After 34 years working for the Probation Department and the last six as East Boston District Court’s Chief of Probation Thomas Tassinari officially retired last week.
Tassinari, who came over to Eastie’s courthouse from Chelsea’s probation department following the retirement of former Chief of Probation Dave Arinella’s in 2012, had a stellar career reforming the lives of criminal offenders and drug addicts.
Tassinari grew up in East Boston, where his father and uncle owned an appliance repair shop, Day Square Radio, but never envisioned at the time the path his life would take.
“I wanted to work in the shop,” he said. “But my parents didn’t want us to work in the shop they wanted us, as first generation Americans, to get an education and go to college.”
So Tassinari graduated high school and enrolled in Northeastern University.
“I wanted to be a fifth grade teacher,” he said. “My senior year I was doing my coop student teaching in Malden Public Schools. They had this alternative school for special education students within one of the schools that was growing and they wanted to hire me after graduation in September when school started.”
So Tassinari’s life was all planned out. He start teaching 5th grade, go back to school to get a master’s degree in special ed and he’d be all set.
“So the summer comes and the state cuts the program so I’m out,” he said.
Tassinari, with his background working for the Social Centers during college and brief stint at teaching still wanted to do something that would help kids.
“Before there was the Department of Social Services (now the Department of Children and Families) there was the Public Welfare Office of Social Services so I got a job there and worked in Lynn and Lawrence,” said Tassinari. “Then they restructured and created DSS.”
His former boss and friend at the Social Centers, Susan Palmer, was appointed DSS’s area director in Eastie and gave Tassinari a job closer to home.
“Our office was in the former Mount Carmel convent,” he said. “And that’s where I worked out of for five years starting in 1979.”
However, the grueling work of dealing with abused kids on a daily basis took its toll.
“I remember going to court one day and I had wrote a care and protection petition so DSS could get this kid out of an abusive home and into out custody,” said Tassinari. “The juvenile probation officer at the time took the petition and then later presented it as his own to the judge. I was so mad but then I thought, ‘I could do this, I could be a probation officer’.”
So Tassinari began applying to different court around the area that were hiring probation officers.
“I applied to 29 different jobs,” said Tassinari. “My last DSS investigation in 1984 was horrible and I had to get out. I still remember going there, there was blood all over the house, the mother’s head was smashed and the two kids were bleeding. Later that night I walked through the door and received yet another rejection letter from Quincy Court so I was drained. But Chelsea Court was still out there.”
Finally the judge at Chelsea Court, who knew Tassinari as a familiar face and was familiar with his outstanding work at DSS, gave him his first shot in the probation department.
“I was in the juvenile court when I started in 1984,” he said. “Today the big problem is drugs, back then it was stealing cars. In fact I was on the governor’s appointed task force that included the FBI that was trying to stop this activity by teens. They weren’t even stealing cars to support a habit it was just a living, a way to make money. They’d go to the chopshop in the morning, get a list of cars they needed and they were off and running.”
Tassinari admits this was a different time in probation, an era where if an offender didn’t follow the terms of their probation they were off to jail.
“Then slowly the drugs started to filter in and we had to take a different approach in Chelsea,” said Tassinari.
Chelsea Court established one of the first drug courts in the area with the focus on rehabilitation instead of incarceration–something Tassinari continued in Eastie when he arrived here six years ago.
“We had to do something because locking these kids and adults up all the time wasn’t working,” said Tassinari. “We are really lucky in this area because we have a lot of services to deal with mental health issues for addicts like North Suffolk and rehabilitation facilities like the Meridian House. So with all these resources we thought it was a good idea to start using them to our advantage.”
Tassinari said he saw the results of the new approach almost immediately.
“The thing we noticed right away in probation with the drug court is that these kids and adults were not committing crimes anymore,” said Tassinari. “Sure they would slip up from time to time, use again or miss an AA or NA meeting but there was one five year period at the beginning were I did not violate anyone for a new crime that was enrolled in drug court.”
However, Tassinari said the success was not his and the success of the program belonged to those who enrolled in the program, took it seriously and came out living a clean and sober life.
“I really can’t take credit for their success unless I also take credit for their failures,” he said. “I never got anyone clean and sober. All I did was show them where to go and how to do it if they really wanted to and change their life.”
In the end Tassinari said whenever he’s asked about his tenure in the probation department he always responds the same way.
“All I did for 34 years is teach kids and adults how to color inside the lines,” he said. “In this world you have to color inside the lines. That’s all I did. Once you go outside the lines that’s when trouble starts. And I know people will tell me, “Oh, that doesn’t allow for free thinking or creativity”. No, you can be as creative and free thinking as you want–but inside the lines.”