Reporter goes to prison

March 5, 2010
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Contributed by IL staff reporter Rebecca Berfanger

I’ve driven by the Indianapolis Re-Entry Facility on Indianapolis’ near east side more times than I can count. Today, I went beyond the barbwire fence of the former women’s prison.

While this was my first time inside a detention facility for a story – a sad thing to admit for someone who calls herself a legal reporter – I realize this is not the typical facility. When I spoke with the public information officer to get permission for my visit, she only referred to the men as residents, not inmates or prisoners. And, the re-entry program isn’t available for everyone. If one of the men violates the guidelines, he is sent to another Department of Correction facility.

I went there for an article I’m working on for the March 17 issue about a program called Thresholds and Transitions that started just this year. The program includes weekly “Healthy @ Re-Entry” classes that cover various issues, such as HIV/STD education, job placement, substance-abuse treatment, and advice for healthy relationships. The program aims to help the men find out what they need not only to stay out of the system after they get out, but also how to survive roadblocks they’ll need to overcome.

Today’s particular class featured speakers who discussed how to get jobs and substance abuse counseling on the outside. The third part of the class included a guide to other services the residents can use on the outside.

The facilitator of the discussion then asked if anyone had questions about the services listed in a guide they received. One of the participants asked how he could afford a lawyer, knowing he previously had custody issues with his children’s mother.

Then a lightbulb went on over my head. I guessed his question wasn’t the only one in the classroom regarding family law or other civil legal issues. Turns out, based on the reactions of other participants, I guessed right. Having reported on legal aid and pro bono services in Indiana for the last three years, I decided to raise my hand to explain how the services work and how to get information.

Even though I’m not an attorney, I felt proud of our readership and legal community at that moment knowing that these services are available, including information and services available to pro se parties.

After the discussion, a couple of the residents personally thanked me for explaining civil legal aid and pro bono efforts of which they were previously unaware.

Some of the men used words like “blessed” and “excited” regarding the opportunities they’ve had in the re-entry facility to unlearn the behaviors that put them in there in the first place. Maybe just knowing a lawyer on the outside will be willing to at least listen to their civil legal issues could make a difference.

After all, these men will have enough to deal with when they get out … and now they’ll have one more way to get help they need.
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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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