Attleboro Area SVdP Society facilitates inaugural ‘Getting
Ahead While Getting Out’ program at Dartmouth HOC

By Jonathan Darling
Public Relations Director, Bristol County HOC
Special to The Anchor

DARTMOUTH, Mass. — It’s easy for people from the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office or the Attleboro District Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to describe the success of the “Getting Ahead While Getting Out” program at the House of Corrections in Dartmouth.

After all, SVdP volunteers facilitated the program, which brought 10 inmates together in a group setting to plan out their lives when they are released from jail. And the Sheriff’s Office staff worked with those volunteers to make the program happen.


But don’t take the officials’ or volunteers’ word for why the program was such a success. Just read what a participant had to say at the program’s recent graduation ceremony.

“The first thing I would like to do is thank St. Vincent de Paul and the amazing facilitators of this class for being so generous with their time, for being a voice for the unheard, for being crusaders in a fight for teaching change in what a lot of society would call the unteachable, for giving light in a dark place, and for providing hope,” inmate Christopher Giles said to the group during graduation. “With this newfound knowledge and understanding of our past, and the ability to write our future story, we can change our future selves and the communities we have grown to love.

“It’s time we stop getting by, and start getting ahead.”

Those themes were shared by all inmates and staff at the Sheriff’s Office as the program wrapped the inaugural session with a recent graduation ceremony inside the chapel at the Dartmouth jail. Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III and District Court Judge Kevin Finnerty spoke at the graduation, telling the inmates how proud they were of their dedication to making their communities better upon release, and thanking the SVdP volunteers for their dedication and effort.

Diana Reeves, who serves as a program facilitator with Paul Hodge and Peter Kortright, said the program is broken into two parts: 

“The program takes the participants through sort of an examination of where they are right now and how have they been impacted by poverty. A lot of them don’t think about poverty, which is a lack of resources, not a lack of money. Almost everyone in the program suffered at one point in time from poverty,” Reeves said. “The whole second half of the program is focusing on developing contacts and their social network and support system. It’s really about trying to expand their list of resources beyond the people back in their neighborhood or community who might not have been helpful to them in the first place.”

Peter Kortright explained that a big part of the program is developing a 72-hour plan that will give an inmate a game plan for the first three days following release. “Being as specific as possible, the plan lines up exactly where they will go, who they will call, what agencies to contact and when and if they need services such as housing or substance abuse counseling, and even whether they will need a cab or a bus schedule to get around town.”

The initial plan also highlights backup options in case things go sour.

“If your housing falls through, who is the backup person to contact? How will you get clothing? Will you have money in your account, and how will you access it?” asked Paul Hodge. “We develop all this information, this plan, as specific as possible. We show them the light switch; they have to turn it on.”

Once the first three days are planned out, the focus turns to long term in which the facilitators work with inmates on personal resources. Finding a role model in a career field may be on the list. Developing higher self-esteem or personal integrity, and how to get there may be another.

While the inmates and facilitators are inside the jail working on their plans, the SVdP Reentry Team is working on developing community connections on the outside to complete the process. For example, Vincentian volunteers network with people in all types of trades to pair inmates with mentors and career opportunities, as well as work with Bristol Community College on educational advancement.

“We’re making more and more partners in the community who are willing to assist these men and women achieve their longer term life improvement goals,” Reeves said.

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson hailed the program and expressed optimism for the future of the program.

“Every correctional facility in the country should have this program,” Sheriff Hodgson said. “It does an amazing job of getting inmates focused and ready for re-entry into their communities and neighborhoods. We can’t thank the amazing volunteers from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul enough for their tireless work and commitment to helping these men integrate successfully back into society.”

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