How Daniel Found Courage to Change After Prison

How Daniel Found Courage to Change After Prison


Daniel Cotto first came to The Fortune Society in the 1980s. He remembers the room where he attended his first group meeting and exactly how the chairs looked. And he remembers the fear that made him leave.

“…it [was] comfortable [engaging in substance use and] living how I was living. I knew that. I didn’t know the other side.”

Fear of the other side, a life free of the burdens of substance and justice involvement, kept him engaging in negative behavior. But one day, at age 39, while serving a 15-year prison sentence, he told himself that enough was enough.

“I was just talking to myself,” he shares, “and I said ‘You’re going upstate for 15 years. You’re 39 and you’ve got a 15-year sentence—you’ll be out at 52. What do you want to do with your life? You can’t keep living like [this]. So right then and there…[I made the change].”


He wrote to Narcotics Anonymous (NA) for support. Soon after, they mailed him a book that affirmed his new course: “[In the book is] a big chapter called “We Do Recover.” I read it but it was some words [in particular] that caught me. ‘There is a dilemma…’ ‘Go on to the bitter end…’ ‘Jails are a silent death…’ ‘Find a new way to live…’ I rolled with those words for 12 years and 8 months. They helped me out at that time, and they still help me out now.”

Daniel Cotto, a participant at The Fortune Society

Prior to this pivotal turning point, Daniel’s struggle with substance use and justice involvement was compounded by housing insecurity and homelessness. He knows what it’s like to spend nights in abandoned buildings, underneath bridges, and on rooftops. Upon release, these experiences led him to The Fortune Society once again, with new resolve to live better. First, he received support in our Better Living Center (BLC), which is specifically designed to help individuals with both mental health histories and justice involvement find ways to thrive. He also worked with the program’s Peer Specialist, an individual who has lived and experienced the mental health system.

This firsthand support equipped him with the tools he needed to confront his next challenge: obtaining employment. “I haven’t worked,” Daniel shares, “Since I was 13, 14, I was running the streets. The only real work I’ve done, the resume that I have is all incarceration.” Through internships, Fortune staff members like Clinic Director Jessica Glass and Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy Danielle Rosario have helped him overcome his fear of career failure (“I’m scared to get fired,” Daniel admits).

Today, he is an intern with our David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy, using his past to fight against housing discrimination that keeps individuals with justice involvement from accessing the safety they deserve.

“I understand that a landlord doesn’t want to rent [to individuals with justice involvement], but I think people in power also gotta put some [measures in place] to force them—or they got to change some rules.”


Indeed, Daniel knows all about change. His deep commitment to transformation has revamped his life from one of imprisonment to inspiring possibilities. In addition to his work in advocacy, he has a passion for helping others who share his story—face to face:

“[I want to be] helping somebody, trying to catch somebody young and showing him or her that drugs ain’t the way. If you give yourself a chance, an opportunity to stop using, there’s no limit to your ceiling. Don’t put a limit on your ceiling.”


Daniel Cotto, a participant at The Fortune Society

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*Written by Root Stitches LLC

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