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Joanna Visser Adjoian, C’04, L’10

Co-Founder and Co-Director at Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project (YSRP)

Philadelphia, PA

Urban Studies Major, Hispanic Studies Minor

With someone trying to rebuild their life after they’ve been away in a carceral setting, whether it’s for a couple of months or decades, we walk alongside people. That’s the language that we use and it’s individualized. It’s not a one-size-fits-all process. It’s working in partnership and saying, “What are your goals? What do you feel like your barriers are going to be when you have the opportunity to come home,” and then supporting them to achieve those goals and to address those barriers.

With someone trying to rebuild their life after they’ve been away in a carceral setting, whether it’s for a couple of months or decades, we walk alongside people.

My co-founder Lauren Fine and I started YSRP five years ago. When we started, it was just Lauren and me and a crew of really energetic, fabulous volunteers from Penn—from the Law School and School of Social Policy and Practice. We were doing everything. We were on the road every day, going to jails, going to juvenile detention, going to family member’s homes, sitting on front porches and at kitchen tables and living rooms, doing the work of developing the life history narratives that we submit to court, spending time in court with the young people and their families, having board meetings and fundraising, supervising volunteers—soup to nuts. At this point, now that we’ve been able to hire staff and concretize our operations more, I spend a little bit more time in the office supporting the work of our amazing team and supervising, in particular, the re-entry side of our work, which is led by two individuals with lived experience.

There’s so much work to do. We’re at this really pivotal moment in criminal justice reform locally, but also nationally, and with all of the energy and fire in the belly that we feel around this work, it can sometimes be difficult to not over commit and under deliver. A mentor said to me years ago, as a guidepost, don’t do that. I really try to stick to that as much as possible. It’s much harder some days than others, but knowing that if you’re going to work with integrity and make sure that what you’re committing to is honest and true and has value, you don’t overextend yourself, because people’s lives are on the line. September 18, 2019 • Photo by Brooke Sietinsons