This Second Chance Month, let’s talk about working with justice-impacted people

In honor of Second Chance Month, we’re highlighting Clarifi’s Reentry Program, which pairs our free, one-to-one counseling model with $1,000 micro grants to help justice-impacted clients prepare for a brighter financial future. In 2023, we provided counseling services and grants to 415 justice-impacted people.

We asked Jessica Nocho-Wright, a Clarifi counselor, about her approach to counseling justice-impacted people.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Taylor Goebel, Communications Manager at Clarifi: How long have you worked at Clarifi, and when did you transition to counseling reentry clients?

Jessica Nocho-Wright, Counseling Lead at Clarifi: I’ve been at Clarifi for two years, and I moved into the reentry space about a year and a half ago.

TG: Do you approach counseling sessions with reentry clients differently from someone who isn’t justice-impacted?

JNW: I like to look at it as the same counseling session, but maybe a different conversation. Maybe this person is living in a halfway house and is restricted on some things, for example. At the end of the day, we all face barriers. Their barriers may be a little different than what the average person is facing, but I treat them as a regular financial counseling client. As with any client, I tailor it to their individual situation.

We do a lot of trauma-informed training here. I’m using those techniques because things can be frustrating for them and we just need to have the patience and the compassion and the empathy to work with them. Justice-impacted people deserve our help just like anyone else.

TG: What are some barriers that justice-impacted people in particular face?

JNW: Nutrition and mistrust are two big ones.

When clients are living in a recovery home or halfway house and are using SNAP benefits, they can’t buy a hot meal with it. Or they’re spending 30% of their income on food because they can’t buy groceries and take it back to a recovery home. It’s hard for them to save because they had to feed themselves and those benefits are not satisfying that need. So it may take them longer to build up their savings because of that.

The other challenge is mistrust. Returning citizens often don’t trust the banking system, for example, because their bank ate up their account with fees while they were incarcerated. I had a client who was just thankful I talked to him in a respectful tone. He said when he went out to other programs to seek assistance, they didn’t treat him like a human being. So he didn’t want to ask for help because he was made to feel ashamed. I try to turn that barrier around.

Read about Jessica’s work with her client, Akeem, here: Re-entry Stories: After Clarifi counseling, Philadelphian is ready to buy a home

TG: What is one thing people should know about Clarifi’s Reentry Program?

JNW: This program is a straightforward grant opportunity with counseling. We’re giving you the education to hopefully help you stretch the money as far as it can go. But you’re getting the money in your hand no matter what. There are no strings attached. We have guidelines for receiving the grant. When you meet them, you’re going to get this grant to help get you stable. Clients often don’t realize we’re not joking, like, “I’m really going to get this money.” If you need to pay your grandmother rent, you can do that. I had a client who used part of the grant to buy Christmas presents for his kids, and he hadn’t seen them in five years. Being able to buy something for your kids – that does something for you mentally.

Jessica speaks with her client, Akeem, a Philadelphian who utilized Clarifi’s Reentry Program to prepare for homeownership.

TG: What is something you didn’t realize about the Reentry Program?

JNW: I didn’t know the impact this grant had not only on the individual client, but their families. If I’m reentering, and I’m living with my mom or a family member, and I haven’t found a job, then I’m the financial burden. So this $1,000 that they’re receiving is not just for them; it can also help their family. They’re able to give loved ones some extra money for allowing them to stay over. The money stretches way further than the individual person. It’s also a sense of pride for them; they’re able to take care of themselves and provide.

Jessica gave me feedback from a real, genuine place of wanting to see me win. When I considered gambling during intense financial situations, she pointed out the immediate and lasting implications of that, but in a way that didn’t make me feel like she was judging me.

Akeem, Clarifi client

TG: What are some outcomes you’ve seen? What have clients told you?

JNW: People transitioning from halfway houses often use the grant to help pay first and last month and security deposit for rent. I had one client who was facing eviction and he paid his rent up with the grant. He was able to save his home. Other clients have opened a secure credit card and gotten their car fixed so they could travel to a job outside city limits.

The big picture here is they don’t have to revert back to their old ways and possibly be re-incarcerated. This program was the little bit of cushion that they needed. They don’t have to go back on the streets and do whatever they were doing before to make money. I’ve had clients tell me, “I just needed someone to talk to. I needed someone to believe in me, or to educate me to get to that next step.” A young lady told me the other day, “I know I’m able to do this. I don’t have to go back to what I was doing before. I have a game plan now. I have steps I can take through this education.”

TG: What’s the most rewarding part of your work?

JNW: Getting a telephone call from a client saying, “I got approved for housing. I move in in a couple of weeks.” “I’m applying for a job.” “I’m going to pay my tickets off with this grant so I can get my CDL (commercial driver’s license).” “I paid off all my debt.” “I’m purchasing a home.” When they share the accomplishments that are so important to them, that makes it all rewarding for me.