Recognizing Artemis Anninos: A Pillars of Change Honoree

Artemis is a 2018 Pillars of Change honoree.

It’s National Volunteer Recognition Week! Every day this week we’ll be highlighting a Sanctuary volunteer who will be honored at our Pillars of Change Volunteer Recognition Event on May 10th. Learn More and Register for Pillars of Change.

Artemis Anninos first heard of Sanctuary in 1991, when her roommate from college began working as a case worker.

“I was inspired by the dedication, commitment and compassion of the people who work at Sanctuary and the courage and resilience of the clients.”

A little over two decades later, Artemis took on a Sanctuary pro bono matter through her firm, Cahill Gordon & Reindel, LLP and has been working on pro bono matters and volunteering with Sanctuary ever since.

Currently, Artemis works as an interview prep volunteer, helping our clients conquer their anxieties about interviewing and developing a script regarding their professional narratives. This can be especially challenging for a group of clients that are working to build up confidence around their suitability for the professional space and careers.

Additionally, Artemis has played an integral role in math tutoring since we started offering it to Economic Empowerment Program (EEP) clients during the Office Operations Workshop (OOW), Sanctuary’s in-house job training program. More recently, she has assisted with high school equivalency (HSE) tutoring with our clients doing OOW and working on obtaining their HSE simultaneously.

“I am proud to be part of a team of volunteers that assist the Sanctuary staff in their mission to improve the future opportunities for Sanctuary clients,” she exclaims.

Artemis’ devotion to her clients and her work is not only evident in their successes, but also in the overall sense of determination and compassion that she exudes. According to her supervisor, Sarah Hayes, Deputy Director of the Economic Empowerment Program:

“Clients look forward to meeting with her and working on areas of knowledge that can bring up feelings of vulnerability – yet, and still, they leave sessions with her feeling good about math and their ability to conquer their challenges.”

Artemis has put in countless hours into helping Sanctuary’s clients. She stands as a “pillar” of consideration and professionalism to clients and staff alike. According to Artemis, all the work is worth it once she sees “the sense of accomplishment and pride in the students when they pass an exam or get a job.”

Pillars of Change is an opportunity to honor extraordinary volunteers like Artemis, who bring knowledge, compassion, and determination to our staff – and hope and opportunity to our clients.

We hope you will join us at Pillars of Change on May 10, 2018 to recognize Artemis and four other incredible volunteers for their service. You can join us at Pillars of Change by registering now!

Sanctuary’s Initiative works to reform Parole Hearing Process

On the morning of Jan. 21, 1993, Niki Rossakis shot and killed her severely abusive

On the morning of Jan. 21, 1993, Niki Rossakis shot and killed her severely abusive husband.  In 2017, after serving over twenty-five years and being denied parole three times despite an impeccable prison record, Niki was finally granted parole—and in the process helped to inspire a movement to help other incarcerated women and to reform the parole process itself.

In early 2017 Niki Rossakis, a Queens native who fatally shot her severely abusive husband in 1993, was scheduled for a new parole hearing after a state appellate court ruled, on November 10, 2016, that the parole board’s decision denying her parole for a third time was “so irrational as to border on impropriety and [was] therefore arbitrarily and capriciously rendered.”  Others may not have taken a second glance at this appellate victory, but to Sanctuary Legal Center Director, Dorchen Leidholdt, and Weil Gotshal Senior Counsel, Richard Rothman, the opinion and the new parole hearing for Niki carried the possibility of becoming monumental.

Nikki Rossakis, 1996.

Niki’s husband, Gary Rossakis, had been severely physically and sexually abusive to her throughout their marriage. In 1993, despite being advised to refrain from sex while she was healing from a medical procedure, Niki’s husband sexually assaulted her and threatened to rape her. Convinced that he was going to kill her, Niki shot and killed her husband with one of the many guns he possessed – guns that he had used to threaten her in the past. Niki was convicted of murder in the second degree and sentenced to 24 years to life. On appeal the sentence was reduced to 15 years to life.

During her time in prison, Niki proved that she was worthy of parole. She completed two associate degrees and multiple rehabilitative programs, obtained intensive trauma-informed therapy, received offers of a job and housing upon release, and achieved the best possible score on her COMPAS Evaluation – which tests one’s inclination to resort to violence, substance abuse, and/or criminal behavior. Even after accomplishing so much, however, Niki was denied parole on three separate occasions in 2009, 2011, and 2013. Each time the parole board asserted that Niki failed to articulate remorse because of her continued assertions that she was a victim of domestic violence. Niki’s hopes of parole seemed to diminish with every passing year.

“THE INITIATIVE”

Help finally arrived in 2016 when Dorchen Leidholdt, Legal Director at Sanctuary for Families, and Richard Rothman, Senior Counsel at Weil Gotshal and Manges LLP, became interested in the case and offered to represent Niki at her next parole hearing. When asked how he became involved, Richard Rothman said it was simply a matter of wanting to help:

“I first heard about Niki Rossakis from Dorchen Leidholdt, who I believe had learned about Niki from the co-chair of Sanctuary’s PBC.  Dorchen called to ask her if she needed representation after having been denied parole three times, and then travelled to the Taconic prison in Bedford, New York, to meet with Niki on a Saturday. Dorchen asked me if I could work on the case with her, and I jumped at the opportunity.”

Earlier that year, an Article 78 petition seeking a new parole hearing had been filed on Niki’s behalf, which Judge Alice Schlesinger approved. In January 2017, with the pro bono representation of Sanctuary and Weil Gotshal, the Parole Board finally granted parole to Niki after more than twenty years in prison. Inspired by their success, Leidholdt and Rothman founded the Initiative for Incarcerated Survivors of Gender Violence with the hopes of improving the parole system for survivors of gender violence.

Dorchen Leidholdt (left), Niki Rossakis (center) and Richrd Rothman (right) at the 2017 Abely Awards.

The Initiative for Incarcerated Survivors of Gender Violence (“the Initiative”) is a collaboration among legal and social services organizations, law firms, advocacy groups, former judges, formerly incarcerated survivors, and other individuals committed to assisting survivors of gender violence currently serving prison time in New York State.

“As a leading advocate and service provider for victims of gender-based violence, Sanctuary is proud to be a founding member and co-chair of the Initiative, and excited to be involved in this critical work.”

Since its founding in 2017, the Initiative has grown into a multi-faceted program, while maintaining its devotion to incarcerated survivors. The Initiative works to achieve three main goals:

(i) To provide representation in matters relating to parole; (ii) Engage in advocacy to improve the justice system’s approach to parole release decisions for incarcerated survivors; and (iii) To provide education and training on issues of gender-based violence for those involved in parole and clemency decision-making. These three main pillars are designed to help survivors like Niki Rossakis get the legal counsel and parole preparation that is needed before their hearings.

WHY IT ALL MATTERS

Although it may seem as though Niki’s case is highly individualized, the reality of the matter is that most incarcerated women have been subjected to physical and sexual abuse during childhood or adulthood.[1] As victims of gender violence, but also as perpetrators of violent crimes, they face a complicated and often misunderstood battle in seeking parole. More times than not, the parole board does not grant parole due to a variety of reasons, which include failure to admit remorse and responsibility, need for rehabilitation, and chances of recidivism. As was illustrated in Niki’s case, the parole board tends to misconstrue identification as a victim as the opposite of remorse. This becomes especially problematic once factors such as the prevalence of PTSD among survivors are introduced. Such realities make gender violence survivors a unique subset of the prison population for whom special assistance, like the Initiative, is essential.

Incarcerated women at the Taconic Facility.

Currently, the Initiative relies on pro bono legal services, which are provided by Davis Polk, Latham & Watkins, Paul Weiss, and Weil Gotshal. Representatives from each of the firms partner with members of the Initiative, who train and mentor the attorneys. Because there is no right to counsel for parole applicants, many individuals eligible for parole prepare for their interview on their own, which, unfortunately, becomes a scary, overwhelming, and sadly unsuccessful endeavor. In order to mitigate this issue, and assist with the training of volunteers and attorneys of the Initiative, Sanctuary has created a Parole Training Manual and a complementary Resource Library, both of which aim to increase awareness and knowledge for the incarcerated subjects of gender violence.

ADVOCACY

In addition to creating change through legal representation, Sanctuary is also working on behalf of incarcerated survivors of gender-based violence by meeting with those involved in the parole and clemency decision-making process. This includes recent meetings with Alphonso David, the Governor’s Counsel, and Tina Stanford, Chairwoman of the Board of Parole, as well as an upcoming training for all of the Parole Board Commissioners. These meetings have resulted in positive outcomes, including expressions of interest and excitement about working with us. We look forward to continuing to partner together with individuals in the Governor’s office and within the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision on matters of parole and clemency.

MAKING IN-ROADS AT TACONIC CORRECTIONAL FACILITY

Exterior of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.

Lastly, Initiative volunteers have reached out to Taconic Correctional Facility to assist in identifying potential clients as well as allowing us to provide parole preparation and gender-based violence training. According to Sanctuary staff and member of the Initiative, meetings with the superintendent at Taconic have gone well. According to Nicole Fidler, Director of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Program,

“We are very fortunate to have the support of Taconic Correctional Facility’s new Superintendent, Tanya Mitchell-Voyd.  She has met with us twice and has encouraged us to engage with both the staff at Taconic and with the women incarcerated at Taconic.  Building partnerships with Correctional Facilities in New York is critical to our ability to effectively serve incarcerated survivors.”

Leidholdt and Sanctuary Clinical Director and Initiative member Laura Fernandez recently conducted a training on gender-based violence for staff at Taconic Correctional Facility.  The Initiative hopes to continue partnering with Taconic to conduct trainings and outreach.

Although there is still a long road ahead, we are confident that our work will soon produce tangible change in not only the parole hearing process, but the lives of those who are have been affected by this complicated and dated process.

[1] In one study of women incarcerated in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, it was found that 82% had been severely physically or sexually abused as children and 93% of women convicted of killing sexual intimates – current or former husbands, boyfriends or girlfriends – had been physically or sexually abused by an intimate.

Recognizing Jason Friedland and Shleppers Moving & Storage: A Pillars of Change Honoree

Jason is a 2018 Pillars of Change honoree.

It’s National Volunteer Recognition Week! Every day this week we’ll be highlighting a Sanctuary volunteer who will be honored at our Pillars of Change Volunteer Recognition Event on May 10th. Learn more and register for Pillars of Change.

Jason Friedland was introduced to Sanctuary in 2015 through Sanctuary Board Member Aliya Sahai. As CEO of Shleppers Moving & Storage, Jason oversees one of the most trusted and well-regarded moving companies in New York City.

Shelppers Moving & Storage is also well-known for their various charitable endeavors, supporting organizations such as United Way, March of Dimes, and the American Diabetes Association.

Aliya was aware of the company’s charitable activities and asked Jason, a close friend, if they could support Sanctuary’s Adopt-a-Family Program with pro bono moving services. Jason explains,

“I find that if you do exactly what Aliya wants you to do, it’s usually the smart choice. Also, I was happy to help.”

The Adopt-a-Family Program matches Sanctuary’s clients with donors who are able to fulfill their holiday ‘wish lists’. Through this program, Sanctuary currently serves over 400 adults and children each year with gifts that provide comfort and enjoyment during a time that can be difficult for many of our clients.

In addition to the Adopt-a-Family Program, Sanctuary also aims to provide each adult and child receiving services with at least one gift at the end of the year. Including the Adopt-a-Family Program, Sanctuary’s holiday giving drives support well over 1,000 individuals each year throughout New York City.

As the program has grown over the past several years, logistical challenges of delivering these gifts to families across four boroughs became apparent. For the past three years, Shleppers Moving & Storage has provided free moving services to seamlessly deliver thousands of gifts across New York City.

Sanctuary would not be able to reach so many clients during the busy holiday season without the support of Shleppers. Their efficiency, professionalism, and care have not gone unnoticed by Emily Lo Bue, Director of Corporate and Volunteer Relations:

“In addition to the logistical benefit of having a pro bono moving company support this program, the crews from Shleppers have consistently made this experience positive, efficient, and much less daunting. The crew members have always been prepared for anything, willing to go above and beyond, and completely respectful and sensitive to our needs.”

For Jason, the reason for participating in this program is simple:

“The more resources Sanctuary has available, the more it can fulfill its mission to help its clients and their children. It feels good to be able to help”

Thanks in no small part to Jason’s steadfast commitment to Sanctuary and the wider community, Shleppers has become an important partner to Sanctuary for Families.

Sanctuary’s staff and clients thank both Jason and his team at Shleppers for their generosity, the impact of which is felt far beyond the holiday season.

We hope you will join us at Pillars of Change on May 10, 2018 to recognize Jason and four other incredible volunteers for their service. You can join us at Pillars of Change by registering now!

Recognizing Yuqing Wang: A Pillars of Change Honoree

Yuqing is a 2018 Pillars of Change honoree.

It’s National Volunteer Recognition Week! Every day this week we’ll be highlighting a Sanctuary volunteer who will be honored at our Pillars of Change Volunteer Recognition Event on May 10th. Learn more and register for Pillars of Change.

As an international student at NYU, Yuqing Wang was curious about life in New York City outside her campus and searched for volunteer opportunities on VolunteerMatch.com where she found Sanctuary for Families.

As a native Mandarin speaker, Yuqing utilizes her language skills as a volunteer interpreter for Sanctuary’s Queens Trafficking Intervention Pro Bono Program (QTIPP). In this role, Yuqing supports Sanctuary staff, pro bono attorneys, and clients every Friday at Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court by providing interpretation for client intakes and screenings.

“Interpretation for our clients is not as simple as translating words from one language to another,” explains Lauren Chung, Administrative Assistant, Anti-Trafficking Initiative.

“Many of the clients within the QTIPP program are vulnerable immigrants from East Asia and it is very difficult for them to recount experiences of abuse and trauma.”

Despite this, Yuqing approaches these intakes with extreme sensitivity and she becomes the client’s voice for the duration of the intake. “I can recall many cases in which a client walked into the office nervous and walked out with a smile on their faces. That’s one of the things I enjoy most about volunteering,” Yuqing explains.

In just over a year of volunteering at Sanctuary, Yuqing has translated for over 60 client intakes, working with over 50 pro bono attorneys from Sanctuary’s law firm partners. As an experienced trauma-sensitive interpreter, Yuqing has also been assisting the Anti-Trafficking Initiative with developing an interpreter training for future volunteers.

Yuqing’s talents have not gone unnoticed by Sanctuary staff:

“We have come to rely on Yuqing’s insightfulness – if there’s an intake that we anticipate will be particularly sensitive, we do our best to have Yuqing interpret for that intake, trusting that her presence will ease the client.”

For Yuqing, volunteering at Sanctuary has been rewarding both personally and professionally. One thing Yuqing did not expect was the relationships she would develop with other people working on the project:

“I met Maggy last year, who is a retired lawyer and we have collaborated many times. She was incredibly kind and was happy to share her experiences with me and give me advice. If not for this volunteer opportunity, I would never have gained this friendship.”

Yuqing always brings the focus of any conversation about her work back to the clients she works with. For Yuqing, the most rewarding part of her work is ‘seeing that someone in difficulty is more relieved after our interview’.

We sincerely thank Yuqing for her compassion, sensitivity, and insight and hope she will continue working with Sanctuary for a long time to come.

We look forward to celebrating Yuqing and four other amazing volunteers at Pillars of Change on May 10, 2018! You can join us at Pillars of Change by registering now. We hope to see you there!