Starting Over: The Maria Stancati Story - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Starting Over: The Maria Stancati Story

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Twin sisters, both teachers, arrested after a meth lab they operated in their home, caught fire.

One is still in jail.

The other is working to turn things around.

You may remember the story of Michelle and Maria Stancati. In 2008, both their lives were turned upside-down.

Now out of jail, Maria sat down with FOX 28's Amanda Tetlak to talk about her journey back.

Maria Stancati was sentenced to 20 years probation with the Indiana Department of Corrections.

Now, she's a free woman.

She's not just working to get her life back in order, but also helping others with similar stories, do the same.

"I'd never been in trouble and it's awful," says Maria Stancati about her arrest in 2008.

She adds, "That was probably the worst time of my life. It was humbling. It was awful. People don't treat you like you're human."

Her life - the career as a Special Education English teacher at Elkhart Memorial, a job she truly loved - in ruins.

"You put it away. You miss it, but it hurts too bad," says Stancati about her teaching job.

Fast forward four years and you barely recognize her.

Wearing what she describes as her "Lucille Ball" outfit, to the office at Goodwill, where she's quickly become part of the team.

Maria could spend time dwelling on her past.

Instead, she's looking forward.

Amanda Tetlak asks, "Was it just not an option to go back?" Maria says, "No. No. No. It's not an option. Not at all."

She spends time volunteering at Dismas House, where she lived for more than a year after she was released from jail.

At Goodwill she runs a program that helps felons find work.

A task she says is not easy, "A lot of people don't have job history. A lot of people come out of incarceration and don't have job history and people aren't giving them a chance."

Her work doesn't end there.

She started the North Central Indiana Business Advisory Council in March.

It brings employers, probation officers, halfway houses and other groups who work with felons, together.

Randy Maxwell is one of those employers.

He works at Centerplate, which does all the catering at the Century Center in South Bend.

He's on board with hiring folks looking for a second chance.

"It's been good for us as a business. It really has been, to embrace these ideas and to bring people to work who are ready to work and capable of work, just not in the workforce," says Maxwell.

It costs $25,000 a year to house one inmate, and members of the NCIBAC like the Prosecutor's Office Child Support Division say getting people with a criminal history back to work can help end a vicious cycle.

"If the jobs aren't available, they may re-offend or go into the underground economy," says Ethan McKinney with the St. Joseph County Prosecutor's Office Child Support Division.

He adds, "They may also commit new crimes and become a problem for society."

And that's exactly why Maria is so passionate about networking, and rounding up more businesses that will agree to hire felons.

"Let's break the cycle. The only way to break the cycle is to help and to help is to hire someone," says Maria.

Maria is still on probation until 2029, which she says feels like forever.

She meets once a month with her probation officer.

A judge will take a look at her case again in 2015, so her sentence could be modified.

If you'd like to get involved, or learn more, The North Central Indiana Business Advisory Council is holding a panel discussion on giving felons a 2nd chance on Monday, November 19th at the St. Joseph County Public Library from 5:30-7pm.

Email Maria at mstancati@goodwill-ni.org for more information.

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