#FellowsFriday

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Learn more about Silvia Obregon, MSW 

Why are you passionate about working with justice-involved adults?

The criminal justice system is flawed – from policing to sentencing. Everyone has either been involved in the criminal justice system or knows someone who has. Those of us who have not been involved in the system have been privileged enough to avoid such situations because something as simple as an unpaid traffic ticket, a suspended license, unpaid child support, or juvenile status offenses can entangle someone in the criminal justice system. However, many times these things can be avoided altogether, or maybe just be made less severe, if everyone knew their rights to due process. I am an advocate for teaching people their legal and constitutional rights - before, during, and after legal proceedings and, if they are convicted, their rights during incarceration. It takes time to see changes in policies, procedures, statues, acts, and law so in the meantime we must give people necessary tools until that change comes.

Can you share an interesting moment or some unique thing about you?

When I was younger, I wanted to be a figure skater like Kristi Yamaguchi. However, this was a very hard goal to achieve as tropical paradise Miami does not have many ice skating rinks. Even now the Florida Panthers, our NHL team, sometimes struggles to find practice space - especially during hurricane season. I do know how to roller skate and skated along the beach growing up. Eventually, I also learned how to ice skate but please do not expect me to do a toe loop on the ice anytime soon!

What do you hope to accomplish as a Post-Master’s Fellow?

I hope to gain a broad understanding of how useful social workers can be in the criminal justice system. When I began my MSW program, I did not know that the degree was geared toward “clinical” work, which was discouraging because I knew that I did not want to conduct therapy. However, I quickly learned that there are many roles that an MSW can play in reform, advocacy, and policy work, especially as it relates to the criminal justice system. As a Post-Master’s Fellow, I hope to hone my policy writing skills, learn how to implement evidence-informed policy change, and be a front-line worker leading research at the intersection of social work and criminal justice.

 Learn more about Sara Moegenburg, MSW

Why are you passionate about working with justice-involved adults?

Bryan Stevenson wrote that, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”  His words resonate with me because they reflect my commitment to strive for social justice by fostering the dignity and worth of all people. There is something inherently wrong with the American criminal justice system if nearly one in three individuals have a criminal record. I am passionately driven to address the complexities of dual diagnosis and the detrimental implications of untreated mental health, trauma, and substance use disorders in corrections. I will bridge the gap in the delivery of services for individuals affected by the stigma of labels like criminal, addict, and mentally ill. 

Can you share an interesting moment or some unique thing about you?

I just adopted a six-year-old brown Labrador mix from the local shelter. He was found wandering the streets with signs of abuse and trauma. So far, he has been acclimating well into his new home.  This “75 pounder” likes to pretend he is a lap dog, eat a lot of treats, and go for walks.

What do you hope to accomplish as a Post-Master’s Fellow?

While passion is certainly an asset when advocating for populations who experienced oppression, I realize how important it is to understand the roots of injustice as they are interwoven into the very fabric of policy and ideologies held in America. The Post-Master’s Fellowship will help me to advocate for policy changes to aid the individuals and their families who are impacted by the long-term consequences of incarceration. Participating in this research will enhance my humility in understanding the lived experiences of those reintegrating back into the community. IJRD’s value to promote the dignity and worth of ALL people is one virtue that drives my passion in social work. As someone who has learned to live with past mistakes while trying to become a productive member of society, I have faced many obstacles.  Now I want to be a part of the solution, finding ways to foster hope, healing, and the worth of those who have been impacted by the criminal justice system.

Learn more about Leticia Martinez, MSW

 

Why are you passionate about working with justice-involved adults?

I was born in Mexico but grew up in South Central Los Angeles, California. Growing up in an immigrant family, I faced similar issues that many low-income immigrant families face: fear of deportation, family isolation, poverty, and violence. I became interested in learning about the experiences of immigrants involved with the criminal justice system and, as I learned more about the structural barriers that contribute to the incarceration of different ethnic groups, I sought opportunities to become involved working with incarcerated adults and youth.

Can you share an interesting moment or some unique thing about you?

I love learning about galaxies, stars, and planets. There is so much beauty and mystery in the cosmos; I think I could have been an astrophysicist in another lifetime.

What do you hope to accomplish as a Post-Master’s Fellow?

This opportunity is a dream come true. I will contribute all my effort to this research with the hope of learning as much as I can from my colleagues and participants. Ideally, I want to have a positive impact on participants and work alongside them to find pathways for a more fulfilling life. The knowledge and experience I gain from this fellowship will help fulfill my goal of becoming a prison administrator because I believe that social workers should be the ones overseeing prisons and jails.

Learn more about Sara Julian, MSSW

Why are you passionate about working with justice-involved adults?

I am passionate about working with justice-involved adults because our criminal justice system does a disservice to our communities. Many times the criminal justice system views individuals in black and white and misses the nuance of humanity and its interaction with a myriad of life events. I am passionate about giving justice-involved individuals a voice and being the bridge between justice-involved individuals and the policy and decision makers because, all too often, policies and laws are created with little understanding of how they directly affect justice-involved individuals.  

Can you share an interesting moment or some unique thing about you?

I knew I wanted to be a social worker when I did a report on Jane Addams, a founder of modern day social work and first American woman to ever win a Nobel Peace Prize, in elementary school. At that time I wasn't fully aware of what a social worker was or all of the things a social worker did, but I remember being amazed that one person could do and give so much. Even as a kid I knew I wanted to help people and make a difference. 

What do you hope to accomplish as a Post-Master’s Fellow?

As a Post-Master's Fellow, I hope to expand my policy skills while working to inform practice through research. I am excited to bring awareness and evidence-informed research to this social problem as well as challenge the many misconceptions held about social workers. 

Learn more about Francis Furmanek, MSW

Why are you passionate about working with justice-involved adults?

The United States is the global leader of the number of incarcerated citizens per capita. I learned this for the first time during a paper position project I had to complete as an eighth grader - my paper was about parole and whether it should be abolished. When I came across this fact in my research, I was distraught and felt a deep sense of injustice. I could not believe that imprisoning so many people was right. In fact, there were many things I quickly learned that suggested that were many reasons why people were incarcerated in this country beyond them simply “doing wrong.” The cognitive dissonance inspired by this realization combined with the daily declarations in my classroom of our country standing for “liberty and justice for all” confounded and infuriated me.

I have found that our criminal justice system is not always socially just and as things are now, is problematic for our communities and our country as a whole. I want to use every ounce of power and privilege I have to rectify this imbalance and uplift the quality of life for all.

Can you share an interesting moment or some unique thing about you?

Between my undergraduate and graduate schooling, I spent a couple of years doing some soul searching. Among other things, I picked up aerial silks as a form of fun exercise and a challenging new skill. Aerial silks involve performing acrobatics while hanging from a fabric above the ground. The aerialist uses the fabric to perform different kinds of tricks including climbs, wraps, and drops while moving their body between different positions and poses. Going into my MSW program, I stopped my training as my academic responsibilities were a greater priority, but I plan to return to fly again someday!

One of my life mantras is: it’s never too late to learn something new and it’s always fun to run away and join the circus, so long as you remember your way home!

What do you hope to accomplish as a Post-Master’s Fellow?

I want to engage in evidence-based work, research, and pave the way for the reform that we need as a society in order to become and do better. I want to learn and develop myself to be better equipped to fight for policies founded in scholarship and supported by empirical work. For me, learning from the world is a lifelong pursuit and I want to give back to the world as much as I’m getting.

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Learn more about Kimberly Furcron, BSW

Why are you passionate about working with justice-involved adults?

I’m passionate about working with justice-involved adults because mass incarceration is my generation’s civil rights movement. Mass incarceration affects all areas of social work and working with justice-involved adults benefits not only the individual, but their families and communities as well. 

Can you share an interesting moment or some unique thing about you?

I was a Marching Chief, which is the Florida State University 420-member marching band. Being a Marching Chief was a huge dedication, it was like working a part time job, but it was one of my favorite things I did at FSU because it allowed me to be a part of something much bigger than myself. One of my favorite parts of Chiefs was traveling with the football team. We went all across the country to support our team, and we loved it. Because of how much work and travel we did for all of the FSU teams, you’ll never meet a bigger fan of FSU Athletics than a Marching Chief. Click here for a photo of me in action!

What do you hope to accomplish as a Post-Master’s Fellow?

As a Post-Master's Fellow, I hope to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a social worker engaging in policy work and research, especially in spaces where social workers aren’t usually present. Many people assume that as an MSW, I want to be a therapist or strictly do clinical work, but those were never my goals. I’m excited to be in a position where I can work in settings that aren’t “typical” for social work and to have the ability to expand the profession into the world of criminal justice.

 

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Learn more about Keyasia Downs, LSW

Why are you passionate about working with justice-involved adults?

What makes me passionate about working with justice-involved adults is knowing that so many of them were entrenched in the criminal justice system before they ever committed any crime. People always say that your personal choices lead to incarceration, but when people have to make undesirable choices because that is all they know, or because they feel that have to in order to survive, that means that somewhere along the way, they have been failed in more ways than one. I’m passionate about working with this population because I want to be a part of a system that is determined not to fail them. Although nothing can be done to erase the traumas and disparities that many of these people face, it is never too late to intervene and be a positive support; I want to be someone they know is rooting for their success. 

Can you share an interesting moment or some unique thing about you?

When I was a kid, I tried out to be the Oscar Meyer “My bologna has a first name” kid, but I was too shy while singing. Now, you can’t get me to stop talking. 

What do you hope to accomplish as a Post-Master’s Fellow?

During my tenure as a Post-Master’s Fellow, I hope to build relationships with local and national practitioners, educators, and activists who are as dedicated to this work as I am. I want to use these relationships to educate a broader audience about the unique challenges of justice-involved adults and their loved ones. In the future, I hope to do this work alongside more justice-involved adults because their voices and opinions are so integral in order to see meaningful change happen. 

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Learn more about Connie Conway, MSW

Why are you passionate about working with justice-involved adults?

Growing up I witnessed family members and friends enter the justice system over and over. Even as a child and young person I noticed the lack of services offered to the families. I want to be able to give back to families like mine and those I grew up with. If I can help one person or family change the trajectory of their future, I'm on board. Ending the cycle of reincarceration for those who came from neighborhoods and families like mine is a driving force in the reason I chose to participate in this Fellowship. 

Can you share an interesting moment or some unique thing about you?

As far back as I can remember I have loved to create. Making something from nothing became a way of self-expression and survival. Today, I prefer to knit and crochet and use fiber sourced from small family mills and give back to their local community. I love to gift the items I make to family, friends, and co-workers. 

What do you hope to accomplish as a Post-Master’s Fellow?

As a Post-Master's Fellow, I hope to accomplish positive change in my community and those with whom I come into contact. My hope is to pave the way for future fellows and participate in a wave of change that will far surpass what I could have ever accomplished on my own. 

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Learn more about DeVont'e Arrington

Why are you passionate about working with justice-involved adults?

I am passionate about working with justice-involved adults because of a single word “Why?” The moment I first mentioned wanting to work with justice-involved individuals as a career choice, everyone began asking me “Why waste your time on them?”, “Why put yourself in danger?” Sometimes, I just received a very judgmental “Why?”

The most disheartening part of this story is that most of these responses came from my fellow classmates, the future of the social work profession. I’m passionate about working with justice-involved adults because they don’t need yet another person asking them “Why?” Only “How can I help?” People involved with the criminal justice system have faced and overcome a series of obstacles we could never imagine. They’ve lived lives full of illegitimate opportunities. They need our help. Because that’s what social work is to me.

Can you share an interesting moment or some unique thing about yourself?

Something unique about me is my personal favorite form of therapy is roller skating. I did it all the time as a child and now that I’m older, I can’t find anything more cathartic and calming when my mind is scattered than a Top 40s playlist and a pair of old skates. I welcome any and all who want to try it with me sometime. It’ll change your life.

What do you hope to accomplish as a Post-Master’s Fellow?

As a Post-Master’s Fellow, I aspire to kickstart my journey of being a hailstorm of change for reforming the justice system. I want to take what I’ll learn here and be persistent, vocal, and very annoying to any and everyone about how there is a better way. Recidivism doesn’t have to be a statistic that we just shrug and accept for what it is. I want to utilize this experience to get more people to start asking questions and demanding change. As individuals, we can be written off as a nuisance, but when we come together and form a movement... that’s where change begins.