After 25 Years in Prison, William Discovered Genuine Community at Fortune

After 25 Years in Prison, William Discovered Genuine Community at Fortune


Mistrust found roots in William at an early age. At 17, he was kicked out of his home. With nowhere to go, “I was forced to fend for myself by any means necessary,” he shares, “sleeping in abandoned buildings, eating out of garbage cans, sleeping in the train station.”

Desperation fueled negative behavior. At first, William stole food to eat. But soon, the habit worsened. It became a mentality, which inevitably led to justice involvement.

“Living in the street at such a young age, I got accustomed to being in the street.”

It was hard to break the cycle that led him back to the streets after spending time incarcerated. In fact, it took three sentences. The third and longest period—a sentence of 25 years to life—was his final wakeup call. Reflecting on his life at that point, William decided that enough was enough. He began assessing the missing pieces to a new story he wanted to create for himself. A key piece stood out: education. “I didn’t even have a GED, so I didn’t allow myself options in life,” he notes.

Eager for more, he challenged himself to utilize his time in prison with greater intentionality. As a result, he completed the steps needed to obtain his High School diploma. Then, he obtained an associate degree in Humanities and a bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management. Equipped with an education, pathways to hope healed the effects of past pain.

“I guess that was the start of me broadening my view of life and horizons. To see different options that I had.”

In addition to education, new doors in health and spirituality opened in prison, too. When a neck injury led to excruciating pain, William decided to try yoga in a last-ditch attempt at relief. Through stretching and hatha yoga, specifically, he underwent an extraordinary recovery: “I can’t explain what within that miraculously cured me completely,” he notes, “so, I guess that’s why I kept it up for so long.”

William became certified as a yoga instructor, inspiring other individuals who he was incarcerated with to discover their own healing. The positive mindset he uncovered through both yoga and education strengthened his resolve to make his third period of incarceration his last. So, after 25 years, he was released, equipped with a plan to reenter the community successfully. That plan included The Fortune Society.

“Fortune was the best thing that happened to me.”

Through our doors, William found an understanding community that uprooted the mistrust he carried for so long. Admittedly, a space filled with kindness was new territory for him.

“You come out not trusting anybody. You’re thinking if someone’s being nice it must be a hidden agenda. People [at Fortune] were so [genuinely] giving. And that was a blessing. In fact, that kind of hit me emotionally. To see people so caring. People just open their arms to me, and their hearts, to help me get on my feet...”

With a relentless desire to help others, William is now a residential aide at another local nonprofit. Daily, he applies the educational and spiritual practices he’s developed to his role. Coupled with a strong work ethic, the results are paying off: Recently, he was awarded Employee of the Month. “I do 110 percent,” he shares. After work, he has a safe place to call home at The Fortune Academy, our Emergency Transitional and Supportive Housing program in West Harlem. William is planning for an abundant future; our holistic reentry services are there to support him. He wants to obtain his master’s degree in Social Work, then build a nonprofit of his own.

With newly planted seeds of compassion and community, William is growing into the best version of himself. His reentry success after decades in prison highlights what an understanding community can do, one day at a time.

“It really wasn’t no one to turn to [after my release]. So, Fortune became my family. My extended family.”

Article by Root Stitches LLC

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