Spectrum News
 March 2, 2023 
Dan Reidy 

PITTSFIELD — The 2nd Street nonprofit supports current and formerly incarcerated people in Berkshire County to increase the chances of improving their lives. Now, the nonprofit is announcing three arts initiatives which will create a platform for their clients to express their creativity.

Participants will workshop their artistic abilities with local organizations and have them presented to the public. A visual art exhibit for the “Insight Out” initiative will go on display at the Berkshire Museum. Berkshire Community College is partnering for the “Using Our Outside Voices” literary project, and the “Hear Me Out” initiative will develop a dramatic performance with local producer Chaos Theory.

2nd Street executive director Jason Cuyler said there’s great cultural venues in the Berkshires and encouraging their clients to engage in the arts is part of their work of inspiring positive change.

“Most of our clients, we meet their initial meet needs,” Cuyler said. “Their initial needs are mental health, substance abuse, helping them find employment and housing. With the three initiatives, I call it the what’s next stage. We want to encourage them to think a little bit outside of the box.

“I think the most important thing is to really understand that a lot of the people that we deal with are great people and they just need that opportunity in order to be successful. It can change the trajectory of where their life is to go.”

Cuyler said they are grateful to the organizations who are involved with the project. Workshops for the three initiatives will start at the beginning of April and end with the public presentations in September.

Q: Why are the first 72 hours after release the period of highest re-entry?

A: Typically, when individuals are released back into the community, post-incarceration, they have no job, few housing options and limited financial support. Those first 72 hours are crucial in determining what choices people will make, what people they’ll surround themselves with and whether they’ll succumb to the temptations and pressures around them, or they’ll fight to dig themselves out. Those choices that clients make during this short window are often indicative of whether they’ll return to jail or make a successful transition back into the community.  Our goal is to reach as many clients as possible during this critical period to offer them the support and resources they need to continue their path of recovery and rehabilitation.

Q: How does this program help formerly incarcerated individuals?

A: A large percentage of clients that we serve at the Berkshire County House of Correction are of the un-housed population. In many situations, our clients have lost connections with family and have minimal outside support. They’re unemployed and limited to what jobs they can apply for. It’s difficult not to return to what feels familiar, or easy, when faced with these unsurmountable challenges.

The 2nd Street program is a resource center for justice-oriented individuals to navigate these challenges and equip them with the tools they need to secure housing, learn skills to assist with employment and to participate in programming aimed at substance abuse recovery, family rehabilitation and legal services. Our goal is to eliminate the challenges that stand in the way of doing what’s right and ensuring our clients can succeed to their fullest potential. The 2nd Street program is exclusively donor- and grant-funded.

Q: Why do people in these situations have so much trouble re-entering society?

A: Unfortunately, especially in today’s daunting economy, it’s nearly impossible to start with nothing and turn it into something without the proper tools to do so. I truly believe that most of our clients want to make good, forward-thinking decisions and don’t choose to re-offend, but until society addresses the struggles that men and women face upon community re-entry we will continue to see a revolving door of people trapped in our justice system. … Our program is designed to fill voids and provide support so that our clients don’t feel pressured to return to toxic places or activities for sustainability.

Q: Why did you become a social worker?

A: To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to be when I “grew up” and just picked a college major that sounded interesting. I ended up going with sociology with a concentration in criminology. It was a great choice.

Q: How did you end up in law enforcement?

A: One of my favorite classes, under the sociology umbrella, was a criminology class, which I later decided to minor in. I was able to do some internships as part of my minor, and fell in love with the field. I’m now in my 23rd year with the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office and can honestly say that I enjoy my job and look forward to what each day brings.

Q: How did what you experienced growing up lead you to where you are today?

A: I grew up in the heart of the West Side community (in Pittsfield), on Linden Street, and began my academic career at Westside Community School (now Conte Community School). My family later made the decision to transfer me to Berkshire County Christian School and then to St. Joseph’s High School before I went on to study at UMass Amherst.

I do feel that attending schools with incredibly small class sizes certainly played a pivotal role in who I am today. I always had a great support system and had many adult mentors who ensured that I was involved in sports, keeping up with my schoolwork and who carefully guided me to make sound decisions that worked to enhance the trajectory of my life.

I think all of my experiences, collectively, have made me more cognizant and empathetic in the role that I’m in as executive director of 2nd Street. I understand how having access to the right resources can change who we become and how we live our lives and I recognize that a single opportunity can mean the difference for many between struggle and success.

Q: What advice would you give someone who wanted to enter your line of work?

A: I would tell them not to hesitate! We can always use more enthusiastic, empathetic people in this field. Good people are always welcome. It truly take a village.