PITTSFIELD — Despite nine years of sobriety and her job mentoring parents in recovery, Jaclyn Carnevale isn’t allowed to volunteer at her children’s schools.
Every time they bring home a field trip permission slip, or parents are invited to read books to the classroom, Carnevale searches for an excuse to explain why she won’t be there.
She knows she’s barred from taking part with the other parents, because of the criminal record from her time as an addict.
“I didn’t do any jail time,” she said, “But I’m in jail today because of my charges.”
It’s a wrenching reminder of a period her children know nothing about. It’s also an example of how her record stalks her long after she’s lifted her life on track.
Carnevale, a program director for 18 Degrees, the family services nonprofit, was invited to a Tuesday afternoon weekly meeting of a group of women who for years have supported one another after going through the criminal justice system.
This week’s meeting was a listening session for District Attorney Tim Shugrue, whom members of the women’s aftercare group had invited to hear their stories. Held at 2nd Street Second Chances at the old Pittsfield jail, the session was organized by group leader Sgt. Lindsay Maynard of the sheriff’s department and Mark Gold, a friend of Shugrue’s and the 2nd Street Second Chances board president.
After hearing the women speak amongst themselves during a past group session, Gold was disgusted when he heard how the women described being treated in court in years past and helped set up the listening session.
With the ear of the district attorney, who took office last month, the women advocated for a courthouse culture that takes a compassionate approach to those struggling with substance use disorder, viewing defendants as more than just dockets.
The impact Carnevale’s involvement with the courts had on her children’s lives surfaced years into recovery.
But for another group member, Lisa, its devastating effect abruptly surfaced while she was still in the courtroom.
Lisa, 44, who asked that her last name not be used to protect the privacy of her now-teen children, was charged in 2016 with writing false prescriptions. She makes no secret that she made “grave errors” while fighting her addiction.
Six years later, the scene sticks in her head. She was ready to plead guilty.
In explaining the sentencing recommendation, the prosecutor told the judge the consensus in the office was that her children would be better off without her, Lisa recalled.
Unaware of what was coming, Lisa was devastated. Her husband was in the courtroom, holding his breath. She said the Department of Children and Families had never been involved with her family; the couple still had full custody.
She halted the plea. Her father came to court with $15,000 cash, expecting, correctly, that the judge would increase his daughter’s bail.
Lisa felt embarrassed, dirty and ashamed. She knew she messed up, but felt dehumanized and attacked at the very moment she was ready take responsibility for her actions.
She wishes the court had felt more empathy toward her.
“I feel it’s important that we be treated like people ... I’m guilty as guilty can be of my mistakes,” she said. “I’m admitting I’m wrong. But please don’t come after my babies.”
Lisa was sentenced to incarceration at the Western Massachusetts Regional Corrections Center in Chicopee, where she says she was treated more “humanely.” Her children remain with her today, but like Carnevale, she was unable to go on their school enrichment trips.
Katelynn Goodwin says her life has changed completely since she started coming to the women’s aftercare group in 2018.
Prior to that, when she was using and addicted to crack cocaine, Goodwin said her house was “raided” by police and her son removed from her care by authorities.
She lost custody of her young child. She was unable to reunify, and her son was permanently placed with another family in a closed adoption.
“That’s when I got really bad,” Goodwin said. “I lost it all.”
“The stigma around it was, ‘You’re a drug addict; you’re never going to be able to take care of your kid,’” she added.
Goodwin was searching for help, but couldn’t find a hand-hold. She was homeless, and ultimately went to jail, hitting her “rock bottom.” That’s when she found the women’s aftercare group.
“My life has turned around so much, but I can’t get my son back,” she said. “I just wish that those people that were saying that I was such an awful person could see me now.”
She’s sober and enrolled in the culinary program at Berkshire Community College, but says that what we can learn from her experience can help others.
“Instead of going to jail,” Goodwin said, passionate about pleading now for a different path, “I wish that I could have went to, you know, an inpatient treatment. I wish that I could have worked on my skills.”
She asked Shugrue if he could make something like that happen. He said he’s trying to get those programs in gear.
But the state doesn’t provide his office money for it, he said, so he and his staff members are seeking grants.
“They want us to do all these things to reintegrate people into society,” Shugrue said, “but they don’t give us any money.”
A baby cooed in the background, bouncing on the hip of his mother, 25-year-old Ariel Errichetto.
Errichetto’s mother, Sharon Killackey, 53, was there too. She joined the aftercare group at her daughter’s urging, and had put her thoughts on paper to appeal to Shugrue.
Killackey became involved with the courts after her substance-use disorder began. She felt that in the eyes of court personnel, she was viewed as little more than “a mother who didn’t care about her kids. I was a junkie.”
“You might as well have shot me in that courtroom that day. Because I felt like I felt worthless, hopeless. I wanted to die,” she said. “Because everybody told me who I was, but nobody knew who I was.”
She was actually a sister, a daughter and the sole caregiver of her children.
After years of hard work, she is now a grandmother, a manager at work and a soon-to-be homeowner.
Most importantly, “I feel good about me.”
The system is a “vicious cycle that people get stuck in,” she said.
“Hopefully, by the grace of God,” she said, “they find the way out.”
Shugrue, who was sworn in last month, speaking to the group, said, “Nobody wants to see anybody going to jail.
“We’d rather see everybody working and being productive”
In some scenarios, prosecutors may recommend a defendant for pretrial diversion, which would allow them to avoid the black mark of a criminal conviction. But in others, he said incarceration “is the first step towards the solution.”
His office is going to “attack the big heavy drug dealers,” he said, while also “dealing with the issues of people that are going through addiction problems.”
He and the women spoke about the lasting stain of a criminal record, which they said makes it difficult or impossible to get a job, find housing, volunteer with children and get student loan assistance.
Goodwin said she wants to be a professional, but knows that when she applies for a job, her charges will come up on a background check.
“I want to be able to, you know, live a normal life,” she said.
Sealing one’s record is an option, but Shugrue said if you’re applying to work with children or law enforcement, “They can see behind the seal.”
Kristen, an aftercare group member for well over a decade, offered Goodwin assurances. Today, after years of schooling and training, she is a professional in her own right, working with children and their families as a social worker.
She said work must be done to restore trust in the system she went through herself. Through it all, she doesn’t shy away from her past.
“I won’t seal my record,” she said, “for one reason: Because they can look and see who I was, and look and see who I am today.”
So too is the present for Katelynn Goodwin. She cannot shed her past, but as each morning begins, gratitude floods through her window as she sees trees outside.