Parole Project reentry specialist Matthew Pineda at his office in downtown Baton Rouge

Meet Parole Project’s New Reentry Specialist — Matthew Pineda

Matthew Pineda has passion to serve, a trait developed as a child growing up in Kenner, Louisiana. In adolescence he was active in his Catholic church and community. He connected easily with others and felt a need to look after those who were more vulnerable. “I always served, every time. I would rather serve than lead,” said Matthew. “I didn’t need any recognition, I didn’t need praise, I just liked to help.”

But life takes unexpected turns. Matthew was 16 years old when some poor choices led to him being in adult court and sentenced to life in prison without the opportunity for parole. In prison he quickly made a conscious decision to use his time productively. Dismissing the idea of hopelessness, he got involved in self-help organizations and education programs, finding a way to keep his head above water. Matthew adopted a philosophy to “build up my portfolio. It might not happen for 20, 30 or more years, but one day I would get my chance to go home and I wanted to be prepared for that opportunity,” he said. “That was my driving force. That ‘one day’ would come and I would have the chance to be a part of society again.”

After 34 and a half years Matthew was granted that chance in June of last year. A Parole Project client, he reconnected with some old friends the day he was released. One of those was Andrew Hundley, Parole Project executive director, who he had known and worked with inside of prison for almost 20 years. When Andrew arrived in prison as a teenager, Matthew was one of the first to reach out to him. “He was one of us,” said Matthew. “He was a juvenile lifer, which was important to me because when I first went in I didn’t have anybody, I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know anything about how to survive in prison.” Pineda’s strong faith, work ethic, and optimism would prove to be profoundly influential on young Hundley, who co-founded Parole Project after he became the first juvenile lifer to be released on parole in 2016.  It was the mark Matthew and others no less deserving a second chance that were left behind made on him, that was the driving force behind Parole Project. 

In this newest chapter of his life the former client is now a reentry specialist, allowing Matthew to continue his pursuit of service. Pineda plays a crucial part in helping the formerly incarcerated adjust to a new world, assisting clients, many who entered prison as children just like him, to get to and from appointments, job interviews, understand technology and consumer skills, and find employment and long-term housing, and just be a mentor. It’s a mission that he takes quite seriously.

“I know I did a terrible thing, and I regret every day of my life what I did and the harm that I caused to people. I’m trying my best to prove to them that I’m not a hopeless case. They gave me a chance. I want to take advantage of it and make the best of it,” said Matthew. “If I have to just work to give back to people the rest of my life, then so be it. I’m perfectly fine with that because I’m free. I’m free. And that’s more precious than anything of monetary value.”

The main thing that Matthew hopes to convey to clients is that they have a full-fledged support system at Parole Project.  He tells clients that they are are not doing this alone, that they have someone to turn to. “And if we can’t help then we’ll find somebody who can,” he said. “I went through the same things that they’re going through right now.”

Photo caption: Parole Project reentry specialist Matthew Pineda catches up with client paperwork at the office in downtown Baton Rouge