Michael Perez, Manager of Youth Programs at The Fortune Society

Fortune Society Promotes The Five Values Of “Alternatives To Incarceration”

Monday, September 7, 2015

When you go to a restaurant and you’re that person who does not eat a certain type of food – say, for instance, fish, seafood, or pork — they have an alternative on the menu. Or when you punch in an address on your GPS and, for whatever reason, it takes you off course, you will eventually get that message “Re-routing.” It’s giving you an alternate route to your destination.

I think it is safe to say that there are alternatives for most things in life nowadays.

Who would have ever thought there would be an “alternative to incarceration” — and that it would be something of value.

So what is that alternative?

I did some research and found five main areas of value that are common. They are

• They give courts more sentencing options;
• They save taxpayers money;
• They strengthen families and communities;
• They protect the public by reducing crime and, believe it or not …
• The public supports Alternatives To Incarceration!

If you go to Fortune Society’s Web site (yes, I am encouraging you to do so) and click on “Alternatives To Incarceration,” you will see a description of what our ATI program has to offer.

From a counselor’s point of view, ATI is more than just a program. It’s a place where individuals can come and not be judged by what they did while, at the same time, be able to “let it all out.” It’s a place where individuals can express themselves and talk about what is real for them at home and know that they are not alone, that someone cares enough to listen. It’s a place where individuals will learn the value of being told “good job” and embrace new ideas, realizing they can do something different. It’s a place where individuals will take the time to go the extra hour, day, month — whatever it takes to see that the job gets done. It’s a place where individuals will have a chance to learn that where they came from doesn’t have to be where they return to with a little bit of hard work.

Let me tell you about someone who embraced that “alternative.”

That young man came to the Fortune ATI program, got re-arrested while attending, had his program extended, and truly felt there was no hope. But he finally completed the program, went back to school, and obtained his high school diploma. Wait, there’s more!

That same young man came back to Fortune a year and a half later to tell the ATI staff that he earned his Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts degree, and that he finally decided he didn’t want to return to his life on the streets.

There was another young man who came through Fortune, was given a stipend position on the ATI Maintenance Team and, today, he is still at Fortune as a Staff Member. There are many other stories like these that make the alternative purposeful.

I, for many years, didn’t know that an alternative existed, costing me priceless time that I can never get back. That being said, I wouldn’t have traded the lessons I’ve learned for anything, especially now that I’m able to give back to the men and women here at Fortune and impact their lives.

What sort of impact? I’ve seen individuals come in, not knowing they have mental health issues but, through working with skilled professionals, they come to realize their issues and then are able to stabilize their lives one day at a time. I’ve seen, time after time, Fortune’s educators work with our students and then see the joy in their faces when they answer a question correctly. Many of those students go on to get their High School Equivalency. And I’ve seen people come in needing employment and wind up both with a good job plus parenting skills, all with the help of Fortune. People like me!

Are the Alternatives To Incarceration of any value. The answer is “absolutely!”


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