Posts tagged ‘Temple University’

STUDENTS PROVE INMATES’ INNOCENCE

This article originally appeared at The Temple News on Oct. 20, 2009.

Through the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, students help prove Pennsylvania inmates not guilty.

Students receive letters from inmates who feel their cases should be investigated as part of the Innocence Project. Since April, Temple has received more than 1,000 letters.

Theresa Giamanco looked at the looping script scrawled on several sheets of yellow notepad paper – so many sheets that it must have taken the author hours to write by hand.

“You can tell people put a lot of time in hoping to get our attention,” Giamanco, a third-year law student, said. As part of a clinical studies requirement at Temple’s Beasley School of Law, she works at the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, housed by Temple in an office of the University Services Building.

The project may be modest in size, staff and budget, though its mission is anything but. It works to free innocent people wrongfully convicted of crimes, currently serving lengthy sentences in Pennsylvania prisons. The project relies on students to provide most of the manpower.

“It’s surprising how much the inmates know about the law,” third-year Temple law student Mary Hoang said. “Some of the stuff they point out, like certain procedures and case law, are things that I don’t even remember. They know it all so much better than us because it’s their life.”

Inmates must seek out the Innocence Project for help by sending a letter stating how they are innocent. Students read each letter, deciding which qualify for the next step. On any given day, a 6-inch stack of letters can sit on a shelf, waiting to be read.

“[Since April], we heard from over 1,000 inmates, and 500 cases are under further consideration,” Legal Director and Innocence Project Adviser Marissa Boyers Bluestine said.

The project only works with inmates who are factually innocent. Third-year law student Stephen Rudman said he likes working on the first stage the most.

“That’s what this is all about,” Rudman said. “It’s you and a letter … is it possible he didn’t do it?”
Cases also have to be in Pennsylvania and past the appeals process. Inmates must be serving lengthy sentences for robbery, rape or homicides.

If the case meets those requirements, it moves to the second and third stages, which require more investigative work. Inmates send all the information pertaining to the case and fill out questionnaires.
“I’m always shocked at the trial transcripts,” third-year Villanova law student Maureen Belluscio said, pointing to a court transcript she was reading. Notes lined the margins.

“We got transcripts from an inmate, and his notes are on the side as to what he’s thinking,” Belluscio said. “It’s interesting to see cases … from this view.”

In stage three, students build a case for the inmate’s innocence.

“Stage three is the gritty stuff,” third-year Temple law student Noor Taj said. “You get to pretend you’re an investigator, and you start unraveling the case. It’s kind of fun.”

Students enjoy the hands-on approach, which gives them the opportunity to handle several cases in a variety of stages. The downside is that students don’t get to see one case from start to finish.

“The time frame is kind of annoying because there’s little we can do in four months,” Rudman said. “In the case I’m working on, we’re doing a Post-Conviction Relief Act, which was filed in May 2005, and it’s still in the initial stages. It’s a very complicated case.”

His case involves a death-row inmate, a mistrial, a jailhouse snitch, a police sketch that “looks nothing like him” and neighbors who identified someone else as the perpetrator, Rudman said.

In comparison to his peers, third-year Villanova law student Russell Williams got to experience a thrilling part of the Innocence Project – exoneration.

Last summer, Williams interned at the Connecticut Innocence Project. In August, inmate Kenneth Ireland was absolved for rape and murder after serving 21 years in prison. It furthered his interest in the project and criminal defense law.

“As soon as it popped up at Temple, I knew I absolutely wanted to do it,” Williams said.

Interning at the Innocence Project is part of an elective class that fulfills law students’ clinical studies requirement. The class is also open to Villanova law students like Williams and Belluscio.

Students don’t have to be in the class or in law school to intern.

“We can always use more volunteers,” Bluestine said. “We get 100 letters per week. We have a lot of work to do.”

Non-law students work only in stage one, reviewing inmates’ letters because stage two and three require more specialized training, Bluestine said. She encourages law and journalism students to volunteer because they have the training to take on more responsibility.

No matter what stage students are working on, though, they’re guaranteed to learn a lot about the process of the U.S. criminal justice system and how people are mistreated within it.

“Every time I hear an inmate’s story it’s usually a case of bad lawyering,” Taj said. “How many times the same person can be let down is very upsetting.”

Rudman described a trip to a prison in Graterford, Pa., where the class spoke to inmates who claimed they were innocent. He was surprised that the inmates whose stories were more believable were less vocal about their innocence.

“They don’t talk about it,” he said. “People shut down when they’re getting blocked at every step for 20 years.”

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Oct 20, 2009 at 8:26 pm Leave a comment

NO DISCRIMINATION in HIRING of EX-CONS

This article originally appeared at The Temple News on Sept. 29, 2009.

Hiring ex-offenders gets Philly businesses a tax break, but Temple has no specific policy.

According to a recent study, 40,000 ex-convicts from federal, state and local prisons come to Philadelphia each year. One-third of them reside in the areas surrounding Temple.

Buzz surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles has revolved primarily around the team’s new quarterback, ex-convict Michael Vick, after he signed in August. What many Philadelphians aren’t hearing, though, is that the franchise was offered a tax break, as any company would, by the city’s Mayor’s Office for the Re-entry of Ex-Offenders.

The Eagles turned down the tax break, which MORE grants to encourage companies to hire ex-felons in an effort to reduce repeat incarceration.

Vick’s situation represents a larger issue surrounding employment opportunities for those released from prison.

While Temple doesn’t have a specific hiring policy for ex-offenders, the university does not discriminate, said Ray Betzner, assistant vice president of university communications.

“We do have programs that hire as many local residents as we can,” Betzner said. “That’s very important to us, and we’ve been making great strides.”

Temple’s Community Outreach and Hiring Program targets eight communities surrounding Main Campus to provide employment and career development opportunities. In 2006, 102 local residents were hired from these communities.

Temple officials involved with the hiring of employees at the university – Harry Young, associate vice president of employment, and William Hart, director of community outreach and hiring – did not return requests for comment on the university’s hiring of ex-offenders.

A 2007 report by two University of Pennsylvania professors found that 40,000 ex-cons from federal, state and local prisons come to the city per year.

Wayne Welsh, a Temple criminal justice professor, said one in four men in Philadelphia have been or are currently under some kind of criminal justice supervision.

“There are so many ex-offenders running around in the poorest communities in Philly,” Welsh said. “Chances are, we’re coming into contact with a number of ex-offenders everyday…whether at Temple or the bus stop.”

In 2005, one-third of offenders returning to Philadelphia lived in neighborhoods around Temple, including Fairhill, North Central, Hartranft and Strawberry Mansion, the UPenn report said.

Yet few services target this population. In Fairhill, there are seven organizations that provide services to ex-offenders for the 1,101 ex-prisoners who returned in 2005.

According to the report, 63 percent of ex-offenders are arrested for a felony, serious misdemeanor or parole violation within three years of release. Statistically, 47 percent of these will be re-convicted, and 41 percent will return to prison.

With the number of inmates skyrocketing in recent years – Philadelphia Prison System numbers doubled to 8,000 from 1985 to 2005, Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison decided to implement a Re-entry Task Force last spring.

Welsh is part of the new task force.

“The problem is we have all these different agencies, and they all do different things,” Welsh said. “The basic mission is to develop a strategic plan, to bring together all these different agencies in a somewhat cohesive way.”

Welsh said the task force will begin by taking inventory. Then, they’ll try to fill in the gaps with existing resources. Members of the task force hope to receive funding from the federal government’s Second Chance program, he said.

Universities in Philadelphia can play a large role in data organization and, like Temple, have the opportunity to employ high numbers of ex-offenders, but they aren’t the only ones.

Currently in Philadelphia, “there’s some strong support for doing a better job on re-entry,” Welsh said. He knows it won’t be easy, he said, but he remains optimistic.

“There are many other employees in the city and region who could potentially hire large numbers of ex-offenders, if they could be convinced ex-offenders have the skills or potential skills to be good, productive employees.”

Sep 29, 2009 at 8:19 pm Leave a comment

STUDENTS for ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION PUSH for CLEAN ENERGY POLICIES

This article was originally posted at The Temple News on Nov. 28, 2006.

 

Since the Center for Sustainable Communities was established at Ambler Campus in 2000, Ambler’s reputation for environment work on campus and in the community quickly grew.

Now, some students and faculty members said they think it’s time for Main Campus to follow in Ambler’s ecological footprints.

Main Campus’s Students for Environmental Action group is trying to change Temple’s energy policies and educate students about the environment any way they can, even if it means getting attention in seemingly silly ways.

On Oct. 27, in the midst of an array of Homecoming events, SEA had a table set up in the lobby of the Student Center. While posters, loud music and flyers that they handed out on previous days all drew students’ attention, the fight that the group staged between two students dressed as a windmill and smokestack was the group’s most conspicuous ploy to attract students to their cause.

SEA’s commitment to its message makes the group stand out, according to junior political science major and SEA student government representative, Andrew Kelser.

“I went to a meeting and realized the group was about more than just recycling or some small scale project,” Kelser said.

SEA is the antithesis of “doing nothing” on environmental issues, rather, the organization’s goals are “very ambitious,” according to SEA’s president, Laura Stein. Stein said the club’s ultimate goal is to get Temple to commit to zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. A short-term goal is to convince Temple to purchase at least 15 percent wind power by the end of this semester.

These goals are linked to the Campus Climate Challenge, a national environmental challenge for universities’ student organizations that Temple is participating in. This challenge was designed by the Environmental Action Coalition, a partnership founded in 2004 and comprised of over 30 environmental and youth organizations in the United States and Canada, including Greenpeace and the National Wildlife Federation.

 

The main goal of the challenge is adoption of a 100 percent clean air policy, meaning that each university does not use any energy source that pollutes the air.

One of the advantages to being registered as part of the Challenge is the resources that are available to participating student organizations, Stein said. One of these resources is the Sierra Student Coalition, which works directly with many university student organizations, including Temple’s.

Kim Teplitzky, a former Temple student, works with SEA and the Sierra Student Coalition, helping the club with recruitment methods and their energy proposals.

“I’m not organizing [schools’] campaigns,” Teplitzky said. “But with my past experience at Temple, I can really help them avoid the common pitfalls that I ran into.”

According to Robert Mason, an urban and geography studies professor at Temple, one of these common pitfalls may be keeping students’ interest in the club’s goals. About five years ago the club had made a strong push for wind energy, but the enthusiasm eventually evaporated.

“The club was really sputtering,” Mason said. “But students’ energy now has really picked up.”

Currently, SEA has its highest membership ever with 30 active members and 200 people on its listserv. Many of the club’s members are not environmental studies students.

Kelser said he has noticed that students are very eager and receptive to the goals of the club.

“I think SEA will continue to grow because global warming affects everyone eventually,” he said. “Our goals will affect everyone.”

Though student involvement is increasing, the group said that the participation of Temple’s administration is uncertain. Kurt Bresser, the energy manager at Temple, declined to comment, though the group said that they and Bresser have recently begun talking about energy policies.

In Pennsylvania, 33 schools, including the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, have committed to using some percentage of wind power.

Most students and professors within the environmental studies department or SEA said that they think interest among students won’t be going away anytime soon.

“There is a lot of popular attention to environmental issues now because of general news coverage and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,” Mason said. “This is a window of opportunity for Temple to promote itself as an ecological and environmentally responsible institution.”

Nov 28, 2006 at 10:53 pm Leave a comment

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING

… dedicated, ambitious or just plain crazy – early risers and late-nighters are living their lives with little or no sleep.

 

 

 

The life of a college student – late nights, late classes and sleeping-in. Or maybe not. Here are a few students who challenge the sleep-a-holic stereotype, proving that some students do more in the wee hours of the night than most people do all day.

THE POSITIVE DOER

“I joke with my friends that I do more before the sun comes up than my friends do all day,” said Madie Northrop, a sophomore recreational management major and member of the women’s crew team. Because women’s crew has two seasons, 5:45 a.m. practices last all-year long, Monday through Friday. Team members can sleep in on Saturday, but only a little. Practices begin at 6:30 a.m.

Northrop said there is one positive about the team’s practice times. Kelly Drive is practically empty; she can sleep later and drive faster to practice. One can imagine how tired the members of the team must be when that 10:30 p.m. curfew rolls around.

So how can anyone wake up at 4 a.m. when the only light in sight is emitted
from the alarm clock? According to Northrop, it’s all about positive thinking.

“Of course I’m tired mentally during the day,” she said. “But you push through it. A lot of sports call it ‘breaking through the wall.’ It’s a part of it.”

And there’s more motivation than that. If one practice is missed, the team has to run the stairs of Wachman Hall – all 12 flights. And if that’s not enough, there’s more inspiration. “Having a gold medal around my neck makes it all worth it,” Northrop said.

THE LIFE OF THE PARTY

Weekend or not, most college students love to party. But while few feel pity for the hung-over kid who fails the test in his 8:40 a.m. class, perhaps we should start to feel sympathy for those whose job it is to keep those party animals happy.

Meet Jordan Poole, a junior film and media arts major by day and ‘DJ Royale’ by night. He spends at least three nights a week mixing the songs you dance to at various bars in Center City, house and fraternity parties. While the bar crowd is safe at home on the couch, Poole is still packing up his DJ equipment, waiting for his money and then a cab.

“By the time I get home,” Poole said, “it’s three o’clock at the earliest.” Sometimes he returns home even later when he works fraternity or house parties. Though Poole makes sure he finishes his homework early and said he usually gets enough sleep on a nightly basis, he admits that he eventually ends up feeling worn out. So how does he stay awake during classes, and more importantly, keep his energy up while he’s at work?

He remembers who he is playing for. “I hope for a good turnout. I hope people dance. If not, it makes the night so much longer,” he said. “If the crowd is into it ? I can go from being tired to pumped up.”

But his night doesn’t end when the music stops.One night, Poole came home around 4 a.m. only to find people on his stoop blasting music. “I tried to go to sleep, but I ended up going outside and hanging out until 6 or 7 in the morning,” Poole said.

THE ROCKY PROTEGE

The sun is just rising. The roads are empty. A peaceful stillness fills the South Philly streets. The only sound comes from his shoes springing off the pavement. If this were a scene straight out of “Rocky,” Matt Makowski is playing Sylvester Stallone’s double.

Makowski, a junior film and media arts major, trains at 7 a.m., six days a week at Philly’s Mixed Martial Arts Academy, located at 1321 Jupiter St. His training, which usually lasts between one and three hours, includes running, jumping rope, shadowboxing, sprints, sparring and boxing with pads.

Makowski has been kickboxing for two years and has since learned the sacrifices that come with being the best. Sometimes he said he feels like he is missing out on parties, especially since can’t afford to be hung over on Saturday mornings. After he finishes sparring on weekdays, he fights to stay awake in class. Sleep is easy for Makowski, but it’s also the enemy.

Sometimes Makowski unconsciously beats his alarm clock to death in the middle of the night. “I’ll wake up after it was supposed to go off and I don’t remember turning it off,” he said while boasting that he manages to wake up no more than half an hour later. “I guess I have a good internal clock, and that wakes me up.”

THE TECH-Y

The TECH Center isn’t the most romantic location for a marriage proposal. But late one night, Adrian Sierkowski was one of a handful of students to witness the scene.

“She said no, but in a very logical way,” Sierkowski said. “She didn’t want it to happen in the TECH Center.” Sierkowski, a junior film and media arts major, is a TECH Center student employee, who works every Thursday night from 11:30 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Sierkowski’s late-night shift actually begins around 9:30 p.m., when he first grabs something to eat once he finishes classes.

“I figured I would just work straight after class, rather than going home and coming right back,” he said.

In order to stay awake and prevent death by boredom during his shift, Sierkowski watches seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy” and other shows on the computers, obsessively checks his MySpace page and drinks about five cups of coffee per night.

At about 6 a.m. the aimless meandering begins. “I can’t fall asleep if I’m walking around,” Sierkowski said. It’s how he keeps himself occupied, until the number of people in the TECH Center begins to multiply.

“People ask me questions and that sort of keeps me awake,” he said. One may expect the shift to get boring, but the night shift is anything but. “The weirdest stuff happens during the overnight shift,” Sierkowski said.

Proposals at 4 a.m., people falling asleep while they work, police escorting
a homeless man away and a group of girls watching gay porn in a conference room, just to name a few. But the strangest occurrence is due to nature.

“Every night at 4 a.m. these birds start flying into everything – buildings, trees, parked cars,” Sierkowski said.

“And then they land on the street and stop moving. It’s so surreal. It’s dead silent and nobody’s around.”

So what could possess any student to work the night shift at the TECH Center? The $14 per hour pay rate? The strange incidents that occur? Try something else.

“Sometimes I’m stopped in the street during the day by students who recognize me,” Sierkowski said. “They say, ‘Hey, you work at the TECH Center and you helped me finish my project at 4 a.m.!'” It seems a little appreciation can go a long way or, more accurately, a long night.

Nov 14, 2006 at 10:34 pm Leave a comment


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