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. Please I need help with my class action lawsuits, im currently in pro-se and im having hard time findiNG A LAWYER TO ASSIST ME

  2. Access to the court (judiciary branch of government) is the REAL problem, NOT necessarily lack of access to an attorney. Unfortunately, I've lived in a legal and financial hell for the past six years due to a divorce (where I was, supposedly, represented by an attorney) in which I was defrauded of settlement and the other party (and helpers) enriched through the fraud. When I attempted to introduce evidence and testify (pro se) in a foreclosure/eviction, I was silenced (apparently on procedural grounds, as research I've done since indicates). I was thrown out of a residence which was to be sold, by a judge who refused to allow me to speak in (the supposedly "informal") small claims court where the eviction proceeding (by ex-brother-in-law) was held. Six years and I can't even get back on solid or stable ground ... having bank account seized twice, unlawfully ... and now, for the past year, being dragged into court - again, contrary to law and appellate decisions - by former attorney, who is trying to force payment from exempt funds. Friday will mark fifth appearance. Hopefully, I'll be allowed to speak. The situation I find myself in shouldn't even be possible, much less dragging out with no end in sight, for years. I've done nothing wrong, but am watching a lot of wrong being accomplished under court jurisdiction; only because I was married to someone who wanted and was granted a divorce (but was not willing to assume the responsibilities that come with granting the divorce). In fact, the recalcitrant party was enriched by well over $100k, although it was necessarily split with other actors. Pro bono help? It's a nice dream ... but that's all it is, for too many. Meanwhile, injustice marches on.

  3. Both sites mentioned in the article appear to be nonfunctional to date (March 28, 2017). http://indianalegalanswers.org/ returns a message stating the "server is taking too long to respond" and http://www.abafreelegalasnswers.org/ "can't find the server". Although this does not surprise me, it is disheartening to know that access to the judicial branch of government remains out of reach for too many citizens (for procedural rather than meritorious reasons) of Indiana. Any updates regarding this story?

  4. I've been denied I appeal court date took a year my court date was Nov 9,2016 and have not received a answer yet

  5. Warsaw indiana dcs lying on our case. We already proved that in our first and most recent court appearance i need people to contact me who have evidence of dcs malpractice please email or facebook nathaniel hollett thank you

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