Dec 22, 2010

Eighteen Harlem Parole Reentry Court Participants Graduate!

"I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it." Maya Angelou (included as a quote in the December 2010 Parole Reentry Court Graduation program)

Last Tuesday evening, December 14th, was the fourteenth graduation ceremony of the Harlem Parole Reentry Court at the Harlem Community Justice Center. Along with the eighteen graduates, fifty family members, community members, partner agency representatives and colleagues were in attendance.

The graduation is one of our favorite events at the Harlem Community Justice Center, as it gives us the opportunity to celebrate the struggles that our participants overcame after prison and the successes they have achieved since coming home.  Our keynote speaker, Glenn Martin, Vice President for Development and Communications at the Fortune Society, who usually speaks about the politics of prison and reentry and the need for reform, spoke instead about his own accomplishments since serving a prison term nine years ago and narrated how he "summoned the courage, like [our graduates], to make changes in his life" realizing that he "could continue to be part of the problem or part of the solution." Recognizing the tremendous "discomfort," that making these changes required, Glenn offered words of congratulations and inspiration to our Parole Reentry participants and suggested that "today is a day to celebrate" but also a day to recognize that "there are a host of choices ahead to make." Glenn commended the Parole Reentry Court as a "space for men and women to grow," one that has offered many individuals "their first chance" to be free from prison.

Other words of encouragement and inspiration were delivered from former Parole Reentry participant, Braulio, who chronicled his journey from prison back into the community. Now, an owner of multiple businesses with a regular work schedule of 8am to 12am, Braulio echoed Glenn Martin's message that success and fulfillment is attainable after prison. He encouraged the graduates to "face their fears" and seek to out the "uncomfortable" situations and challenges in life that foster positive change and growth.

Parole Reentry Judge, Grace Bernstein, spoke of the lessons she had learned from the graduates, seeing their "courage to confront the problems in every day life," and  thanked the participants for "allowing [her] into their lives."

After the speaker's concluded, HCJC and Parole Staff had the opportunity to personally recognize each graduate for their accomplishments since leaving prison. As one spectator noted, the absolute highlight of the evening was witnessing the look of pride and accomplishment on the face of each graduate as  he/she accepted his/her graduation certificate.

Congratulations to the December 2010 Parole Reentry Court graduates, and to the staff that is so dedicated to their success!