Eastern Hampshire District Court’s Womanhood program runs for 10 weeks, twice a year, and includes topics such as nutrition and fitness, building self-esteem, stress management, personal safety and self-defense, substance abuse, domestic violence, and breast and cervical cancers. Guest instructors come from local communities and volunteer their time, in support of the initiative, to educate participants.

Graduation in May. The graduation ceremony will be held on May 19th at 2:00 p.m. at the Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown. Each graduate will receive a three-month reduction of their probationary period, as well as a certificate of completion.

Probation Officer Olga Lattarulo of the Chelsea District Court provided mentoring and guidance for the Eastern Hampshire program. Chelsea’s District Court Probation Department has graduated six classes of women from its Womanhood Program since 2009. 

“Every single woman who attends the program is highly motivated to succeed,” explains Ms. Sanderson. “We invite guest speakers with different specialties, and include a segment on the conditions of probation itself. Many women don’t understand what’s expected of them. We have to teach many of them how to comply with the terms, so they don’t violate the conditions of their probation.”

Belchertown Probationers meet in class
Loretta Dansereau of River East School to Career teaches resume writing, interviewing, and job search skills to Womanhood probationers. The class meets weekly in Belchertown's Town Hall.

Finding work is a challenge. The Court Bulletin visited the class during the job search, resume writing, and interview skills workshop given by Loretta Dansereau of River East School-to-Career. The group discussed the challenges of looking for a job, particularly for probationers, and how important it is to be resilient and resourceful.

The class shared their frustrations about “checking the box” on a job application, forcing them to disclose their criminal records – which typically results in not getting called back for a second interview. Even with employer tax incentives to hire people with CORIs, the women reported that it is still extremely difficult to find a job, which is a critical part of building self-esteem and providing structure, socialization, and key life skills.

The women learned how to research CORI-friendly companies, and started drafting 30-second “elevator speeches” to highlight their job strengths and skills. While recent changes in Massachusetts CORI laws have made the job search process a bit easier for those on probation and parole, there is still some confusion on the part of both job seekers and employers on what questions can be asked during the interview process. Please see the box below for more information and resources for probationers looking for work.  

Additional Information on Probationers and Jobs

The Office of Community Corrections’ local centers provide services that include: GED/ABE/ESL or comparable educational component, job readiness training and placement, and women’s services: http://www.mass.gov/courts/court-info/probation/overview-community-corrections-gen.html

How to apply for jobs with a CORI: http://www.masslegalhelp.org/cori

CORI, Criminal Offender Record Information: http://www.mass.gov/eopss/crime-prev-personal-sfty/bkgd-check/cori/

 

A new beginning. Each week, Probation Officer Gina Sanderson begins class by having everyone recite five principles:

  1. I am responsible for the safety of myself.
  2. I am determined to improve my life and be a better person each day.
  3. I have the right to live violence free, as well as drugs and alcohol free.
  4. I am obligated to provide basic needs for myself, such as food, shelter, and clothing.
  5. I would like to provide a better life and opportunities for myself.