Retired New York Supreme Court Judge Milton A. Tingling looked out at the crowd gathered in The Doe Fund’s Harlem cafeteria. “The fact that you’re here means you don’t want to go back to prison—that you’re trying to better yourself,” he said.
This was the empowering message throughout the Second Chance Forum, presented on Tuesday, July 24th at The Doe Fund’s Harlem Center for Opportunity. The event brought together over 200 members of the public and Ready, Willing & Able trainees to hear from an expert panel about finding success after incarceration.
Hosted in partnership with NY State Assemblymember Inez E. Dickens and moderated by Judge Althea Drysdale, the panel featured judges, lawyers, and advocates. Felipe Vargas, Vice President of Programs, represented The Doe Fund. The discussion detailed crucial resources available to people with conviction histories to help them overcome barriers to housing, education, and employment.
The discussion largely focused on practical tools, recently-passed laws, and other free resources available to formerly incarcerated individuals. These included Certificates of Good Relief, Certificates of Good Conduct, Criminal Record Sealing, and NY State Voting Rights for Ex-offenders.
Experts walked through details on eligibility and application requirements for each, answering questions and dispensing advice.
“The Certificate of Relief is not a golden key—it’s not going to remove every barrier—but it enhances everything that you’re trying to do to turn your life around. If you don’t get it for yourself, get it for your family. Your siblings. Your kids,” Judge Tingling advised.
Attorney Xavier Donaldson encouraged attendees to take advantage of free legal resources. “Yes, you can submit these applications on your own. But there are free legal services who will do this for you—use those resources.”
Panelists at the Second Chance Forum included Judge Milton A. Tingling (Retired NYS Supreme Court), Xavier Donaldson (Donaldson Chilliest & McDaniel), Ayanna Sorett (Manhattan District Attorney’s Office), Jeanette Rucker (Bronx District Attorney’s Office), Seth Steed (Neighborhood Defenders Service), Felipe Vargas (Vice President of Programs, The Doe Fund), and Kate Goldstein Wagner (Legal Action Center). New York Attorney General Cyrus Vance addressed the crowd, as did George McDonald, Founder and President of The Doe Fund.
The event was co-sponsored by Congressman Adriano Espaillat, State Senator Brian Benjamin, State Assemblymember Al Taylor, State Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa, and New York City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez.
“Every person in this room has a bright future ahead of them—one that is not defined by the mistakes of the past, but by your commitment to move forward,” George McDonald told the crowd. “We are here today to support you, and to help you get there.”
View more photos from the Second Chance Forum. To learn more about future events hosted by The Doe Fund, including informational events on finding success after incarceration, sign up to receive email updates from The Doe Fund.