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After a troubled past, three Boston-area men get new lease on life

Graduate Michael McNeill shook hands with Mayor Martin Walsh during the Operation Exit “Renew” graduation at the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston.
Graduate Michael McNeill shook hands with Mayor Martin Walsh during the Operation Exit “Renew” graduation at the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston.(Jeremiah Robinson/Mayor’s office)

James Glover, Michael McNeill, and Carlos Barrientos made a special appearance in court Thursday morning.

After serving time in federal prison, the three men participated in RENEW, a new pilot initiative that aims to help former inmates learn job skills so they can earn an honest paycheck. For four months, they did all kinds of maintenance work — including painting and refurbishing furniture — and got a new outlook on life in the process. On Thursday, they received certificates from the mayor of Boston for completing the program.

When Glover, 40, walked into John Joseph Moakley Courthouse with his 4-year-old son, they were all smiles. Together they went up to the seventh floor to Courtroom 19 for the special recognition ceremony.

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Speaking to a crowd that included Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross, Chief US District Judge Patti B. Saris, Supervising US Probation Officer Jeffrey Smith, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross, and Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, Glover spoke about his troubled past.

“I hated the government,” Glover said.

But when he came home from prison and participated in the RENEW program, he started thinking differently. He realized that the police, probation officers, and prosecutors weren’t out to get him.

“They were so nice to me,” Glover said. “I was shocked.”

Glover is now working toward getting his CDL license, and he’s determined to make a better life for his son. “I never want him to live the life that I lived,” he said.

RENEW, an acronym that stands for Release, Engage, Network, Employ, Win, is part of Operation Exit, a program that Walsh launched in 2014 to prepare at-risk residents for new careers.

When Walsh spoke at the recognition ceremony, he brought up his own personal struggles with alcoholism. He also congratulated Glover, McNeill, and Barrientos, who had all been convicted of drug trafficking, for participating in the program and presented each of them with a certificate.

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Walsh then looked out to the other people sitting in the courtroom and addressed the family members and relatives who were attending the ceremony.

“They might have caused a lot of aggravation in your life, but they’re pioneers,” he said.

“Today is about coming full circle,” he said. “It’s about second chances.”

McNeill, 46, said he went into the program with one goal: a paycheck. But he ended up gaining more than he’d ever expected.

For him, it was “an opportunity to learn new skills that I can go on to use the rest of my life,” he said.

His children also got see him leave the house in work clothes and go to his job. That was something they never got to see before.

“I truly appreciate it,” he said.

Senior US District Judge Mark L. Wolf also spoke at the ceremony and recalled how he once sentenced McNeill. Wolf praised McNeill for moving forward in a positive direction.

“What you’ve accomplished to date is really impressive,” he said. “It can be very dispiriting to be a federal judge. There aren’t many happy occasions in the courthouse. This is very rare.”


Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.