Growing up in Georgia in the early 1960s, Eugene King’s formative years were filled with violence and injustice. He watched as civil rights activists were attacked by police dogs. Jim Crow laws stained his reality as family members were arrested and jailed for insisting on their personal rights.
The struggles of growing up in such an environment, combined with the trauma he witnessed, set the stage for decades to come. For nearly 20 years, Eugene cycled in and out of the justice system, struggling with homelessness, substance use, and anger management issues. “I didn’t have any roots, neither did I have any balance,” he says.
One sweltering summer day, Eugene decided he’d had enough. “[I made a vow on] July 10, 2010, to never ever again find myself sitting in a hot, humid prison,” he says. Eugene realized that to stay out of incarceration, he needed to address the root causes of his problems. While Eugene had come to The Fortune Society before—once back in 1967 and again in 2005—he had not been in the right mindset to fully benefit from our services.
This time, things were different. After his release from prison, Eugene connected with the Better Living Center (BLC), our outpatient mental health clinic specifically suited for individuals with justice involvement. There, he finally found clarity and focus.
After being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, Eugene began to delve into his past. “I was able to recognize that my mental health issues were a result of my upbringing,” he says. Therapy helped him reconcile his childhood trauma and identify new ways to reframe his reality. With the help of BLC staff, Eugene learned about helpful medications and began to practice mindfulness.
In making this transformation, Eugene has drawn strength from great leaders and thinkers. He cites Nelson Mandala and Frederick Douglass as inspirations. He has also memorized William Henley’s poem, “Inviticus,” and lives by the words within—particularly the last stanza:
Eugene thanks Fortune for giving him the strength and support to gain control of his fate. He now feels emotionally balanced and has maintained sobriety for over 5 years. “I realized I’m far away from that lifestyle [of substance use]. And the difference between me now and then is night and day,” he says. “I’m living an ordered, focused, and purposeful life. And part of my story has to do with being here [at Fortune].”
*Article by Carmen Rojas