First Time Offenders Find New Hope in Philly

June 11, 2018

Nicole Sanchez Ortiz (left) and Shartelle Martinez (right) at the TCY Penn Foster Graduation on June 1, 2018.

For Nicole Sanchez Ortiz, The Choice is Yours diversionary program was her lifeline when she was charged with her first felony offense in June 2017 due to drug activities.

The program, which gives first-time nonviolent offenders the opportunity to complete a high school diploma program, was a way out of a felony offense that would have meant time in prison and the permanent chain of a criminal record that would have lifelong consequences, making it more difficult to find a secure job and advance in a career.

But even so, Sanchez Ortiz was at first skeptical of the program’s benefits.

“When I first entered the program I always had a negative vibe, was always giving people attitude. I wasn’t looking forward to being in the program every day, just sit there and listen to people. But it actually did change my life within months,” she said.

Sitting and watching preparations for the TCY graduation ceremony for her class one day in May, Sanchez Ortiz had tears come to her eyes as she described the impact the TCY program has had on her life.

“They push you to do better. They help you find jobs, get your high school diploma…It’s just an amazing program. And the staff is very supportive,” Sanchez Ortiz said. “They helped me change my whole energy, my whole vibe…I’m a total different person. From where I started to where I’m at now.”

The Choice is Yours (TCY), run by JEVS Human Services, is designed to allow first-time felony offenders of nonviolent crimes to participate in the TCY and Penn Foster diploma completion program instead of serving jail time. All participants were facing prison sentences as first-time drug sellers.

Like Sanchez Ortiz, Shartelle Martinez was convicted of a drug felony. But her now nine-year-old daughter became her reason to continue and pursue a degree through the TCY program.

“She was actually my motivation. To keep pushing and keep forward. In a school way, in the program, to make sure that I could succeed,” Martinez said of her daughter.

Read more about Nicole and Shartelle and how TCY has impacted their lives in this Al Dia article by Emily Neil.

Posted in JEVS Blog JEVS In The News