Giving thanks during the holiday season naturally involves being thankful for my health, my family and being able to raise three amazing daughters. I am also humbled and appreciative that I am the first person in my family to graduate from college. Moreover, I am sincerely thankful for the ability to give back to the city of Baltimore, where I was born and raised. Thus, this year, I want to specifically acknowledge how thankful I am for the hard-working individuals who graduated from the Baltimore City District Court Re-Entry Project.

In my great city of Baltimore, violence, tragedy and hopelessness inundate news stories. But I am thankful that during this holiday season, 17 individuals were not deterred by negative perceptions of the city and its residents. Rather, these individuals made the decision to trust in the criminal justice system so that they could have richer and more fulfilling lives.

The Re-Entry Project is Baltimore City’s program that helps ex-offenders find and maintain consistent employment. On Nov. 1, 17 participants proudly walked across the graduation stage and received their completion certificates in front of an entire team that has consistently supported them during their journey to change the course of their lives. This team includes the judges who placed them on probation, the probation officers who encouraged and supervised them, the community partners that trained and referred them to steady employment, and their families and friends who believed that they could change their lives for the better.

The graduation ceremony was a wonderful occasion to hear captivating stories about the graduates, who overcame many struggles. These graduates had to learn how to work with their team members so that they could prove to others and themselves that a person’s past does not dictate his or her future. The Re-Entry Project has hosted nine graduation ceremonies within Baltimore City District courthouses since the program’s founding in 2016. In the past seven years, the project has graduated more than 230 participants who were determined to have their last courtroom appearances be positive experiences.

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I am extremely grateful that the Re-Entry Project has provided these Baltimore residents with economic empowerment not only for this holiday season, but, I hope, for the rest of their lives. I am tremendously thankful for the Baltimore City District Court Re-Entry Project and the many graduates who now have an opportunity to enjoy many more holiday seasons to come.

Nicole Pastore is a Baltimore City District Court judge and founder of the District Court Re-Entry Project.

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