the joy of biking to teens who had been in trouble with the law, here.

Now the Boston Globe has caught up with Dan’s latest initiative, a longtime dream. He has really thought through all the pieces needed to make it work — the banks, the beneficiaries, the automotive high-school programs, the donors, etc.

Nancy Shohet West wrote, “Three years ago, Alan Mack was struggling to make ends meet as a laborer with the state Department of Recreation & Conservation when he was struck in the back by a bullet and left paralyzed. What followed was not only rigorous recuperation, but also a long stretch of being unemployed and homeless. …

“For a person in a wheelchair, the daily commute he had previously made by public transportation was nearly untenable: Typically an hour in duration and requiring several transfers from train to bus, not to mention relying on a system not known for its reliability even in the best of times.

“Fortunately, the social service organization that was helping Mack with his numerous challenges had one more idea for him: applying for a vehicle through Concord-based Second Chance Cars, which provides automobiles to low-income recipients who can demonstrate that owning a car would substantively help them to get a job, keep a current job, or advance within their field.

“Now Mack makes the 15-minute commute from home to work in his specially equipped car, which he said also will enable him to advance the music production business he recently started after entering an online bachelor’s degree program at Berklee College of Music. …

“Mack is one of about 70 beneficiaries to receive vehicles from Second Chance Cars, founded in 2019 by Concord resident Dan Holin. An Israeli-American citizen who served in the Israeli military and then pursued a career in nonprofit administration, Holin was motivated by several intersecting passions, including social outreach, cars, and entrepreneurship. He envisioned a nonprofit that would serve veterans and former prison inmates returning to society. His mission has since expanded to reach others, including legal immigrants and struggling families.

“Mentored by leaders of other nonprofits, Holin designed a business model whereby his organization provides donated cars to low-income workers for $900, paid for by the recipients in monthly installments of $75 over the course of a year.

“After talking with nearly 20 banks, Holin found two — City of Boston Credit Union and Metro Credit Union — willing to partner with Second Chance Cars by providing zero-interest loans along with free financial counseling to the recipients, with Holin serving as the guarantor. At the end of 12 months, the recipients have not only paid off the loans but also have improved their credit ratings.

“Stephanie Tetreault is the kind of person Holin envisioned helping. After battling a drug addiction and serving nearly 10 months in prison for larceny, she was determined to get her life back on track.

“Formerly living on the streets, by the fall of 2020 she had housing in Lowell and steady employment as a shift leader at Dunkin’, where she wanted to apply to be a manager. But that job required reliable transportation, and a car was something Tetreault had neither the cash nor the credit rating to obtain.

“Her case manager at Thrive Communities, which helps formerly incarcerated people transition back into society, told her about Holin’s organization.

” ‘I went through the application process and met with the board of directors of Second Chance Cars to tell them about my situation,’ recalled Tetreault, whose car was prepped at Greater Lawrence Technical School in Andover. ‘The whole process took just a few weeks, and then I had my car: a 2005 Toyota Prius. It’s been a blessing and a lifesaver.’

“Just as Tetreault hoped, Dunkin’ promoted her to a manager position, which she held for about 18 months. Empowered by her newfound independence, her ambitions grew.

“ ‘Because I had a car, I felt that I could pursue my larger goal of becoming an addiction counselor,’ Tetreault said. ‘I found a job in that field in May of 2022, and then enrolled in the addiction counseling certificate program at Middlesex Community College.’

“The benefits that Second Chance Cars provides reach more than just its recipients. The organization collaborates with five vocational high schools in Massachusetts — Essex Tech in Danvers, Greater Lawrence, Greater Lowell Technical in Tyngsborough, Minuteman High in Lexington, and Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High in Wakefield — enlisting their automotive technology departments to fix any problems the donated cars might have before they are passed on to new owners.

“ ‘This is a great match for our program,’ said Jill Sawyer, director of Career, Technical and Agricultural Education at Essex Tech — more fully, Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School —whose automotive technology students worked on Mack’s car.

“ ‘Many of the cars our students work on belong to faculty members or people from the community who understandably need their vehicle repaired as quickly as possible.

‘With Second Chance Cars, we usually have a few weeks with a car, which gives the instructors more time to make it a learning experience.’

‘And then the students get to attend the reveal ceremony and learn about the person who is receiving the car, which is eye-opening for them.’

“ ‘It’s a win-win situation,’ agreed Donald Melanson, an auto tech instructor at Minuteman, whose students have worked on more than a dozen vehicles for Second Chance Cars. ‘A lot of the repairs the donated cars need are typical of those that the students will be doing once they get out in the trade. This is also giving them a chance to help the general public, and to see the kind of difference that they can make in someone’s life.’

“Josh Duquette found out about Second Chance Cars from a counselor at Veterans Inc., which provides services to veterans throughout New England. A divorced father of four living south of Boston, he couldn’t drive due to a combat-related disability after returning from a deployment in Kuwait and relied on a combination of ride-hailing services, public transportation, and favors from friends to get to his job as a special education paraprofessional in the North Attleborough school system.

“Once Duquette received medical clearance to begin driving again, Second Chance Cars found him a nine-year-old car with 115,000 miles on it. Students at Minuteman refurbished the interior, serviced the engine, and provided new parts. As a result of having his own transportation, Duquette was able to take a position teaching summer school in addition to his school year assignment.

“ ‘One of the biggest obstacles a lot of our veterans face in getting back to a meaningful lifestyle is transportation,’ said Bill Corcoran, a case manager with Veterans Inc. … ‘Second Chance Cars takes that barrier away, and it’s life-changing.’ ”

More at the Globe, here.

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Photo: Stephen Humphries/Christian Science Monitor.
Chef Brandon Chrostowski (center) teaches trainees inside the kitchen for Edwins Too, one of his two French fine dining restaurants on the East Side of Cleveland.

When you take a wrong path in life, does it have to determine everything that happens later? At the Christian Science Monitor, Stephen Humphries writes about a chef who is making sure that some people are successful when they start over.

“Brandon Chrostowski is telling his origin story for probably the thousandth time. He’s pacing the stage of a local high school, holding his microphone with the confidence of a rock star. Mr. Chrostowski is a distinguished chef – he was a restaurateur semifinalist in the 2022 James Beard awards – and founder of a Cleveland restaurant with a philanthropic mission. Yet he’s ambivalent about all the acclaim. He’s tasted what it’s like to be stripped of dignity. At 18 he was arrested for fleeing and eluding the police. He and some friends had been in a car with drugs they intended to sell.

“ ‘I learned a lot of things. One, the dehumanization in the criminal justice system,’ he tells the students at Gilmour Academy. ‘Also, the idea of freedom. You don’t really know what freedom is until you lose it.’

“A lenient judge decided against sentencing him to prison. Mr. Chrostowski has never forgotten that he was fortunate not to serve a 5-to-10-year sentence. It’s the reason he launched Edwins Leadership & Restaurant Institute on Cleveland’s East Side. 

“What makes Edwins unique isn’t just its French cuisine, but its workers – they’re formerly incarcerated adults. Over six months, those in training learn skills for employment in the culinary world. More than that, Mr. Chrostowski tries to draw out a sense of self-worth in those who’ve served time by showing them how to attain excellence. 

‘The single hardest thing we have to do at Edwins is really build esteem in someone that has lost that, or that sense of humanity, through incarceration,’ says Mr. Chrostowski.

“Hours before giving his speech at the high school, Mr. Chrostowski strides into a kitchen where two trainees are singing along to a Bobby Womack tune on the radio. Tying a half apron around his waist, the chef quickly assesses a hunk of braised beef inside a pot as large as a bassinet. …

“As Mr. Chrostowski shares tips with Richie, he picks up a knife and demonstrates how to slice asparagus. In 2017, Edwins was the subject of an Oscar-nominated short documentary titled Knife Skills. …

“Abdul El-Amin enrolled in the program in June after being incarcerated for 20 years. ‘When you come here, it is sincere. You’re welcome. You can feel it,’ he says after his first two weeks of training. He adds, ‘I’m seeing so many other opportunities that I didn’t think about when I was incarcerated.’

“That’s not to say the program isn’t demanding. Over 2,000 people have trained at Edwins since its opening in 2013. Of those, only 600 have graduated because most drop out, often within the first two weeks. (They’re always welcome to reapply.) The program boasts a 95% employment rate for its alumni, and fewer than 1% of graduates are re-incarcerated. Star pupils have gone on to work in restaurants across America and even in France.

“ ‘[Mr. Chrostowski] really doesn’t care what walk of life you’re from, who you are, what you’ve done,’ says William Brown, a staff member at Cleveland’s Community Assessment & Treatment Services, a rehabilitation organization that enrolls promising individuals in the Edwins program. ‘He wants to see you succeed. And he will go the extra mile.’ 

“Mr. Chrostowski has a hectic daily schedule. During peak restaurant rush hours, the chef admits to hurling pans in frustration, but they’re not aimed at anyone. … He pursues the exacting standards he learned as an apprentice at restaurants such as Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, Le Cirque in New York, and Lucas Carton in Paris. He rose fast. But he’s never forgotten his first break. In the late 1990s, a Detroit chef named George Kalergis took him in while he was still on parole. 

“Years later, Mr. Kalergis called from Detroit with bad news. A man named Quentin, who’d learned the rudiments of restaurant cooking alongside Mr. Chrostowski, had been stabbed to death. …

“ ‘I started to think, “How is it possible I’m here, and others are not?” ‘ says Mr. Chrostowski. … He wanted to help others, just as Chef Kalergis had helped him. But it took another decade of working in restaurants – including a move to Cleveland in 2008 – before he was able to raise the money to fulfill his vision.

“Mr. Chrostowski came up with the name, which is shorthand for ‘Education wins.’ Edwin is also the chef’s middle name. A few years after moving to Cleveland, he opened his restaurant in a historic, racially diverse area called Shaker Square. In 2020, he expanded by opening a second restaurant, Edwins Too, on the opposite side of the town’s leafy square. He’s also launched a French bakery and a butchery. The expansions have helped the area become a dining destination. 

“Just off the main street in Shaker Square, Mr. Chrostowski proudly shows off his latest project, which will become a child care center. ‘We’ve raised about $250,000 for a family center or day care,’ he says. ‘Free day care for staff and students, because 80% of our students with children don’t finish. It’s a big number and we want to change that.’

“The chef also wants to help outside Ohio. In April he traveled to his ancestral home of Poland to cook for refugees fleeing Ukraine. He’s also created a 30-hour curriculum and distributed it on 400,000 tablets to prisons in the United States. Dee and Jimmy Haslam, co-owners of the Cleveland Browns football team, will pay for transportation for anyone in the U.S. who completes the virtual instruction and applies to join the Edwins program.”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Metro Arts
student is engaged in a restorative justice program that uses the arts to reach young offenders. Cecilia Olusola Tribble, Community Arts Coordinator of the Metro Nashville Arts Commission, says, “We have been able to work and watch miracles happen every day.”

My friend Diana was the first to explain to me the concept of restorative justice, and I wrote about it here. The idea is to bring a young perpetrator and his or her victim together, if the victim is willing, to learn about the effects of the crime and make restitution. When the process works, the young person turns aside from wrongdoing and keeps a clean record. Today I have a story about how the arts can be part of a restorative justice outreach to youth who are already incarcerated.

Cecilia Olusola Tribble writes at ArtsBlog, “The purpose of the Restorative Justice + the Arts program is to enable artists and arts organizations to provide dynamic program opportunities for youth and families who have interacted with the criminal justice system. Our aim is to equip teaching artists with the tools they need to bolster their practice in ways that lead youth toward productivity, resiliency, and well-being.

“In 2016, photographer and musician Nduka Onwuzurigbo heard about the transformation happening in the juvenile justice system and wanted to create a project with the youth in the detention center.

“Since her election in 2014, Judge Sheila Calloway has been restructuring the juvenile justice system in Metro Nashville/Davidson County to include resources to divert children and families in trouble, providing them creative paths toward a better, brighter, and more productive future. …

“[She] mobilized her team to make sure the children in the detention center were able to participate in the photography project. As that singular project was seeing success with the youth who were incarcerated and had a positive community response, Metro Arts in Nashville approached the judge about establishing an ongoing partnership. Since then, Metro Arts and the Juvenile Court in collaboration with the Oasis Center have been able to build the Restorative Justice + Arts program.

“It costs roughly $88,000 to incarcerate one youth for a year in Nashville. For the same amount of money, we have been able to pitch, build, and pilot the Restorative Justice + Arts program. …

“To start the program, Metro Arts held focus groups with our artist community, grantees, arts educators, and other stakeholders. … Next, Metro Arts spent time in the various departments in Juvenile Court. The focus in the court is in the process of shifting from solely emphasizing penalty to giving children and parents the tools to restore healthy relationships and communities. Judge Calloway has explained Restorative Justice in the following way:

‘Restorative Justice moves the conversation from “Who did the crime & what do they deserve?” to “Who has been harmed?”, “What are their needs?” [and] “Whose obligation is it to fix their harm?” ‘ …

“In FY 2018, the artists have been able to serve 424 youth who have been incarcerated, had other involvement with the court, or who are deemed at-risk due to poverty, school attendance, neighborhood crime, poor school performance, or living in an area where fresh food is scarce. …

“It is because of the partnership between multiple government agencies, youth-centered organizations, arts organizations, and artists that we have been able to work and watch miracles happen every day. We have witnessed youth leaving the detention center and seeking out their yoga and dance teacher. … We have watched the miracle where former gang members admit to shooting at each other, but theater and painting classes have bonded them together as brothers with arms entangled. Our hearts are full at experiencing young folks arguing with the characters of an August Wilson play to make a better choice. …

“This spark came from one artist who asked the question and made the difference.” One and one and 50 make a million. More here.

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When people are serving time for a crime, how much better for society — both during their sentence and after they get out — if they have some useful work while inside.

Patricia Leigh Brown writes at Atlas Obscura, “Justin King spends most of his hours in a cinderblock dormitory room for minimum-security prisoners, sleeping on a metal bunk bed and being constantly monitored by surveillance cameras.

“But on a crisp California morning with coastal fog hanging on the hillsides, King, who is serving time for selling methamphetamines, and three of his fellow inmates at the Mendocino County jail huddle together in a 175-acre vineyard to pick plump sangiovese grapes. The only visible difference between the prisoners and the other field workers are the GPS tracking devices wrapped around their ankles.

” ‘Hey dude!’ King, 32, called out to his fellow inmate, Meliton Rangel, as King eyed a promising group of clusters wet with dew. ‘I hit clump city here!’

“The men’s enthusiasm for grapes with just the right sugar levels and tannins is a variation on the concept of work release, in which inmates deemed low security risks are employed by private companies. …

” ‘They’re hard workers,’ [Vineyard owner Martha] Barra says of her new employees, who wear “civilian” clothes in her magazine-esque vineyard. ‘They have to meet the same punctuality and performance requirements as everybody else.’ …

“The work is notoriously grueling: At first, Rangel, a stiff-legged 37, said he was going to quit. That changed when he received his first paycheck—his first one ever. ‘This has really helped me out,’ he says. ‘It feels very good to work.’ …

“In the Mendocino program last year, four of the six inmates who worked on the grape crew at Redwood Valley Vineyards have indeed stayed out of jail. Three now have full-time jobs. One now works at the vineyard full-time, rebounding from tough years of drug addiction and homelessness. …

” ‘There’s peace of mind out here,’ King says.”

More here.

Photo: Olivier Vanpé /Wikimedia Commons
Clusters of ripe and unripe Pinot noir grapes.

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