The Board asked for support letters, two of which they preferred would come from former students of mine. I asked Victor Avelino (not his real name) to compose such a letter. Victor’s completed several ABLE MINDS courses and in fact now assists in the Wednesday night course. With his permission granted, here’s what he had to say:
My name is Victor Avelino and I have participated in several ABLE MINDS classes and currently serve as the instructor’s assistant. In each class I attend, I observe the interaction between Mr. Mongelli and his students.
In this environment where trust and confidentiality are key components of our everyday lives, it is difficult even for one inmate to ask another inmate to open up and share without their defenses going up. I have recognized that Mr. Mongelli has built a trust with his classes. He is able to entertain discussions on a level that the men here can relate to, without making them feel inferior, ashamed, oe even at times like a prisoner.
It is easy for men in our position to shut down and keep their personal lives to themselves. However, during the classes Mr. Mongelli conducts, many of the men become invested in his conversations so that they’re able to contribute and share about their life experiences.
In addition to his work as Librarian and instructor, Mr. Mongelli also lends an ear to those who need someone to talk to. Being in prison, it is hard to talk to people be they prisoner or staff. At times, the loss of a loved one is difficult to discuss, as well as depression or anger issues. Mr. Mongelli extends the courtesy of active listening to many men here, and many have taken him up o his offer.
I pray this letter is helpful in your decision to award Norfolk the grant to begin a therapy course using humor. I am positive that the men here will benefit greatly by this therapeutic class.
Prisoners at Norfolk respond to new programs and new program ideas, and enthusiastically support proposals and concepts that bring a fresh approach to the rehabilitative effort. Victor puts his money where his mouth is. He is a recent Boston University graduate, and has achievement certificates from several dozen programs. This effort supports how he has attempted to address the underlying causes of his criminal thinking.
A further note — as I type these words, Victor has little hope of ever seeing the street again. He saw the need to change, put in the work to change, and continues to monitor his thoughts and behavior. He wanted to become a better man, and he has succeeded. To be sure, his changed attitude is based on a chance, however slim, that one day he may be released. But he knows that the change begins in jail — his crucible of changed character — for those wise enough to accept the challenge.