By Stephen Montemayor
The usual faces met her gaze inside the same federal courtroom in St. Paul where she pleaded guilty to fraud and drug charges just four years ago.
There was the judge who sentenced her, cloaked in his black robe. The veteran prosecutor who has charged many others just like her, joined by an attorney from the federal defender’s office. The probation officer who kept close watch since her release from a halfway house last year also sat nearby.
But this summer morning hearing was different for Moneer, a 34-year-old now living in Hudson, Wis., signaled by the slices of sheet cake making the rounds to mark her graduation from an intensive and unusual re-entry court program.
“I was riding the fence when I got out of prison,” she told the group. “I had one foot on the street, one foot on wanting to do right.”
Now, Moneer is the 12th person to graduate from Minnesota’s 18-month federal re-entry program, which is in its third year after the federal bench opted recently to keep it running beyond its first two years of experimental pilot status. Doing away with the adversarial trappings of typical court proceedings, officials from across the federal criminal justice system volunteer their time to sit around the same table with offenders deemed most at risk of tripping up again after incarceration.