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Summer 2014 Newsletter
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Summer Success Story & Updates

Root & Rebound's Summer 2014 Newsletter


Dear Readers, 

Happy summer! We are thrilled to share some exciting developments in our work, highlighting an incredible client success story and introducing you to our summer team and projects. We hope you enjoy learning more about our work.

As always, you can stay up-to-date on our work through Facebook, Twitter, and the Root & Rebound blog, and find new publications and reentry resources on our website. We appreciate your support!

Client Success Story: Eric Borchert

Eric with his wife, Celeste, on their wedding day; and with his daughter, Erica, teaching her about butterflies!

Meet Eric.

When Eric Borchert first walked through Root & Rebound’s office doors in early March 2014, he was seeking legal advice about the length of his parole. Over the years, Eric had received conflicting and confusing information about what his parole length should be. He had tried to research the law himself, but was confused by the many overlapping statutes he came across. After he made an inquiry to the parole department about the issue, it was stonewalled. Eric did not know what more he could do.
 
In 1993, Eric was convicted of conspiracy to commit second-degree murder for a crime that happened when he was 17 years old. He had allowed a friend to store a gun at his house for a night; the next day, that friend used the gun to commit murder. Eric served 18 years for this mistake.
 
Eric was released in January 2011, and the parole officer who did Eric’s initial intake concluded that because Eric’s sentence had been “15 years to life” in prison, his parole term should be “for life” as well. Though this had no legal basis, the officer handed Eric an ankle monitor, scribbled “Parole length: for life” at the top of his paperwork and entered it into the computer system. In actuality, Eric’s parole length under law should have been a maximum of 5 years with an assumed discharge date of 3 years, unless there was good reason for Parole to keep him for longer. Yet according Parole, he was on parole "for life."
 
This miscalculation had major implications for Eric’s life on the outside: for his family, his ability to get a decent, well-paying job, and his ability to reintegrate into his community. On parole, Eric wasn’t allowed to leave a 50-mile radius, a standard condition for all parolees. One of Eric’s pillars of support throughout his life was his grandmother who helped raise him after his father died. She fell terminally ill when he was in prison, but told Eric she was determined to live until she could see him released and living on the outside. When he got out, he couldn’t visit her because her hospice was outside of his 50-mile radius. Despite her illness, his grandmother insisted she be driven to a park just within Eric’s 50-mile radius so the two could spend time together. Soon after his release, however, she passed away. Eric pled with his parole officer for special permission to travel beyond the radius to attend the funeral, but the request was denied. Eric’s eyes well up when he speaks about her today. He says, “She is the reason I made it through prison, the reason I am out. But I couldn’t take part in the final thing my grandmother couldn’t do for herself—her burial. Yes, I was out [of prison], but I wasn’t really out—I wasn’t free."
 
“It’s the small things you can’t do—because the small things are 51 miles out, that become the big things—the big losses—for you and your family,” says Eric.
 
Eric also couldn’t fully support his immediate family—his wife and children—while on parole. Soon after getting out, Eric married his longtime love, Celeste, and on October 4, 2013, they had a baby girl together. Eric wanted to take care of his wife, who had been so supportive of him while he was inside, and to be there for his daughter. But many of Erica's health appointments were outside of his 50-mile radius, so if she was sick, Eric could not help her. Eric felt enormous guilt because his wife had to adjust her full-time work schedule and jeopardize her job to always be the parent who would take their daughter to appointments.
 
“On parole,” Eric says, “you are an inmate first, and father/husband second.”
 
Eric’s job prospects and economic security also suffered. He was working part-time for an employer who was more than an hour commute from his home, did not pay overtime but demanded that he work extra hours, and cut his benefits. Eric tried to find other jobs as a drug and alcohol counselor, for which he was certified and had many years of experience. Yet Eric discovered that he was barred from taking these other jobs by a parole condition stating that he could not work “in a position of power over others on parole,” which included counseling them. Eric was offered full-time jobs with benefits and overtime at several great clinical programs closer to home, but could not accept them because of this parole restriction.
 
Like all people on parole, Eric was also unable to vote, unable to serve on a jury, and subject to searches and seizures by any peace officer at any time of day or night—without a warrant.
 
Root & Rebound works on Eric’s case.
Root & Rebound researched Eric’s case and learned about the grave error in his parole term calculation. With our legal assistance, Eric filed an administrative appeal with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), challenging his parole length. Despite the strength of his claim that his freedom was unlawfully restricted, the 30-day deadline under law for Parole to formally respond came and went without any word. Eric was extremely anxious—his life was in limbo. When he called the department responsible for issuing a formal response, its staff told him they “knew nothing” of the appeal. Root & Rebound's advocates kicked into action, writing emails and letters, and making phone calls to people at all levels of the California parole system—from individual local parole officers, who refused to speak with an attorney, to Parole’s top administrators. Still, no one had a response for Eric, and calls and letters went unanswered.
 
Perseverance & Success!
In June 2014, after months of calls, letters, and emails, Root & Rebound reached a local parole officer who found the formal response to Eric’s administrative appeal in his computer system—a notice discharging Eric from parole, backdated to April 15. It had never been sent. At that point, Eric had been unlawfully held on parole for more than 3 months past the date when he should have been automatically discharged under law. Despite all of the challenges in obtaining a real, formal response and discharge, this was a major milestone for Eric and his family.

Within just one month of getting off parole, Eric's life has drastically improved: Eric has a new job that he loves, where he is well-paid and supported by the administration; he is able to play an integral role in his daughter’s care; and he is thinking about relocating with his family to a part of California where they have more family support. Eric believes deeply in giving back to his community. At work, he is a counselor and instructor for at-risk youth, kids who are going through some of the same struggles he went through: losing a parent, facing peer pressure, and living with limited resources. Eric is open with his story and hopes it helps young people learn the importance of making good decisions and living healthy lives.  Eric also has dreams for his own life and self-improvement: he wants to go back to college to gain skills in the fields of human resources and criminal justice.

Today, Eric’s goal is to make sure that others in his situation—those with miscalculated parole release dates—get relief. In that regard, Root & Rebound is working to identify others in Eric’s position who need legal advocacy and assistance. We hope to work with the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation, which governs Parole, to assess whether this is a larger statewide issue that can be rectified with our support and attention.
 
Eric’s story is a testament to the difference that legal advocacy can make in the lives of people in reentry. Eric says of Root & Rebound's support and advocacy, "This is the first time in my life that I've had helpoutside of my familythat I can trust."

We hope you will join our efforts to improve the lives of others like him.

Support Our Work

Summer Staff: Highlighting Our Interns & Volunteers

(From left to right) Volunteer Attorney Buffy Hutchison, Law Clerk Emily Macleod, Social Work Intern Olivia Cahué-Diaz, and Law Clerk Vanessa Lim.
This summer, our office has been lucky enough to have the assistance of four exceptional interns and volunteers, expanding our capacity to improve the lives of Californians in reentry. This team of incredible women inspires us every day with their passion for and commitment to further Root & Rebound’s work. We asked each person to tell us, in their own words, what brought them to Root & Rebound, what projects they are working on, and why they are excited to be part of a start-up nonprofit reentry advocacy center in its very first year. We hope you enjoy meeting them as much as we love having them!
 
Buffy Hutchison, Volunteer Attorney
“I am a new attorney, admitted to the California state bar in 2012. Previously, I worked for the San Francisco Public Defender's Office in their Volunteer Attorney Program. I met Root & Rebound's attorneys at their Bay Area Reentry Connection event in April and was instantly drawn to the non-profit. When switching my focus to reentry work, I found Root & Rebound was one of the only (if not the only) reentry organizations in the Bay Area that (1) is run by attorneys and (2) provides vital legal advocacy/services to help formerly incarcerated people successfully reintegrate into the community. This summer I am focusing on researching and writing the Employment section of the 'Know Your Rights in Reentry' manual.”
 
Vanessa Lim, Summer Law Intern
“I have just completed my second year at UC Davis Law School. This summer, I am clerking at Root & Rebound as a reentry advocate. I am passionate about my work here because I think it’s an inspiring organization, which recognizes underlying, fundamental needs of formerly incarcerated people and takes a holistic approach to client-centered advocacy, while maintaining a broad vision for reentry and criminal justice issues at large. I am researching and writing about Credit and Debt issues for Root & Rebound’s 'Know Your Rights in Reentry' manual and doing client advocacy, working on a dismissal petition for a young female client who is trying to get her life back on track for herself and her baby.”
 
Emily MacLeod, Summer Law Intern
“I am currently a third-year law student at Washington University Law School in St. Louis. I'm very excited to be working with Root & Rebound to improve the lives of individuals with criminal records. My primary project for the summer is assisting in the creation of Root & Rebound's 'Know Your Rights in Reentry' manual, researching and writing the Public Benefits section. In addition, I am using the knowledge I've gained through working on the manual to assist a senior female client who is currently incarcerated to apply for and obtain public benefits, so that she has a form of income and support when she first gets out. My passion for reentry work comes from my experiences interning in a criminal court in New Jersey and working with formerly incarcerated women in Missouri. All of these experiences have left a huge impression on me, and changed my worldview drastically: I now understand that there is no black-and-white divide between 'victims' and 'offenders'; in fact, many of our clients are both, and their lives are far more complicated than those labels make them out to be.
 
Olivia Cahué-Diaz, Social Work Intern

“I am currently a second-year graduate student at Columbia University School of Social Work. Having been born and raised in the East Bay of California, working at Root & Rebound allows me to do the work I value within my own community. My main projects at Root & Rebound this summer include: creating an online resource database and printed guide of programs and services in Alameda County that will be a user-friendly guide for people navigating reentry, writing for the blog, and providing insightful media articles on Facebook and Twitter. I also work closely with a Root & Rebound clienta young man with developmental disabilitieswho requires additional guidance, care, and support, as he navigates reentry and works towards a healthy, safe, and new beginning for himself and his family. I am very passionate about issues around criminal justice and specifically in supporting people through the reentry process.”
 
We thank our summer team for all they have done to further our work, and we will be terribly sad to see them go in August! We have volunteer and intern positions available throughout the year, so please share our information with people who have a passion for reentry work. And check our website and social media to find out more about current openings.
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