Alphonzo Elder, Vice Chairperson at The Fortune Society

Fortune’s Services Empower Clients to Go the Distance

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Confusion, disorientation, new rules, and different customs are all issues one encounters when entering a foreign country. Multiply these feelings by a thousand percent and you may just understand the anxiety encountered by an individual when he or she first enters prison. Prison is nothing like anything you have encountered before in your life. You must immediately adjust to new rules and customs which now govern your very existence.

Upon release from prison, an individual is confronted with a new set of issues. For many, they are returning to communities and families that have drastically changed during the course of their incarceration. Compounding the matter is that most individuals released from prison are still under the auspices of restrictive rules which may inhibit their reentry into the community. In addition, an individual with criminal justice contact may have difficulty in obtaining employment, education, and housing due to their criminal record.

As the Vice Chairman of The Fortune Society’s Board of Directors, and as someone with almost 15 years of workforce development experience with clients who have criminal records, I have personally felt the pain and frustration of many people on parole as they attempt to reenter their communities. For this reason, I strongly advocate against unfair and discriminatory housing and employment policies which adversely affect people with criminal records. Restarting a life after years in exile is difficult enough; these additional barriers severely thwart their ability to successfully make that transition.

This past fall, I achieved two major goals: 1) I completed the New York City Marathon, and 2) in the process of running the marathon, I raised more than $5,000 of unrestricted funds for the individuals who receive services from Fortune. Completing a marathon requires extensive training and hard work. I see this same dedication in Fortune’s clients; they are determined to do everything it takes to successfully reenter into their communities.

Fortune’s clients face numerous obstacles every day of their lives. Their long-distance journeys require patience and resilience. We are their families and coaches in life, and it’s up to us to help them keep that finish line in sight. It’s our job to let them know they can go the distance no matter how frustrated their parole makes them or how tired and discouraged they get by not being employed or housed because of their criminal records.

Coming home after paying your debt shouldn’t feel like you are still serving a terminal, lifelong sentence. If we expect people to make a successful reentry into the community, they must have unfettered access to opportunities. That is our job at Fortune— to clear a path home for them and help unpack their heavy baggage so that they’re not forced to carry it with them everywhere for the rest of their lives.

This article was featured in our latest issue of the Fortune News.

Categories: Community, Featured

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