NEWARK, N.J. — It was an unorthodox gathering: dozens of formerly incarcerated men, the attorney general of New Jersey, the chairman of the state parole board, the U.S. attorney, a multiple Emmy-winning actor and senior elected officials all brought together by an ex-governor who had studied to be a priest.
It's the newly launched Ambassador program of the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, or NJRC. Based on the Columbia University Ambassadors program, it has a two-fold purpose: to bring formerly incarcerated people to current inmates to help them navigate the world outside of jail or prison, and, more important, to help prevent people from becoming involved in the legal and corrections system in the first place.
“It’s my dream,” said Haywood Gandy, “that this gets adopted nationwide.” Gandy is a formerly incarcerated man who now works as a re-entry specialist with NJRC while getting a degree from Rutgers University. He said that by the same token, rules requiring inmates to serve 85 percent of their sentences spread to a majority of states after first being drafted in just a handful, he hopes that the ambassadors program proliferates.
Echoing that sentiment was Michael K. Williams. “That's the foundation for good community,” said the actor, who’s won Emmys for his work in the television series “Boardwalk Empire” and “The Wire.” ”Why would we not want to take this nationwide?” he asked.
He and his nephew, Dominic Dupont, who’d spent two decades behind bars, work with former inmates, and are currently working to bring a version of a successful community-based crime prevention program from Richmond, California to Brownsville, Brooklyn.
They said that NJRC, is an inspiration to them.
Former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey is the organization’s CEO.
“[I] was blessed... to follow my heart's passion,” McGreevey told PIX11 News.
He brought together, at Friday’s launch, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, state Parole Board Chairman Samuel Plumeri, State Sen. Ronald Rice, U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Craig Carpenito, and other civic and legal leaders, as well as about two dozen people who are formerly incarcerated.
“We don’t want to get you jobs,” said Carpenito, the U.S. attorney. “Jobs are short-term fixes. We want to get you careers.”
That’s the spirit of the program. It’s seeking people — particularly formerly incarcerated people — to participate in the ambassadors program. More information is at the NJRC website here.