The Virginia Holistic Justice Initiative is a 501(c)(3) Charitable Organization

     

    11 South 12th Street, First Floor

    Richmond, VA 23219

    Email:  info@vahji.com
    Office:  (804) 944-2425 | Fax:  (804) 256-2868    

    Client Stories of Supportive Interventions

    We guide & accompany our non-violent clients through engagements with the local resources they need to address circumstances & recidivism risks pulling them back into the criminal justice system.

    We guide and accompany our non-violent clients through engagements with the local resources they need to address circumstances & recidivism risks pulling them back into the criminal justice system.

    Upon referrals, and through their defense attorneys, we meet with clients to assess their needs, identify local resources for assistance, and then co-create & execute a holistic engagement plan together.

    This means stepping into the shoes of our clients and living their engagement plan with them – we identify and vet service partners, setup and attend appointments, provide transportation, ensure follow-up, and serve as on-call, mobile problem solvers – professionals for friends in need.

    The goal of this holistic, supportive intervention model is to reduce recidivism risks by building new support structures around non-violent people – by introducing them to local resources and teaching them how to access services.

    These stories demonstrate the potential benefits of a holistic, supportive intervention model of public safety and indicate what recidivism risks can be more effectively mitigated in communities, rather than in jails or prisons.

    Our clients are only a few of the many non-violent people facing incarceration in the criminal justice system – but their experiences are emblematic – and they want their stories told.  More will be, soon.

    We have anonymized our clients' names, portraits, and other identifying details and have published their stories with their enthusiastic permission.

     
    Oscar's Story

    Oscar is a self-described "nerd," a fan of comics – both American and Japanese – and he's on a football scholarship, studying electrical engineering at a college in Virginia.  But this isn't how the criminal justice system saw him.

    With his parents largely absent, Oscar was intermittently homeless during high school.  That didn't stop him from being a dedicated student, though, or from appreciating the access to showers that his spot on the school's football team afforded him.  During a stretch of homelessness at the end of his senior year, Oscar was without a hall pass when a school resource officer grabbed him to direct him to the principal's office.  Oscar instinctively swiped the officer's hand away – and he was charged with Simple Assault.

    Soon after, in the summer following graduation, Oscar was given a ride by someone driving a stolen vehicle.  Oscar hadn't known the car was stolen, but when police pulled them over, and with one arrest already on his record, he was scared he might lose his scholarship and a chance to go to college.

    "When it first happened, the first thing I felt was tension," he says, "a heavy, tense emotion."  Panicked, he gave the officer a false name – and he was charged again – this time with False Identification to Avoid Arrest.

    Because he'd initially lied about his name, the courts considered him a flight risk and his first request for bond was denied.  Oscar spent "two weeks, two days, and 8 hours" in jail before any trial, which cost taxpayers about $1,400 – and almost cost Oscar his future.  "I know there are consequences to things," he says.  But sitting in jail, facing 2 years in prison on multiple charges, Oscar couldn't come to terms with the life-altering scale of the consequences confronting him.

     

    "I felt like the odds were stacked against me," he says.  But, by the holistic, supportive intervention offered by the Initiative over the course of several months, Oscar took ownership of the situation and completed anger management and community service.  And through the hard work of his public defenders, Oscar reached a plea agreement with prosecutors to avoid additional incarceration and have the charges dismissed.

    With his scholarship intact, Oscar started college on time.  His long-term ambition is to be recognized as a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

     
    Kristina's Story

    When she was 14, Kristina's father offered her meth.  He told her he wanted her to do it with him, so "she wouldn't die" doing it with someone else on the street.  She was a kid – so, she did what her father asked.  Growing up, Kristina was always around harder substances than most teenagers – like meth and heroin – and harder people.  

     

    When the man she was dating at 18 attacked her, resulting in knee replacement surgery, she found herself at the start of a path to heroin addiction.  Left in pain and experiencing withdrawal after doctors ended her prescription opioids, and with six-figures of debt, Kristina bought opioid pills on the street.  But heroin was cheaper.  

     

    Eventually, Kristina started stealing to pay for heroin.  And, when her boyfriend asked her to drive him to pick up his belongings from an ex's house, Kristina learned past the point of caring that she was participating in a burglary – and, she helped him.

    Arrested for multiple commercial thefts in two jurisdictions and on felony burglary charges in a third, Kristina was facing 77 years in prison.  Her best plea offer from prosecutors was to serve 7 months in jail, which would have cost taxpayers about $18,000 and would have created risks of relapse and recidivism.  But with the guidance and assistance of the Initiative, Kristina began taking charge of her life.

    Kristina wanted to make things right, both by paying for the mistakes she'd made and by making better decisions in the future.  And she wanted to get off heroin for good.  With the Initiative's support, Kristina re-engaged with a clinic and obtained a methadone prescription to manage her withdrawal symptoms.  She also engaged with the REAL LIFE program in Richmond, through which she received counseling for her substance abuse and completed community service.  She got a job, reconnected with her family, and used financing from both to pay restitution in her cases. 

     

    By taking productive accountability for herself through the holistic, supportive intervention offered by the Initiative over the course of a year, Kristina ultimately reached a plea agreement with prosecutors without incarceration.  Kristina still feels overwhelmed sometimes by how much work she has left to do, but she is also grateful to be "worrying about things that matter" instead of where to find drugs.

     
    Henry's Story

    Felony Assault on Law Enforcement is a serious charge – it carries 6 months of mandatory minimum incarceration.  But because the violation is legally a Simple Assault on a law enforcement officer, its reach encompasses a wide variety of assaultive conduct, including verbal threats, from an even broader set of people.  Last year, one of those people was Henry.

    Henry recently graduated from college in Virginia, but during a December exam period, that seemed lost.  Heading into Thanksgiving, Henry was dealing with significant issues:  he was supporting a close family member through a potential cancer diagnosis, his girlfriend of several years had broken up with him, and he was behind in his coursework.

     

    Not one to share his troubles, Henry silently committed to finishing the semester.  He took caffeine to stay awake and prepare for exams, going days without sleeping and triggering a manic episode that led to a confused search for help on campus.  When the police attempted to detain him, Henry spit at a police officer, and his mental health crisis ended in criminal charges.

    Henry's public defender negotiated an opportunity for him to avoid the 6 months of mandatory minimum incarceration, which would have cost taxpayers over $15,000.  Instead, Henry was referred to the Initiative for a supportive intervention organized around completing his court-ordered conditions.  "I was in a situation that seemed like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, but I had my own think tank of people who were there to help me tackle each issue so that I didn't have to go through these muddy waters alone," he says of the Initiative.  "It wasn't just my public defender helping me get the legal stuff figured out, but it was getting the help for me as a human being."

    With the Initiative's holistic support, Henry took responsibility for himself by engaging with therapy, completing hundreds of hours of community service, obtaining an internship for his final semester of college, and reconnecting socially with peers through sports.  "They helped me moving forward in life because I wasn't going to other people when I had issues, I was bottling things up.  They put me in touch with good people, cool people, who I was able to, with no judgement, share my story."

    Of his crisis, Henry thought, "I didn't want this bump in my life to break me, I wanted it to make me stronger."  And, after a year of significant personal effort, he graduated from college.