Justina Pelletier and the Harvard Web of Empire

iIn a letter sent to Brad Jones, the Minority Leader in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, a “reunification plan” ostensibly intended to reunite Justina Pelletier with her parents was announced today by Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services John W. Polanowicz.

For the benefit of those not following closely, Polanowicz recently met with Rev. Mahoney and Justina’s sister Jennifer to hammer out the details of reunifying the family.

“This reunification plan has been in development for several weeks. It is similar to the plan previously put forward by Justina Pelletier’s attorney, and contains elements discussed during meetings between myself, the Reverend Patrick Mahoney and Justina’s sister Jennifer,” the letter says. As for the terms of the reunification plan, the letter explains:

As we have previously shared, DCF will support returning custody of Justina to her parents once they have engaged in the plan’s basic conditions. Those conditions are:

1. Attend visits with Justina at the Susan Wayne Center for Excellence

2. Follow through with the Tufts Medical Center care plan

3. Participate in family therapy

4. Meet with DCF to review progress

The letter continues on to explain: “By court order, DCF at this time retains custody of Justina. As you know, only the Juvenile Court has the authority to determine when and if custody should be returned.”

Let’s dispense with the more obvious question first to get it out of the way. It’s suddenly OK for the Pelletier family to take their daughter to Tufts now that DCF has said so? But it’s more than just OK, you see. It’s now mandated. It is a maddening inconsistency, I know, but don’t allow that to distract your attention from the more important issues.


One may well imagine that an entity that goes by the name of the Justice Resource Institute may have something to do with the dispensation of justice. You know – one of those worthy institutions other than the ACLU that acts to uphold civil rights. There are some such worthy organizations out there, seeking to reform prison and foster care conditions, advocating for the elderly, among endeavoring to address some other social injustices.

That was certainly my first impression when I visited the Justice Resource Institute’s web site. But I’ve learned never to judge a book by its cover.

Arden O’Conner

As it turns out, the Justice Resource Institute is the registered owner of the Susan Wayne Center for Excellence in Thompson, Connecticut, where Justina is mandated to go according to her plan.

The registered principal of this so-called “institute,” according to the Connecticut Secretary of State, is one Arden O’Conner, with the owner’s primary place of business being listed as O’Connor Prof. Group, 65 Sprague St, West Lobby Building B, Boston, Massachusetts.

The residential placement in Connecticut is actually owned by someone stationed in Boston. Imagine that. But it gets much better than that. According to her self-provided biography on the O’Conner Group’s web site:

Arden O’Connor graduated from Harvard College and started a non-profit called Rediscovery Inc., dedicated to serving adolescents transitioning out of the foster care system (www.rediscoveryhouse.org). Substance use, behavioral issues and mental illness were rampant within the population served by Rediscovery Inc. and Arden developed innovative partnerships within the community to ensure that her clients received high quality treatment. Over the course of ten years, Rediscovery Inc. has served over 400 clients, employed 25 individuals and has grown to a $2 million dollar budget, through a combination of state and private funding.

A $2 million dollar budget, and 25 employees. That’s not bad at all. But then we have come to expect success from people who have managed to receive their MBA from Harvard Business School.

While at Harvard, she “focused in Healthcare and researched access to high quality behavioral health services on the East Coast.” According to her bio:

In 2011, Arden founded O’Connor Professional Group to address the needs of families and individuals struggling with an array of behavioral health issues. As a family member of several people in recovery, Arden is passionate about helping families and individuals navigate the highly fragmented treatment system in a way that can help create positive outcomes and allow families to heal.

She remains heavily involved in community activities, as a member of Winsor School Corporation, and board member of the following: Harvard Business School Alumni Board of Boston, Victory Programs and Justice Resource Institute. She previously served as a Board member of the Harvard Club of Boston.

Arden’s biography at Rediscovery fills in a few gaps:

Arden founded Rediscovery in 2001. After a year of fundraising, she opened a six bed group home in 2002 and quickly expanded it to 12 beds. Rediscovery has increased its programming over the years and now includes the Group Home, YouthHarbors, Independent Living, Stepping Out, Clinical Program, Alternative Education program, and Alumni Aftercare Program. In 2005, Arden stepped down as CEO and took a seat on Rediscovery’s Board of Directors. In 2011, after Rediscovery’s merge with the Justice Resource Institute, Arden took a seat on JRI’s Board of Directors.

There have been a few times over the years when I have tried to discuss the interconnectedness of it all with some family advocates, but I’m afraid that I may have alienated a few people along the way because it sounds so, well, conspiratorial in its nature.1

Is it any secret that people make “connections” at Harvard and other Ivy League colleges? Is it a secret that people in any particular industry employ lobbyists, attend trade shows, exchange business cards, and work to forge community and political alliances? Folks, this is not Jesse Ventura’s Conspiracy Theory. This is Economics 101. The business of America is business.2

The crucial point that must be understood is that the field of human services – which broadly speaking includes everything to do with social work, therapy, psychiatry, and family intervention – is an industry not unlike any other. The sole and singular advantage that it has over any other industry is that it enshrouds itself in a masquerade of benevolent intent.

Unlike a purchase of house or car insurance, where you have some options from which to choose, this industry foists itself on what it refers to as its “clients” just as it foisted itself into the lives of this family. Its modus operandi is best described as one of striking like lightning out of a clear blue sky, and latching onto your leg like a rabid pit bull – even as you watch your children carried out the door shrieking for your help.

And, believe me when I say this, Linda Pelletier is not the only woman to have fainted in a courtroom as a judge most unjustly adjudicated her as unfit. “It isn’t so much like having the carpet pulled out from underneath you, as it is feeling the gallows door dropping out from under your feet,” is how one mother explained the sensation to me.

Like many people in her situation, she entered the courtroom believing that the truth would ultimately prevail. But the man wearing the black robe saw to it that she’d never see her children again. “I did every damn thing they wanted me to, and then some. Then they turned around and said I was non-compliant,” she explained. I had a strong sense as I spoke with her that her outrage insulated her from the agony of her continued grieving.

Returning once again to the Web of Empire, as it turns out, the Susan Wayne Center is itself part of a larger network of JRI-operated foster care, trauma centers, and residential care facilities that spans at least four states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

According to the company’s web site:

JRI works in partnership with individuals, families, communities and government to address their shared challenges in a comprehensive, coordinated, systematic, and effective manner.

Justice Resource Institute (JRI) encompasses a broad range of specialized schools and unique programs through which we strive to serve the needs of unserved individuals, families, and communities. JRI’s growth and success are a measure of all the successes achieved by those it touches.

In his letter detailing the Pelletier’s reunification plan, Polanowicz wrote:

I have personally spoken with JRI’s CEO Andy Pond and he is looking forward to meeting the Pelletiers soon to discuss the treatment plan and the path towards reunification. JRI is a therapeutic education provider that has a long history of working closely with families in difficult circumstances with the goal of reunification.

In case you were wondering, JRI’s CEO Andy Pond graduated from Boston University. He does, however, have over 500+ “connections” listed in his LinkedIn profile. I’d say that’s rather well connected, indeed, at least for a Boston U graduate.

Oh, yes. Pond’s summary on LinkedIn: “President and CEO of JRI. Member of Board of Trustees. Responsible for entire operation of agency, including both internal management and external outreach.”

Regardless of what the Pelletier family chooses to do at this point, they will remain ensnared in the web of empire. Their only hope of disentangling themselves from that web completely would be to continue to defy it completely, however that’s a very risky gambit, even with strong legal assistance and the public watching closely.


1. Notwithstanding the conspiratorial sound of it all, as a practical matter the existence of a civil conspiracy is at the very heart of a civil rights lawsuit under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act.

2. President Calvin Coolidge actually said, “the chief business of the American people is business,” however that is a minor distinction.