As a Care Manager in CASES’ Health Home Plus Care Management (HHCM) program, Alexa Weissman spends her days helping people with acute needs—including mental illness and criminal legal system involvement—get connected to support services and navigate the unique obstacles they face. Alexa first joined CASES as an Intern in 2019 and stepped into her current role last spring. Shortly thereafter, she was paired with a new client: Michael Engel.
A lifelong Bronx resident, Mike had been incarcerated on multiple occasions, caught in the cycle of recidivism that many people with criminal legal system involvement find themselves in when they don’t have access to supportive services. Throughout these struggles, Mike’s family—which includes his wife of 37 years and their children and grandchildren—has remained extremely tight knit.
During his last period of imprisonment, after what he called “an altercation” with corrections officers, he was badly beaten and unable to access proper medical care. While recovering from untreated injuries in his cell, Mike made a commitment to himself that he would find a different path forward, and that upon his release he would use every tool available to remain out of prison and with his family for the rest of his life.
Mike has been doing just that since being released on parole and coming to CASES in 2021. He plans to get his Commercial Driver License (CDL), later purchase his own truck, and eventually become an independent business, with his wife joining him as their broker. With a clear plan in place, he welcomed the opportunity to receive help in making his vision a reality. At CASES, he works with Alexa and a clinical therapist in the HHCM program. Mike and Alexa are collaborating to accomplish his goals, one step at a time. Some of the activities they tackle include applying for grant money to pay fees associated with getting his CDL, scheduling appointments, assembling paperwork, and navigating the extra bureaucratic hurdles often faced by formerly incarcerated people.
Describing CASES’ approach in working alongside HHCPM clients, Alexa says, “We’re very client-driven, client-focused. Whatever their goals are, whatever they want to achieve, it’s driven by them. It’s really about meeting clients where they’re at when they’re ready. Everyone has different experiences—with the incarceration system, with the community, whatever it may be—so it’s really just about what they want, what their goals are, and how we can support them.”
Alexa has become a trusted ally for Mr.Engel. “There’s times when I just talk and she listens, which I need,” he says. In turn, she knows she can trust Mike to keep the ball rolling. “Mr.Engel is incredibly independent and incredibly self-sufficient, incredibly driven, and ambitious. So, it’s very easy to work with him.”
While they are marching on towards his goals and celebrating their successes along the way, which include winning the grant they applied for together, they are also dealing with frustrations. Many of the processes to be navigated for his health management and CDL journey involve weeks or months of waiting for government agencies to act, and they both wish that parole was designed so that officers were more readily able to support good outcomes for clients after their release, rather than solely supervising them from a distance. Still, Mike and Alexa work together to persist through these challenges. “When it comes to her duties, Ms.Alexa dots her I’s and crosses her T’s. I appreciate, I truly appreciate all the help that I’m getting.”
They both note that with his patience and determination, Mike could earn a CDL and start a business on his own, but that working together is getting him there more quickly. The most important piece of advice Mike has for people in a similar position to his is this: “You won’t know if you don’t ask. If CASES is a program that has answers, then just ask. If there’s something I need help with and I don’t know what to do, I’ll ask Ms.Alexa and she’ll find out.”
CASES’ HHCM program works with a flexible timeline. The length of the program’s duration is decided by each participant and their Care Manager on a case-by-case basis and can be adjusted as they work towards their goals. When asked at what point he foresees his relationship with CASES coming to an end, Mike replied, “For me, I hope there’s no closure. Even when I get my CDL and start working. I want to give back. That’s important for me, because I know how hard it is. If it’s hard for me, it’s going to be hard for someone else. So I want to give back, that’s what I want to do. Whenever I get where I’m going, if there’s anything that I can do to help someone, I’m going to be there, because people were there for me.”
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