The story began in 2004, when WSBE received a grant to work with community groups to raise public awareness about the issues and challenges facing men leaving prison. The rate of recidivism (returning to prison) is notoriously high, but for those individuals who are committed to breaking the cycle and changing their lives, the deck was unfairly stacked against them.
Fledgling organizations were emerging, whose work would help bridge the canyon between tall prison walls and wide open streets. But they needed more help; public attention had to be drawn to the issues to reshape thinking and reallocate resources. The WSBE project that started a two-year, two production project was simply called, Re-entry, and our first show was entitled, Re-entry: Opening Dialogue to Open Doors. In the project's second year, we explored the unique issues of women leaving prison, and focused on employment, producing The Business of Re-Entry in 2005.
It was an informative and rewarding experience, bringing together the RI Department of Corrections (Director A.T. Wall supported the project wholeheartedly, and was open and accessible to us throughout) and grassroots organizations like OpenDoors, known at the time as the Family Life Center, to share their stories and perspectives at well-attended and lively community forums.
Part of the station's second-year outreach efforts included presentations to Rotary Clubs across the state. The goal of having a former inmate tell his or her story was to help break down stereotypes, to encourage new ways of looking at the formerly incarcerated, and to consider the opportunities of hiring dedicated and motivated employees. One presentation - made to the Cumberland-Lincoln Rotary - featured Andres Idarraga. He spoke with courage, determination, and charisma. I remember thinking this young man was going to succeed in a big way. His presentation that day - and many more that followed outside our project - helped build support for legislation that ultimately reinstated voting rights to the formerly incarcerated in Rhode Island.
It is five years later. And this news arrived at the station today:
Providence, RI --Getting into law school is hard. But getting into law school with a criminal record is even harder.
Two former Rhode Island inmates Noah Kilroy and Andres Idarraga understand this challenge and have overcome it. Idarraga graduated from Yale Law School this past May, and Kilroy recently completed his first year of law school at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.
Success has not been fleeting for Idarraga and Kilroy. Idarraga earned his undergraduate degree from Brown University in 2008, and Kilroy his undergraduate degree from Salve Regina in 2009. Both talk about the importance of perseverance when reflecting upon their educational successes.
“It’s easy to give up,” said Kilroy when talking about his time in prison. “But it’s important to never let dreams die. It’s important to keep moving forward.”
Idarraga describes his success to the “power of consistently bettering yourself.” Idarraga put perseverance into practice when he was originally denied admission to Brown University as an undergraduate. He applied a second time and was successfully accepted.
Pride for Kilroy and Idarraga’s achievements extends to OpenDoors. OpenDoors, a Providence nonprofit, which provides services to the formerly incarcerated, has worked with both. Kilroy worked as an intern at OpenDoors following his release and Idarraga served on the OpenDoors’ Right to Vote Campaign in 2008.
OpenDoors’ Executive Director, Sol Rodriguez, who also attended Idarraga’s Yale graduation said, “Noah and Andres are proof that people can turn their lives around.”
Congratulations to Andres and Noah for their hard work. And congratulations to Sol and Ron and all the folks at OpenDoors for their good work.And that is exactly the message that Kilroy and Idarraga want to share.