Pauline Nevins considered getting a tattoo of her mother’s phone number so the police would be able to identify her body.
It wasn’t a normal thought. At least not the normal she desperately wanted to be. But in the throes of addiction, it made perfect sense.
Nevins was addicted to heroin and crack cocaine and had been for over a decade. She’d spent time in jail but couldn’t get clean. In November 2014, Nevins was homeless and living on the roof of a building when she was arrested.
Nevins had hit bottom. But a judge offered her a lifesaving opportunity.
He offered her a chance to go to treatment at a rehab facility. Nevins accepted, mostly to get fed and stay warm, but she quickly realized this was her chance to find the fulfillment and consistency she longed for.
Then and there, she made the commitment to save her life.
The judge who helped her get back on track was the Hon. Alex Calabrese, the presiding judge at Red Hook Community Justice Center.
Founded in 2000, the Red Hook Community Justice Center is a community court for civil, family, and criminal cases from Red Hook, a neighborhood in southwest Brooklyn, New York. Cases are heard by a single judge, Calabrese, who operates his courtroom out of an old, remodeled Catholic school.
Red Hook Community Justice Center is different from most courtrooms because jail and prison are no longer the first, last, or only options.
Instead Calabrese works with professionals to offer mental health treatment, drug rehab, community restoration projects (sweeping, painting over graffiti), and even support groups. There are also social workers on staff to help offenders find and access appropriate resources like GED classes and therapy.
This isn’t just a job for Calabrese; it’s a chance to improve lives and better the community.
“We give people the opportunity to do the work, but they’re the ones that have to do the work,” Calabrese told Upworthy. “And then I get to see the power of the human spirit in the courtroom because it’s amazing how far people can come back and get themselves to a place where they’re addressing their needs.”
And the center is more than courthouse. It’s a hub for community involvement. Residents can access housing resources, take classes and workshops, get information about community service projects, and attend community events.
The Community Justice Center, along with improved transportation and economic and commercial revitalization, have helped Red Hook, a neighborhood once dubbed “the crack capital of America,” turn a real corner.
And many former offenders, including Pauline Nevins, have made the most of their second chance.
She completed treatment and became a drug counselor.
And she’s stayed close with the judge who got her on the right track.
“Pauline is an amazing person,” Calabrese said. “And I’ve always told her that she’s in the best position to tell other people what they need to do, and to understand how difficult it is, because she’s been there.”
The unlikely friends even took a selfie together.
It sits at her mother’s house. The same mother who used to fear every late-night phone call now talks to her daughter all the time — the same mother who beams with pride when she thinks of how far her daughter has come.
Because programs like this don’t just save daughters. They save fathers, grandkids, neighbors, friends, families, and entire communities. They give everyone another shot.
See Nevins and Calabrese’s story in this inspiring Upworthy Original: