People Entering Workforce After Jail Share Success Stories

Shondra Coleman shares her story concerning how NJ Reentry helped her reintegrate into the workforce. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  TOMS RIVER – A packed room of officials and community leaders gathered to witness the grand opening of NJ Reentry Corporation’s 24 Main Street location. While two former governors and the Ocean County Prosecutor addressed the crowd, the most impactful statements came from those not necessarily accustomed to the spotlight.

  Among them was Rob Carter, the program’s Director of Operations, whose story underscored NJ Reentry’s vital role in transforming lives.

  Carter spoke candidly about the struggles of reintegrating into society after nine felony convictions and battling a severe addiction. Released from prison over 17 years ago, he didn’t have a support system like the one now offered by NJ Reentry.

Rob Carter, the program’s Director of Operations, shares his story of entering the workforce after his legal issues. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Instead, Carter faced the uphill battle of trying to live as what he called a “normal” person – staying clean and finding a job. He admitted there were many times he just wanted to give up on the struggles he encountered.

  “I stumbled, and it took me ten years to finally find my path,” Carter said. “I lost a lot of friends who hit those same stumbling blocks but weren’t able to push through.”

  As a leader within the NJ Reentry program, Carter treasures his role in helping others dismantle the roadblocks he encountered. He sees it as offering a fresh start for those who have served their time and envision a renewed future.

  Shondra Coleman, a 51-year-old from Toms River, attributed her current employment at a military base to NJ Reentry’s assistance.

  Sentenced to three years on a bank fraud charge, Coleman became eligible for early release after ten months because of the NJ CARES Act and COVID-19. Despite initial challenges, including being on an ankle monitor upon release, Coleman was determined to work.

  “I didn’t want to sit home on a bracelet. I wanted to be productive,” she shared emotionally.

  A disabled veteran with an impressive resume – flight attendant, corporate experience, and 16 years in real estate, Coleman faced a harsh reality. Job offers vanished after background checks, leaving her feeling defeated.

Eric Swain completed a vocational program to be a welder. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Coleman credited NJ Reentry for guiding her through the employment obstacles and encouraging her as she navigated the challenges.

  “They even helped me go to school, to reinvent myself,” Coleman said. “I got my CDL, and I graduated a day before I got my ankle monitor off – in October 2023.”

  Eric Swain, 43, of Toms River, agreed with the importance of learning new skills post-release. A year ago, Swain sought assistance from NJ Reentry and was directed to the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS).

  “They paid for me to go to school at Ocean County Vo-Tech,” Swain said. “I did a 2–3-month program and got certified as a welder. I wouldn’t have been able to pay for it on my own.”

  Currently undergoing physical and written tests to qualify as a union member, Swain anticipates gaining access to steady employment soon.

  Facing legal troubles since the age of 14 for drug charges and other offenses, Swain remains optimistic about the future. He expressed confidence in NJ Reentry’s ongoing support in overcoming challenges stemming from his past.

  Toms River resident Janine Stefanelli, 41, is living proof that second chances are possible. NJ Reentry helped her get back on her feet and fostered a supportive network that empowered her to build a fulfilling life.

  Stefanelli’s journey began in 2016 when she faced incarceration due to drug charges. “I’m a recovering addict now,” she said, reflecting on the years since. “It’s been quite a few years.”

  An unexpected connection emerged during her initial work with NJ Reentry. While crafting her resume, she discovered she shared a college alma mater with Toms River Facility Director Brian McGillivray. They didn’t know each other before – but have formed a tight bond.

  Stefanelli said she faced severe consequences, including losing her daughter. Even though she’d worked as a manager for a long time, no one would hire her because of her criminal record.

Janine Stefanelli explains her challenges of taking her life back. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  However, Stefanelli persevered. She returned to NJ Reentry, this time with a renewed determination. “This time, I was serious,” she emphasized. “I wanted my life back. Everything.”

  The impact of NJ Reentry goes beyond practical support. Stefanelli said that the people in the program became her family, accepted her despite her relapses, and offered encouragement. She’s proud to have started her own business doing house cleaning and house construction cleanup.

  As one of the premier faces assisting ex-offenders, McGillivray’s name comes up frequently among program participants. He takes great pride in helping others start their lives over – no matter how many times. McGillivray’s also enjoying his new office inside the bank vault previously located at NJ Reentry’s new location.

  And, while he has never experienced the challenges some of his clients have faced, he knows someone who has. Although McGillivray didn’t realize it when he first began working for NJ Reentry in 2018, his biological father was incarcerated at some point in his life.

  “Everyone needs a second chance,” said former Governor James McGreevey. “When we first developed NJ Reentry, we were focusing on persons coming home from prison as well as veterans.”

  However, McGreevey credited former Governor Chris Christie’s leadership for playing a crucial role in expanding its reach. Christie recognized the severity of the opioid crisis, particularly the surge in heroin and the subsequent rise of fentanyl. He saw a particular need in Ocean County, which had become an epicenter of the crisis

  The program includes a commitment to providing individuals with access to detoxification, residential treatment, intensive outpatient programs, and medication-assisted treatments (MAT).

  No medication-assisted treatments are provided on-site at the NJ-Reentry location.

  The late Thomas F. Kelaher, a former Toms River mayor, deputy attorney general, and Ocean County Prosecutor, also played a pivotal role in establishing the NJ Reentry program in Ocean County. McGreevey fondly recalled how Kelaher wrote the first check for the program’s permit.

Former Governor Chris Christie discusses NJ Reentry, flanked by former Governor Jim McGreevey and Ocean County Prosecutor Brad Billhimer. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  Speaking on behalf of Kelaher’s family, Dan Mahoney reflected on his late friend’s unwavering commitment, reminiscing about their shared time at the prosecutor’s office.

  “If I could sum up the essence of Tom Kelaher, it would be to be a man for others,” Mahoney said. “Do what’s right always, even when nobody’s looking.”

  Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer emphasized his office’s partnership with NJ Reentry, expressing a dedication to improving outcomes for residents.

  “We are aware of the collateral damage that incarceration brings, and we approach every case with the duty to serve and protect the victims of crime,” said Billheimer. “But also, to be aware of those collateral consequences to those that are incarcerated.”

  A former criminal defense attorney, Billheimer, cited challenges faced by those released from jail or prison, which many take for granted.

  “Maybe they didn’t have an ID or transportation,” Billheimer shared. “Finding out you have fines in other jurisdictions that don’t let you restore your driver’s licenses… More complicated issues like housing, family members passing away while you’re incarcerated, substance abuse disorder, obviously all of those things.”

Outside NJ Reentry Corporation’s 24 Main Street address. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  NJ Reentry has nine other locations within the state and Christie said it was great to watch the center open in Ocean County.

  “When I first supported it, I said to the governor (McGreevey) that we can’t just be in North Jersey,” said Christie. “We just can’t be in urban counties – because these problems are everywhere.”

  In addition to acknowledging Kelaher’s role in bringing NJ Reentry to Ocean County, Christie also recognized George Gilmore, the chairman of the Ocean County GOP.

  “In things that were important to Ocean County,” Christie said. “He always reminded me when I was governor that we had to make sure that everyone who had challenges, problems, issues – no matter where they were located in the state – needed attention paid to those problems.”

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Stephanie A. Faughnan is an award-winning journalist associated with Micromedia Publications/Jersey Shore Online and the director of Writefully Inspired. Recognized with two Excellence in Journalism awards by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, Stephanie's passion lies in using the power of words to effect positive change. Her achievements include a first-place award in the Best News Series Print category for the impactful piece, "The Plight Of Residents Displaced By Government Land Purchase," and a second-place honor for the Best Arts and Entertainment Coverage category, specifically for "Albert Music Hall Delivers Exciting Line-Up For 25th Anniversary Show." Stephanie can be contacted by email at