In Case You Missed It: N.J. first lady Mary Pat Christie works to help ex-offenders, recovering addicts

  • Friday, March 11, 2011
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N.J. first lady Mary Pat Christie works to help ex-offenders, recovering addicts 
Chris Megerian
The Star-Ledger
Published: Friday, March 11, 2011
NEWARK — The recovering addicts filed into the basement room of a drug rehabilitation center in Newark. They sat on folding chairs under fluorescent lights and, one at a time, stood to share their stories.
Some women had lost custody of their children. Others had slept in the streets and suffered sexual abuse. And several had spent time behind bars after committing crimes to feed their addictions.
This wasn’t a typical therapy session. One of the seats was taken not by a fellow addict, but New Jersey’s first lady, Mary Pat Christie.

 There were no television cameras or reporters. Weeks later, Tiffany Walker, a recovering addict who met Christie that day, was still surprised to see her there. "I mean, she’s the first lady!"
After all, first ladies are more often found cutting ribbons or reading to schoolchildren. And while Christie has done those things, too, she’s focused on something else: helping ex-offenders and recovering addicts return to normal life.

 "I think people are scared by the criminal justice system. They’re scared to help this population," she said in an interview with The Star-Ledger. "I see it as a population that we have no choice but to help."

 Those working with ex-offenders say her involvement can be a game changer.
"By virtue of being the first lady, there is the power of persuasion, the power of influence, and the power of symbol," said former Gov. James E. McGreevey, who was also at the Newark meeting. "When Mary Pat Christie sits with a group of 20 women who are chronically addicted ex-offenders in the basement of a building in Newark, N.J., she changes the equation."

"Anything that we can do to reclaim lives that can be lost to drug abuse and prison would be a great thing to do on a humanitarian level," the governor said in an interview. "Secondly, it’s certainly an economic factor. If we can turn these people from being economic drains into productive citizens, it’s great for the economy."

 After the 2009 election, the Christies discussed issues Mary Pat could be involved in as first lady. "This reentry thing is what has grabbed me because the rate of recidivism was terrible," she said. "The fact that these kids — now adults, really — are going right back into a prison population — the madness had to stop."

 In a sense, the governor said, she’s the ideal person for the job — after 25 years of marriage, Mary Pat knows him very well.
"She’s got a good sense of what I like, what I’m willing to do and not willing to do," he said. "She’s definitely being a bit of a fact finder for me on this."
 Because of that, Christie’s efforts can provide hints as to the direction her husband’s administration may take. She didn’t prescribe specific remedies during an interview, but discussed the importance of education, self reliance and drug treatment.

 It’s an issue the Christies have been involved in for awhile. The governor previously served on the board of Daytop, a treatment program for teenagers based in Mendham, where the Christies live. The first lady, who works part time at the Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald, was involved in the annual gala.
 Executive Director Jim Curtin recalled that Chris Christie helped one Daytop graduate get an internship at the U.S. attorney’s office. "When you have people like Mary Pat and Gov. Christie, it helps to reduce the stigma," he said.

 View entire article here.


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