On the day before a court appearance, amid heavy a snowstorm and a global pandemic, CASES’ Nathaniel Community Success (NCS) alternative-to-incarceration (ATI) program participant Mr. Smith could not be reached by phone. Mr. Smith’s hearing had been delayed several times resulting from pandemic-related reductions in court operations. Now, the day before his scheduled court hearing to have his mandate deemed successfully completed, with the snow piling up across the metro area, CASES’ NCS Peer Specialist Daniel Cotto was determined to make sure Mr. Smith did not miss his court date.
“I remember when I was in that position,” Daniel says, “nobody reached out to me and then it was too late.”
Not showing up to his court appearance would have postponed his mandate completion and would classify as noncompliance. Despite the storm and the pandemic, Daniel made the nearly two-hour commute to Mr. Smith’s residence in another borough. Mr. Smith wasn’t home when Daniel arrived, so he waited outside until Mr. Smith returned, at which point Daniel informed him of his court appearance the next day. Daniel helped Mr. Smith connect with his attorney and with Sara Feit, a Clinical Supervisor in CASES’ ATI Intake Assessment Team.
“If it wasn’t for Daniel, [Mr. Smith] would not have made his virtual court appearance or completed the program,” Sara says, noting that Daniel’s decision to travel across the city to contact Mr. Smith is not required procedure. “No one asked him to do this, and nobody expected it. It was really just his desire to see the client succeed.”
To Sara, this is a prime example of the unique and critical perspective and skills that Peer Specialists like Daniel bring to CASES’ work. Peer Specialists have lived experience of criminal legal system involvement and have achieved recovery from mental illness and/or addiction and completed training to support individuals facing similar challenges. Sara says Peer Specialists like Daniel have an increased ability to connect with clients and to “meet them where they’re at.”
Daniel finds his work as a Peer Specialist incredibly rewarding as well.
“If somebody gave me food and shelter, I might do it for free,” he joked. He says that earlier in his life, he was scared to ask for help. Being able to provide help to clients, and to remind them of just how far they can go, is fulfilling for him. “I know where these individuals have been at, and I know where they want to be at. Not only do I get to help people, but they help me too.”