RIDOC Probation and Parole Officer Jovina Vales was at her desk in the Adult Probation and Parole office in the Urban League building on Prairie Street in Providence when she got a phone call from Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s office that made her day and changed her life. After attending an Election Day event at the Providence Biltmore, Ms. Vales had contacted Kennedy’s office to inquire about getting tickets to the presidential inauguration only to be told she’d be added to the waiting list. Just one week prior to the big event, however, she learned that her name had risen to the top of the list and two tickets would be available for her if she could use them.
Ms. Vales and her best friend, who had resigned themselves to watching the inauguration on television together, were able to find a hotel in Alexandria, Va., about 25 minutes from the event. After clearing the time off with her supervisor (she was still in her probationary period having joined the RIDOC in October), Ms. Vales and her friend drove down to Virginia in excited anticipation. Tickets had to be picked up on Monday, and the two waited in a line with people from all over the country from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. just to claim theirs.
They awoke at 4 a.m. on the 20th, Inauguration Day, only to find the Metro so “packed” there were no seats at their stop. Ms. Vales calls it a “great experience” to see strangers helping each other and feeling upbeat about the day ahead. One elderly gentleman was feeling faint due to the heat on the train, and others were fanning him and offering up their seats. A Providence resident, she bumped into someone else from Rhode Island on the Metro and they had a nice chat and shared their excitement for being a part of such a historic day. Not long after they arrived at their destination, the Metro was shut down due to the crowds.
Ms. Vales and her friend had to report to the “silver gate area” and says people were “so pressed together we didn’t even feel the cold!” The line was unbelievably long, but people were patient and upbeat. A list was posted of what could and couldn’t be brought in, and security was “unbelievable.” They finally arrived at their destination about 11 a.m. having cleared the metal detector. “You almost didn’t know what you had just been through,” she notes, “because it was such a great experience. I didn’t see any fights – nothing crazy,” she says, marveling that with such huge crowds things went so smoothly.
At the time of her memorable DC trip, Ms. Vales was working with parolees in Providence. A former DCYF caseworker, she has since switched to a generic probation caseload in the Woonsocket Adult Probation and Parole Office. Asked how the inauguration experience overlaps with her work, Ms. Vales notes, “We stress the importance of voting with our clients, so it did come up in my report sessions, and my parolees were interested and excited that I was going.” President Obama’s references in his speech to personal responsibility and accountability had a special impact on her because of her work. “Those are things we regularly talk to our probationers and parolees about.”
Ms. Vales and her friend, tired but energized by their excitement, left Washington D.C. by 3 p.m. at the conclusion of the day’s events, and she was back to work on Wednesday. Her colleagues and clients were happy for her that she was able to be part of history, and over a month later, she still beams while sharing photos and talking about the trip. It’s not an experience she’ll ever forget.