STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- When a 17-year-old convicted of drug possession sits down for the first time with Probation Officer Sheree Goode in her Bay Street office, waves of defiance, fear and rage can fill the room.
The teen has been expelled from school, fired from his job, spent time in jail, faced a judge and is about to begin a three-year sentence of probation.
"By the time they get to us [the city Department of Probation], they are broken, tired and worn-out. They feel no one is listening and knows what they're going through," Goode says. "I try to take the person down to 'Where did you come from? Where did it go wrong?'"
"I'm a work in progress. I don't think I've reached my greatest accomplishment yet, so I will continue to challenge myself."
Blending empathy and patience with a tough-love technique and a deep belief in the potential of every client assigned to her, Goode starts breaking down walls, peeling away the anger and shame -- rebooting a life, as she likes to describe it.
"I believe in change," says the 18-year veteran. "I believe people can change."
Each probation case begins with a PSI, a pre-sentence investigation summary of the crime and the offender's background prepared by the Probation Department.
"I admit, I don't read it. I want to meet the person first," not the person based on a report, Goode says. "I don't want to be tarnished by someone else's interpretation, someone else's opinion. I want to know who they are and what's going on and ask, 'How can we get you back on track?'"
"A person should not be labeled or put in a box because of their worst possible moment," she continues in a firm voice that belies her conviction. "We should look at the person as a whole" and realize just one bad choice may have gotten them there.
"Sometimes these people have been successful all along" until an error in judgment lands them in trouble with the law. "Instead of going to the right, they went to the left."
That error could be DWI, gambling, domestic violence or violation of a restraining order.
"These are people in our community," she points out to reduce the stigma. "They are family members, church members. It could be someone you know - a pastor, the barber, the store owner down the street."
Tapping into an array of city services, Goode arranges mental health counseling, drug rehabilitation, GED classes, even food and clothing for each client in her case load.
She dresses down on the job to blend in and neutralize the situation with all clients, especially the reluctant ones. She wants to be seen not as a threat, but as a conduit to recovery and success.
MANY SUPPORTIVE PARTNERS
As part of the Probation Department's Neighborhood Opportunity Network -- or NeOn - Goode spends one day a week at Daytop/Samaritan Village treatment center in Mariners Harbor, a Probation Department partner. She works closely with Daytop director Dr. Phyllis Cureton - "Dr. Phyll," as Goode likes to call her - to provide services to probation clients dealing with addiction.
NeOn is a network of community organizations, government agencies, local businesses and community volunteers connecting probation clients who live in target neighborhoods to opportunities, resources and services.
Goode is all too familiar with the drug scourge on Staten Island, her home since the age of 2. Drugs are a contributing factor in many of the cases she sees. She is passionate about using her position to connect addicts and their families to life-changing resources.
"It's a war on Staten Island; we're under siege," she declares about the drug epidemic. "And it's not just young people. We see people in their 50s falling out. It's a horror."
She praises the work of Island treatment programs like Daytop and grassroots groups like Addiction Angel, founded by Alicia Palermo-Reddy. "She's a warrior. I've been watching her and tracking her and she's doing a phenomenal job" raising awareness, Goode says.
PEACE OF MIND
To keep the stress of her job in check, Goode heads for the shoreline at least twice a week, even in winter. South Beach is her favorite spot.
"I look at the water, the view of the (Verrazano) Bridge. I listen to the gulls. I relax my mind," she says. Then she walks the boardwalk - "a Staten Island pearl" - taking deep breaths to clear mind, body and soul.
"You have to know how to let stuff out, clear your head."
Statuesque and athletic with a silky complexion framed by shoulder-length auburn hair, the 51-year-old traces her Staten Island roots to her maternal grandfather, who was a dock worker at the St. George Ferry terminal.
City service runs in the family. Her late father, Berkeley, was an NYPD detective. Her mother, Dolores, is a retired paralegal for the city Housing Authority.
"They taught me compassion, they taught me about humankind," she says with gratitude.
Born in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn and raised in Mariners Harbor, Sheree Lynette Goode attended PS 44 in that community and Police Officer Rocco Laurie Intermediate School in New Springville. She won an academic scholarship to Notre Dame Academy (NDA) High School, Grymes Hill, graduating in 1982.
She smiles when she remembers an NDA teacher who had a profound impact.
"Sister Peggy Doyle. She mentored me. She walked and jogged with me in Silver Lake Park. She was a positive, healthy influence with a passion for reading, literacy, education."
Goode earned a bachelor of science degree in sociology/psychology with an emphasis in criminal justice from Wagner College, where she dormed in Harbor View Hall for a year.
"Room 1314. Fabulous view," she recalls quickly.
She received a master's degree in administration the following year from the former Audrey Cohen College for Human Services, graduating with a GPA of 3.987.
She worked her way through both degrees, managing several residential facilities run by the New York Archdiocese, including a group home in Port Richmond. She joined the Probation Department in 1999.
These days, the Elm Park resident dreams about adding a doctorate to her CV; she even has a topic chosen for the dissertation - prison reform. Time and expense keep that dream on hold for now.
COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY
Proud to be a Staten Islander, Goode likes to acknowledge the borough's natural resources and community spirit.
She is first vice president and criminal justice chairperson of the Staten Island NAACP branch, supporting its contributions to the national platforms of environment, equality for women and advocacy for the LGBT community.
"The NAACP is my heart and soul," Goode says. "It fights for justice and equality here and abroad."
She serves on the board of the Sandy Ground Historical Society and has been busy co-chairing an exhibit of quilts that opens March 20.
"Embroidery Ancestry" will feature pieces created by the Sandy Ground Quilters that depict the history of the oldest continuously inhabited free black settlement in the United States and their own family histories.
Goode is also active in 49 Strong, a North Shore coalition that sponsors anti-violence initiatives, fatherhood mentoring, mediation, wellness services and art programs in at-risk neighborhoods.
"Everybody has more in common than out of common," she says, referring to Staten Island's diversity. "We're all here in the same fish tank. What happens on Grymes Hill impacts Elm Park and Tottenville. We are one Island."
She acknowledges the Island's shortcomings - "pet peeves," as she labels them. But they are calls to action rather than complaints.
More tradesman jobs should go to Staten Islanders and people of color on Staten Island projects like The Wheel in St. George, Goode says emphatically. And more maritime development should be a priority to stimulate local jobs and the local economy.
"We've got people right here on Staten Island who will do their best work here because it's their community."
She'd like to see Cromwell Center in Tompkinsville replaced to give youth on the North Shore another place to go at night. The center, built in 1936, partially collapsed in 2010 and was demolished in 2013.
Goode has a knack for seeing Staten Island's big picture, much like a member of the City Council or State Assembly, and doesn't back away when asked if a run for office might be part of her plans after retirement from the Probation Department.
"I have talked about it," she admits coyly.
"But I'll just be happy being retired, volunteering when I want to, and going back to the boardwalk as often as I can."