During the month of October, Regians Will Liao ’22 and Francesco Agnello '24, along with the support of Director of Social Justice Initiatives Mr. Marselys Lucero, organized a schoolwide supply drive for formerly incarcerated individuals pursuing higher education. Previously detained at Rikers Island, the scholars now reside at the Ignacio House of Studies in the Bronx, and the drive helped provide much needed clothing, toiletries, and food to these students as they continue their scholastic pursuits.
When asked what motivated him to pursue the supply drive at Regis, Liao reflected on his close experiences with people impacted by the prison system. “My friend Dante spent 3½ years in Attica for gun possession – but this isn’t the only thing that defines him. He’s also a regular customer at my parent’s health food store, a son, a dad, and the person who taught me everything I know about protein supplements since he’s an avid weightlifter like me,” shared Liao. “The residents of Ignacio House likewise aren’t defined solely by why they went to jail but also by their goals and dreams as returning citizens.”
The Ignacio House of Studies is overseen by Thrive for Life, a non-profit organization providing educational, professional, and spiritual resources to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated persons in New York and New Jersey. Guided by the Jesuit tradition and the Universal Apostolic Preference of “Walking with the Excluded,” Thrive for Life is rooted in creating a network of support for those at the margins of society, easing their transitions out of prison and giving them the tools needed to find success and independence.
“Student leadership and empowerment is one of the goals of Campus Ministry, so I was thrilled that Will and Francesco took over this initiative,” said Lucero. “Not only were Will and Francesco instrumental, but another Regian, alum Vincenzo Guido ’16, has been involved with Thrive for Life for the past few years and brought the potential of a supply drive to my attention. I think all three of them are a testament to what we expect at Regis, both while attending and after graduation.”
Regis’s partnership with and service to Rikers Island has extended beyond this year’s supply drive. Five years ago, Principal Fr. Anthony D. Andreassi, CO formed Regis at Rikers, which prior to the pandemic brought Regis juniors and seniors annually to the prison to meet with inmates. Students over the years have been able to participate in conversations and competitive sports at Rikers, allowing them to develop solidarity with the incarcerated and begin advocating for just reforms to the prison system. Earlier this May, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Vincent Schiraldi ’77 as Commissioner of the Department of Correction.
“I led this drive in hopes that it will ultimately lead to a supper-book club where the Ignacio and Regis communities can exchange stories,” said Liao. “Dante reinforced a key lesson Regis taught me – we become better people when we listen to everyone with an open mind.”