Monalisa Weber remembers a 16-year-old boy standing in a Broward courtroom with a blank stare. He had broken his probation. A judge asked the boy why he didn’t attend the mandatory boot camp, and when the boy didn’t answer, the judge sentenced him to prison.
“The streets raised him. You looked at him, his attitude, you knew he was gone. He lacked love,” Weber says. “I have too many stories like that, too many faces, too many mothers passing out seeing their sons sentenced.”
That was years ago, back when Weber was a probation officer with the Florida Department of Corrections. For six years, she worked with hundreds of offenders, helping them fill out paperwork and meet court dates. But it frustrated her. She noticed most offenders didn’t know their rights and, on the flip side, didn’t realize that the tiniest infraction while on probation could land them in prison.
In 2007, Weber resigned after the stress and heartbreak became too much. She took up work as a paralegal at the law office of J.C. Dugue in Hialeah, focusing primarily on getting offenders off probation early. In the evenings, Weber, a South Broward resident, would return to the primarily black Sistrunk area of Fort Lauderdale, where she knew residents from her stint as a probation officer. Residents flocked to her for advice. That’s when she got the idea to start a radio show.
“These folks, my people, they’re disillusioned and hopeless and don’t know how educating themselves on how the system works can turn their lives around,” Weber says. “They’re facing a lack of resources and income. The problem is deeper than their actual crimes. It’s a broken system.”
A string of deaths in the family put Weber’s plan on hold for a few years, but in June 2014, she launched her radio show, called Probation Station. The show airs every Tuesday from 6 to 7 p.m. on Excitement Radio.com She explains Florida’s statutes, brings in former inmates, and addresses various aspects of probation. People can also call in with questions.
“I’ve sort of built a curriculum about what the terms of probation are,” she says. “I can help them and guide them in the right direction. I’ve always focused on the word ‘rehabilitation,’ because it’s the right thing to do.”
Born in New York, Weber moved to Miami Gardens with her mother when she was 16. She’s Dominican and says that even though she grew up without a lot of money, her family was warm and kind. “My mother especially was always picking up homeless people and bringing them home for dinner,” Weber says.
Ever since Weber was young, she wanted to work in the courtroom. Perry Mason reruns on TV were her favorite. A teenage pregnancy didn’t derail her plans. She finished an internship at the Florida Department of Corrections. They hired her after she graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a psychology degree in 2001. Weber thought she’d be helping people get their lives back on track. Instead, “it was not a healthy environment. I loved the courtroom — but it’s a factory,” she says.
She still feeds the homeless. She also does work as a victim advocate and volunteers at a program for teen mothers. She speaks to high school students once a month in North Miami Beach.
After hearing her show, so many listeners asked Weber for copies of her notes or PowerPoint presentations that this June, she started teaching a class about probation at the Dania Beach Library on the first Monday of the month.
“Teens to people in their 50s and 60s attend and want to know about plea bargains and their rights,” she says. “This show took an unexpected twist. It’s been insane.”
For more information visit ProbationStation.com.
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.