‘You need to do the right thing’ EACH participant's account
“I was scared. Like, I'm never getting out of here,” Sedale said of his stay at the Hampden County Jail.
As he detailed his experiences, he thought back to advice he was given during his time in incarceration.
“He was like, ‘you're going to get out and when you get out, you're probably going to get an opportunity. But, you need to do the right thing with that opportunity,’” Sedale said.
The advice came from a senior detainee that took the 23-year-old under his wing while he was at the jail in Ludlow. And it would factor heavily into Sedale’s decision to undertake the Emerging Adult Court of Hope (EACH) program.
That opportunity came when Hampden County District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni looked at Sedale’s police report and spoke to those that knew him. Like with all the participants on the EACH program, Gulluni needed to be sure Sedale wouldn’t squander this chance, should he be offered it.
Sedale (I am using participants’ first names only due to the nature of the program) gives the impression of a passionate and creative person. He has an interest in video and music. He played recordings to me from his phone in his studio apartment. His own compositions, he records them at a studio in Holyoke on the weekends.
In August 2019, Sedale and another of the EACH program participants, Antonio were arrested by Springfield police after they broke into a house on Maple Street looking for marijuana.
“Where’s the stuff? Where's the weed?” the resident reported them both saying as they stormed into their home while also holding a sword.
“I have this gun with five bullets in it,” one of them reportedly said. Although the police report didn’t state which of the two is quoted.
According to the police report, Sedale and Antonio ran off before the police arrived but a neighbor reported to the officers at the scene they were in the brush behind the buildings not far from the break-in.
The black clothes, the gun and a 2-foot sword were recovered and both men were taken to the Springfield Police Department.
Looking back at the incident with the benefit of hindsight, Sedale sees that he was foolish. But at the time, he relayed to me, it wasn’t that crazy. Acts like this became “normalized” in the community he was living in.
He had a good job at the Western Massachusetts-based Friendly Ice Cream Corporation in Wilbraham, owned a car and was in a relationship. He said that on the outside there was no need to try and steal, apart from trying to live up to a version of success.
He said that seeing music artists on social media that have nice cars, clothes and seemingly nice lives impacted him.
“It's fabricated,” Sedale said.
He described an environment where “bad is good and good is bad” and anyone who thinks differently is “lame” or “just old.”
It took being arrested and being sent to jail for Sedale to realize that the direction he was going would only end in one place.
“I might look cool to my friends, but I'm really failing in life,” Sedale realized.
Lisa, a licensed practical nurse, felt something wasn’t right in her son’s life. She felt Sedale was mixing with the wrong people.
“He was working full time. He was doing what he should do, but something in me felt like something wasn't right,” Lisa said.
She and Sedale had just moved into a new apartment in Chicopee. She left for work as he was just coming in from a night shift at Friendly’s. When she got to work she had an uneasy feeling — possibly her mother’s intuition telling her that all is not right with Sedale, she mused.
“My mom's like, ‘have you spoken to your son,’” Lisa recounted of the conversation and remembered looking at her phone and seeing missed calls from a Springfield number.
“He got arrested,” Lisa remembers her mother telling her.
Lisa started to shake and felt the blood drain from her face. Immediately, she went to the Springfield Police Department Headquarters on Pearl Street.
She couldn’t understand why he would make this life choice. At the time Sedale earned more money than she did.
The police mugshot and report of the incident started to show in the news. Lisa at the time hadn’t set up the TV and was alerted when friends called her asking if the reports were true and if it was Sedale being accused of the home invasion.
“I felt humiliated,” Lisa said, tearful at the memory as she relayed the experience. “Because when people see that, they’re like ‘oh good, they got those guys,’ but they don't know my son the way I know him.”
At the hearing at the Hampden County District Court, Lisa had not yet been able to speak to Sedale. She saw him enter the courtroom with a look of shame across his face.
“It broke my heart. He had his head down and he just looked over at me,” said Lisa. “When they said how much the bail was, he hung his head. Because I guess, a part of him felt that it was unaffordable for us.”
Lisa took half of her paycheck to the court in the hope that she would be able to post bail for her son. When the bail was set at $5,000, both Lisa and her son knew it was unobtainable.
“It was hard. It was hard to leave,” she said, retelling the story made her voice tremble and tears roll down her cheek. “Because it felt like I was leaving my baby there.”
Sedale told MassLive that he had made peace with the fact that he would have to serve time in jail.
What affected him the most was seeing how hurt his mother was.
“I just feel like if he had more of the father figure involved, then maybe things would have been a little different,” Lisa said after a moment composing herself. “But I know that I did the best I can.”
Sedale’s biological father lives in New York and as he was growing up he would only see him once a year in the summer. For awhile, a stepfather was in the picture. As Sedale spoke of his stepdad a deep admiration was palpable.
“He was like a chameleon,” Sedale recalled with veneration. “People would call him the ‘chameleon’ because he could literally blend in with any group of people or crowd. No matter what situation, if he was around people he would just talk about rap, or hip hop all day.”
However, the relationship with Sedale’s mother didn’t work out and his stepfather” moved to Florida when Sedale was 20 years old.
“When he left it certainly had an impact on me,” Sedale confided. “My mom had to struggle by herself.”
He told MassLive it was difficult for his mom to support the family after his stepfather was out of the picture and he took it upon himself to get a job to contribute financially.
“I had to work to help my mom,” said Sedale. “Not even just for me to enjoy money, just to help her until she got on her feet.”
Sedale was taken into the program in February 2020, along with Antonio after making an impression on Gulluni and the then-District Court Judge Maureen E. Walsh who presided over the participant's regular check-ins.
Each week, Walsh will listen to the progress of David, Timothy, Antonio, Sedale, Jah and Dyree who are required to come to the Hampden County District Court, room 5 each Thursday.
Jah eventually dropped out of the program at the beginning of 2021.
He and his friend were pulled over by police in December 2019. He was verbally abusive and punched an officer. Jah was subsequently taken to the police station on Pearl Street and charged, according to the police report.
Jah told MassLive that he wouldn’t be facing jail time for the charges against him and that the program wasn’t the right fit. To leave the program for Jah is very different due to the smaller charges against him than it would be for the others, according to Gulluni.
Early on, Sedale was able to get a job through an employment agency, United Personnel working the night shift at Cartamundi in East Longmeadow. He worked in the factory making products for Hasbro.
However, work at the factory dried up in December 2020, and Sedale was temporarily let go but will be starting up again in January 2021.
With being laid off came another set of challenges. He wouldn’t be earning the money he was before and that worried Sedale.
The EACH program lasts for at least 18 months, and longer for some depending on the charges.
The program is divided into four phases: Phase one is engagement and assessment. Phase two is stability and accountability. Phase three is individual service plan. And Phase four is transition.
Roca is a partially taxpayer-funded, non-profit program established specifically to steer young men away from violence. The word is Spanish for “rock.” All of the participants of the EACH program are enrolled at the non-profit.
Roca’s model utilizes cognitive-behavioral theory to teach young people skills that hope to stand them in good stead for a life away from crime and help them develop the work ethic that can make them successful in a career. Ultimately, that is the point of the EACH program for the young adults participating, finding careers not just a job.
While Sedale was working for Cartamundi as a temp, he would show up at Roca tired and actually fell asleep during an activity. Sometimes he would be late for a shift at the factory because he overslept, or was too tired.
The problem came when he missed multiple appointments at Roca. When it comes to the EACH program, there can be very little leeway. Sedale agreed to the program and also agreed that if he broke the rules, he would go back to jail to serve the rest of his sentence and his spot would be given to someone else.
In February 2021, Sedale had been offered his former job at Cartamundi working the night shift again. However, phase two of the EACH program is about stability and accountability. The DA, Assistant District Attorney Katherine McMahon, Walsh and the Director of Roca in Springfield and Holyoke Christine Judd, all felt that working night shifts at the factory wouldn’t be the best option for him at that time.
All participants will have a slightly different program that follows the structure of the four phases, depending on their individual needs and what is seen as a benefit to them. They are required to attend Roca as part of the program.
Sedale was told to complete 45 days with Roca work crews, called the Transitional Employment Program. The work is tough and often working out in the elements while landscaping, or painting properties.
“I’m not meant for this work,” Sedale said.
He continued to say that since he was 17 years old, “I’ve always worked night shifts” and that waking up at 7 a.m. each morning to work for the crews at Roca was becoming a challenge.
“There's been outbursts. Nothing violent, but they lose their cool sometimes. And you know, Sedale in particular has had those issues cause he's an emotional kid, nothing wrong with it. He's just a little more emotional than the average guy,” said Gulluni. And it's like, that's not going to help you. It's not going to help a situation, whether it's with an emotional relationship partner or whether it's with someone involved in the program.”
In addition to the change in work patterns, the money he earned through Roca wasn’t enough. He said that they pay $13.50 per hour and if there is no work for him when he arrives at Roca and he is sent home, he will miss a day’s income. He was able to earn much more than that at Cartamundi.
“I don’t even have money to help my family,” Sedale stated to Walsh in Hampden District County courtroom 5 on Feb. 4, 2020. “At the moment, I can’t even help myself.”
Sedale was called before Walsh to hear him out after missing multiple Roca appointments. Walsh stated that nothing in life is black or white, it’s always somewhere in the gray.
Walsh was receptive to his concerns and asked Sedale if the program could ease his financial burdens during the 45 days if that would help.
He replied that although the money was important, it’s also the type of work he was expected to do. He said that he thought the program was supposed to help him find a career.
Exasperated at the feeling of “powerlessness,” he said that he didn’t want to become a laborer.
“Trust the program, trust the process,” said Gulluni. “We have heard those complaints rather commonly that, ‘hey, I don't want to do the TEP.’ But we realized that these young people are really starting from zero. They don't have those sort of muscles exercised to get up every morning at 6 a.m., to be somewhere on time to be productive for six or seven or eight hours a day.”
Gulluni went on to state that the process is intentional in terms of the arc of the program.
“We understand that picking up trash on the side of the road or cleaning up a park in Springfield or Holyoke is not ultimately where we want these young people to be. That's not the future. We see more for them,” said Gulluni. “However, we have to establish that pattern for them. To get up every day and work, to understand that they have to be at work on time. They have to be productive. They have to do that five days a week. They can't talk back to a supervisor or can't take a two-hour lunch, or walk off a job site and expect to have a job tomorrow. So, instead of doing that at an employer, we're doing that with Roca.”
Roca has seen success in its model. In 2020, 85% of the young men enrolled at Roca had a police record with violent offenses, but four out of five stop once they become engaged with the organization.
Sedale eventually did complete the 45 days asked of him and took away a positive encounter.
Mike Roper, a supervisor with Roca worked the landscaping detail with Sedale and told MassLive that he was a quick learner.
Roper, who has spent time at a federal prison, knows how difficult it can be to get a job and change the direction in life if a person has a criminal record.
He was lucky enough to find an employer after prison. Not everyone is so lucky, he confided to MassLive.
He joined Roca two months ago after leaving his job as a coffee roaster. The coffee company moved out of state during the pandemic and he told MassLive he is thankful for the opportunity he was offered at Roca.
“Having to go to Roca daily, at 7 a.m. every day for work,” said Sedale. “I'm not used to that. This transitional employment is more for people that have no job experience. I have job experience, but since it was me having to comply with the program, I have to still do 40 days of transition. So it's not nothing."
He went on to say how the work was laborious and difficult at first, but soon he was able to function and started to enjoy it. Roper and Sedale worked together and formed a friendship that Roper hopes to maintain, along with others that have been in the program.
Roper told MassLive that those that come to Roca have lives not unlike his. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the friends that they have and make a mistake that will negatively affect them for the rest of their lives.
Because of Roper’s past, the Roca youth respect him and he wants to show that they don’t have to be condemned to their criminal records or past, but can change for the better.
It’s not easy, Roper told MassLive, but it is the only way to have a future.
“Freedom is more important than quick money,” Roper affirmed.
Now over the initial stages and in phase three of the program, Sedale is looking to find a career.
On Monday, he went for an interview at a factory in Ludlow. Although factory work is not a career for him, he is still trying to work out what he wants to do long-term.
He said that he is feeling confident that he will get the position in Ludlow with the help of Roca.
Music is an area he is looking at pursuing. Very aware that it is a difficult industry, he is dedicated to the art.
Each Saturday he heads to the home of Logan Greaney to record in the studio set up in the basement in Holyoke.
Vocal artist Justin “Hippy J” Paulino works with Sedale to create music that they hope will become a source of income and stability for them both.
Much of the lyrics in the recordings written by Sedale are based on his life experiences. It’s a passion that Sedale has only worked on since he was released from jail.
The duo have already released one album and are in the process of their second.
For Sedale, jail seems like a long time ago and the work he has put into the program is paying off.
The advice from the detainee at the jail in Ludlow echoes in his mind from time to time and keeps his goal on a clean future.
The mistakes Sedale and Antonio made are in the past, they say. And they are both determined to keep them there.