Tom Reigle was 23 years old when a judge sentenced him to 30 years for murder.
“I grew up in Kearny,” he told officials at a tour of the newly-modernized community reentry facility at Sacred Heart Church on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.
Reigle was among a number of clients of the Martin’s Place reentry program that spoke on July 21 in support of expanding its services to include the new communal center.
“In 1985 I was heavily involved with drugs,” Reigle said. “As a result of that, someone lost their life, and a Hudson County jury returned a capital murder verdict for my case.”
The judge didn’t even give him a life sentence, but 30 years.
Reigle went through all the programs he could in jail to prepare himself for the time when he would be released.
“I educated myself. I started teaching guys to take the GED course. I was an English teacher in prison,” he said.
For a year prior to coming out, he was really worried about what was going to happen.
“We look at this scared place as serving all of Hudson County.”—Jim McGreevey
Being a resident of Hudson County, he found out last January about the prisoner reentry program at Martin’s Place in Jersey City and made contact with them.
“On April 11, 2015, I walked out of Eastern State Prison after having done 30 years,” he said. “This was a Saturday. So I didn’t know what to expect. But I walked out, went to the program, was immediately given housing, and entered a drug program because of my history,” he said.
“Two weeks ago, I got a full time job in Journal Square. When I was in prison, all I wanted to do was get out and become a normal person, and enjoy the simple things, and everything has fallen into place, a direct result of the program. If the program wasn’t here, I don’t know what would have happened.”
An expanded program
Established on MLK Drive last summer, Martin’s Place is Jersey City’s prisoner re-entry program which works with ex-offenders in coordination with the Jersey City Employment and Training Program.
Considered a national model, Martin’s Place connects recent ex-offenders with counseling, addiction recovery, transitional housing, job training, and employment placement. Since its founding, its officials say Martin’s Place has a 61 percent placement rate and a recidivism rate of 22 percent, substantially lower than the national average of more than 67 percent.
As a result of this record of accomplishment, the program has been awarded a $4.2 million contract over the next three years as the Community Resource Center (CRC) in Hudson County. This is the first municipal non-profit to be awarded a CRC contract in New Jersey.
“Once again, Jersey City and the JCETP program are leaders on the issue of prisoner re-entry and parole services,” said Mayor Steven Fulop. “We were eager to receive this contract and are excited to be able to bring the Hudson County parolee community the important services they need as they re-integrate into the work environment. This is an exciting day for Jersey City and Hudson County.”
New facility located in a former monastery
The new facility called The Martin’s Place Community Resource Center at Sacred Heart Church – a former monastery – was reconstructed by the Hudson County Building Trades with help of volunteers from JCETP as well as the Archdiocese of Newark. The CRC will replace the current CRC at 2835 John F. Kennedy Blvd in Jersey City.
Father Francis Schiller said the former monastery is an ideal place for communal living. In the past, as many as 30 monks lived at the site.
“I think this is a radical departure from the traditional CRC,” said former Gov. Jim McGreevey, who is now executive director of the Jersey City Employment and Training Program. “We look at this sacred place as serving all of Hudson County.”
The new CRC is intended to create a safe environment that will help its participants reintegrate into the community. The group will operate the facility along with Integrity House, a nonprofit substance abuse treatment center that has operations in Secaucus, the Hudson Correctional facility in Kearny, and in Newark.
“Integrity House has had a tremendous working partnership with Jersey City and Martin’s Place,” said Robert Budsock, CEO of Integrity House. “We look forward to this next challenge for the benefit of Hudson County parolees.”
Participants will attend a minimum of 20 hours of employment training during the first two weeks of entering the program. Those with a demonstrated need for further services will continue to receive two hours of employment training a week for the length of their participation in the program. Services provided will include: essential workforce skills, work ethics, positive self-talk, dressing for success, apprenticeship and union programs, among many other employment-related skills.
“We know the power of second chances, but we also know that they can be impossible without services that prepare ex-offenders for their new lives,” said Acting Governor Kim Guadano while taking the tour. She noted that said 67 percent of people who leave prison will go back.
“They need two things, the desire to change and the resources and support they need to change,” she said. “As the governor has said, there is no life that is disposable. We have to fight for all.”
The program could be expanded
“We politicians get caught up in numbers, we talk about crime, incarcerations, number of homicides, and percentages,” said County Executive Tom DeGise. “But these aren’t numbers, these are people. The reasons for their incarceration are varied, so the solutions needed to be varied as well. Martin’s Place provides one place for people to go to get help, job placemen, mental issues, and what got them in trouble in the first place. This is the place where a person will enter a system that will provide help for everybody. The county is totally committed to it.”
State Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack said he would like to expand the program to North Hudson.
“This is a wonderful program,” he said. “We do a lot of hiring in various departments, and would like to make it official and really join the program. If I didn’t have the opportunity I have and didn’t have the family I have, who knows where I would have been today. Some of us don’t have the same opportunities as others. Second Chance is critical.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.