As Quanta enters the room, a staff member exclaims, “We got a winner!” It would be difficult for anyone who works at CASES’ Central Harlem office to disagree. Though Quanta has completed her newSTART mandate, she continues to work with CASES staff in her journey to recovery and self-discovery. Initiated in October 2017, CASES’ newSTART is a short-term alternative-to-incarceration (ATI) program for adults facing up to 30 days in jail for a misdemeanor offense in Manhattan Criminal Court. Though they are short, these jail stays disrupt people’s engagement in positive activities in the community, affect access to necessary healthcare and employment opportunities, and are a significant public expense. Even short jail stays, especially those in Rikers Island, have lasting negatives effects on one’s mental health, independence, and future employment.
Last year, newSTART diverted nearly 2,000 people from being detained, many of whom have unmet substance use or mental health treatment needs as well as a history of chronic involvement in the criminal justice system. The program offers a menu of one- to five-day options for participants to complete their ATI mandate that include individual and group cognitive behavioral interventions, employment-readiness workshops, and community service. Like many of our ATIs, the purpose of newSTART is to give community members the tools they need to make meaningful change in their lives while avoiding rearrest. Even after completing their mandates, newSTART participants like Quanta are welcomed to continue to access certain services, such as individual and group therapy. Here, she speaks briefly about the impact CASES has made on her life.
How long have you been coming to CASES?
I think I’ve been coming here maybe about two months. They offered me three days of counseling and I just ended up volunteering to come back.
How often do you come to CASES?
Every day. Coming to CASES and being in groups affords me a safe place to go instead of the streets. Even though it’s just an hour, you can stay after. Like if group ends at noon and you have a meeting somewhere else at 3pm, you can stay here in the meantime. There’s always a different group for me to go to. On Mondays, I do the housing workshop. Tuesdays, I go to a journaling group. Wednesdays, I have my appointment downstairs at the Nathaniel Clinic.
What do you like about CASES?
I like that I learn about myself every day. And the staff is wonderful. Besides offering food and MetroCards, they help you in many different areas. It’s about to be fall and I didn’t have any sweaters, so they took me to get some. I didn’t have many clothes because I lost a lot of things during my addiction, so CASES got me things to wear. The people who work here genuinely care about the welfare of others. There are other places where you know that the staff is there for a paycheck just by the way you’re being handled. It’s not like that here.
What do you want people to know about your story?
I’m a survivor. I’ve had things happen to me in my life. So have other people, so that’s not unique. But I found a new way to live. And by coming to the meetings I found that there is a better way. I used to put so much energy into doing negative things. That same energy I can put into other things.
How long were you involved in the criminal justice system?
Since I was 16. And I’m now 37. I chose not to listen and wanted to do things my own way. My experience tells me I can’t do that; I have to listen to someone.
What are some of your goals now?
To be a case coordinator. I want to help people and let them know that there is a better way of life. A lot of people in this program, I can see that they have a substance use problem. But they don’t have to suffer. If drugs are the answer, then what’s the question?
What are some things you do outside of your time at CASES?
I go to different meetings at other places. And a lot of sober events like fashion shows and dances. I’m really into clothes and dressing nice. I don’t have a lot of things on my plate right now so I’m learning to stay clean by focusing on my groups. Whatever I’m struggling with, they can help.
To learn about newSTART, read the following stories:
- Tonie Dreher Brings ‘Project Give Back’ to 125th Street
- Program Spotlight: newSTART
- newSTART Director Receives the 2017 Harp Commitment Award