County celebrates graduates of reentry program

WILKES-BARRE — Dozens of offenders gathered in the Luzerne County Courthouse this week, but they were not in trouble.

Instead, they were formally transitioning back into society.

Under the dome of the courthouse, Luzerne County and Geo Reentry Services honored 53 graduates of the Luzerne County Reentry Service Center, a program designed to help minimal offenders get back on their feet and decrease their chances of winding up back in prison.

The graduation ceremony was the 12th in the program’s history, according to program manager Stacey Velez.

The graduates, along with family members supporting them, looked on as two Luzerne County judges — President Judge Richard M. Hughes III and Judge Joseph F. Sklarosky Jr. — praised their hard work to get out of the criminal justice system.

“I know I speak for all of the judges when I say this is one of my favorite events,” Hughes said.

Completion of the reentry program requires commitment from the members, and Hughes called the completion a “tremendous success.”

Sklarosky echoed those comments.

“Each of you took advantage of an opportunity,” Sklarosky said. “An opportunity for offenders to redefine their lives.”

In addition to comments from the judges, alumni of the program also congratulated the new graduates.

Julie Morales was one of those alumni, and she said she has totally turned her life around.

“(The program) guided me in such a way that I’ve never been guided before,” she said.

Morales, who told graduates she now works with drug addicts to aid them in their recovery, said the guidance has allowed her to take control of her life and stay out of trouble with the law.

“I actually love my life,” she said.

The graduates were given equivalents of a diploma. When one received his, he triumphantly raised his hands in a V-for- victory sign, and in his best Richard Nixon impression, proclaimed: “I am not a crook!”

In the eyes of the law, he’s a changed man.