Some of the most inspirational and amazing people that Jenna Vincent '14 has met are people who are or have been in prison - this fact shocks people. She says even her mother still gets nervous that she might be taken hostage on the job.
"Many appreciate and understand that this line of work is crucial for reducing rates of recidivism, but many see inmates as worthless criminals and nothing more, which breaks my heart," said Vincent, who is a reentry specialist at Span, Inc., a Boston-based non-profit corporation that helps offenders and ex-offenders make the transition from prison to community living. "Almost all of my clients served time for drug charges. Addiction is an illness and it's consuming. The only things most of these people need are support and help to get their lives back on track."
Vincent graduated as a psychology major and sociology minor from Emmanuel. While searching for internships, she wasn't sure what options were available based on her interests in abnormal psychology and criminal behavior, until fellow classmates pointed her to Kathleen Reid, an adjunct faculty member in the psychology department at Emmanuel, who had a history of working with inmates.
Having previously worked at Span, Professor Reid told Vincent about the organization and was able to help get Vincent an internship. Vincent interned at Span for a year, yet was unable to come aboard as a staff member after graduation because of lack of funding. Instead, she found a position as an applied behavioral analysis therapist through APEX Behavioral Consulting. After a few months, she received a call from Span, who offered her a position. Vincent now works in downtown Boston, as well as out of Massachusetts Correctional Institution Framingham (MCIF) and South Middlesex Correctional Center (SMCC), both in Framingham, Massachusetts, for Span.
"I wanted to work here because I wanted a job that made me feel like I was making a difference, and that's exactly what this position does for me," Vincent said. "This is one of the most positive work environments I've ever been in."
The organization assists and provides second chances to those who have been to prison in order to help achieve healthy, productive, meaningful lives and relationships, while reshaping who they are as individuals. Vincent believes many people have the wrong impression of this line of work; she believes when these former and present inmates take advantage of this opportunity, they can do very well.
Every Monday, Vincent works out of MCIF or SMCC. At these facilities, she builds relationships with clients and visits them four to five times while they are still incarcerated. Throughout the week, the Emmanuel graduate follows up with clients to schedule appointments so they can work on a service plan. She assists her clients with getting Massachusetts IDs, housing, employment, primary care/mental health appointments and other needs and assistance. Generally, she works with each client three months pre-release date and six months after their release. Vincent also facilitates a group, "Living in Balance," which helps those suffering with addiction learn how to deal with the addiction in all aspects of their lives.
"My job is to help connect the dots post-release. For many inmates, releasing is scary and difficult, so I'm there to help guide them through the process," she said.
Since landing this position, Vincent said she has learned a lot, especially how to better her communication skills with a group of individuals that she didn't have exposure to beforehand. However, the most challenging part of the job, for her, is putting herself in someone else's position and being able to truly empathize with him or her. She stresses that empathy skills are important when working in the psychology field.
"I've never been an addict, I've never been to prison, and most of my clients are double my age. Many are hesitant at first, so one of the trickiest aspects is showing them that although we have completely different histories, I'll still try my hardest to understand where you're coming from," she said.
Vincent didn't always want to pursue psychology - she wanted to be a marine biologist, until she realized she wouldn't be swimming with dolphins all day. During her senior year of high school, she took a psychology course, and "something clicked" - the subject matter comes easy to her.
Without her internship, Vincent believes she wouldn't be where she is today. Her advice to Emmanuel students is to "take classes that you're passionate about and don't worry so much about the future. Everything will fall into place." She suggests if a student loves their internship, it's in his or her best interest to keep those connections open. Vincent believes her relationship with her supervisor at Span, combined with her expressed interest to volunteer at the organization (before she was hired), helped get her the job.
"I do believe that my dedication to staying connected to this agency showed my supervisor that I was serious about being here, and eventually that is what lead him to offering me a position versus posting about it online and letting someone who was unfamiliar to Span interview," she said.
Where does Vincent see herself in 10 years? She isn't sure, but being a forensic psychologist is at the top of the list. Although this might sound strange to most, Vincent likes the idea of working directly with criminals who are serving long or life sentences for more violent crimes - this interest comes from her passion and curiosity of studying abnormal psychology and criminal behavior.
"I love seeing people succeed, especially people who are made to believe they will have no opportunities to do so when they're released back into society," Vincent said. "Prison changes people quite a bit, and it's always amazing to see how appreciative and proud most of them are when they accomplish even the smallest goals."