It was nearly 20 years ago when Rebecca Bowman-Rivas, MSW ’99, LCSW-C, then a second-year intern at Patuxent Institution, met a young man in a therapy group. He had been sentenced to adult prison for life at the age of 17. Before Bowman-Rivas completed her internship, he made a request.
The man said, “Please tell the people out there that it’s not like they think. We’re not animals in here. We’re real people. I never forgot him and what he said to me and ever since then I’ve been trying very hard to do just as he asked.”
Bowman-Rivas, now a professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and manager of the law school’s Law & Social Work Services Program, recounted her meeting with her “first lifer,” as the keynote speaker at the University of Maryland School of Social Work’s 11th Annual Homecoming March 3.
More than 100 alumni filled the school’s auditorium to hear Bowman-Rivas’ talk entitled, “Forensic Social Work: Adding the Human Connection to Conflict.” She discussed her career as a forensic social worker and her involvement as social work supervisor of the law school’s “Unger Project,” which provides release planning and post-conviction case management for individuals who served 30 to 50–plus years in prison.
A forensic social worker throughout her career, Bowman-Rivas worked primarily with the homeless before attending graduate school.
“I had to meet my clients where they were, whether it was in court, in jail or under a bridge,” she said, noting many of these same clients ended up in the criminal justice system. “Lucky me, my path led me to prison.”
The morning also included a panel discussing disparities in incarceration and challenges facing forensic social workers, public defenders and attorneys in private practice who represent inmates in post-release.
Members of the panel included: Terri Collins, LCSW-C, social work manager, Office of the Public Defender; Veronica Cruz, MSW ’06, LCSW-C, chief executive officer of Cruz and Associates; Becky Kling Feldman, JD, acting deputy public defender, Office of the Public Defender; and Lori James-Townes, MSW ’91, LCSW-C, director of social work, leadership and program development, Office of the Public Defender. Wendy Shaia, EdD, MSW '01, clinical assistant professor and executive director of the Social Work Community Outreach Service, a School of Social Work program that implements the Community Schools Initiative, served as moderator.
The event also included a luncheon followed by an alumni awards ceremony. The following were named 2017 Alumni Award Winners:
- Katrina L. Balovienkov, MSW, ’07, Alumni of the Year;
- Eloise A. Bridges, PhD ’83, Emeritus Award;
- Pam J. Canova, MSW ’01, Field Instructor of the Year;
- Eliseba Osore, MSW ’12, Outstanding Recent Graduate; and
- Bethany A. Yates, Outstanding Student of the Year
Afternoon breakout sessions included discussions led by Nadine Finigan-Car, PhD, research assistant professor, and director of the Prevention of Adolescent Risk Initiative in the Ruth Young Center for Families and Children at the School of Social Work, speaking on human trafficking; Adam Schneider, MSW ’09, program director at The Institute for Innovation & Implementation at the School of Social Work, and Lauren Siegel, MSW ’84, adjunct faculty member, speaking on homelessness and mental health; Kendra Van de Water, MSW ’16, program associate at the National Prison Rape Elimination Act Resource Center, speaking on racial injustice and the school-to-prison pipeline; and UMB Forensic Social Work Fellow Angela Aloi, MSW ’15, LGSW, Bowman-Rivas, Walter Lomax, director of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative, Joanie Shreve, MSW ’13, LGSW, social worker, Office of the Public Defender, and UMB Forensic Social Work Fellow Elizabeth Smith, MSW ’13, LGSW, speaking on “Smart Decarceration- Highlights from the Unger Project.”