I was first introduced to the importance of education for justice-involved people at the age of 18, as a Fortune client. During my time in our Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) program, the teachers saw my potential and genuinely wanted to help me succeed. As a result, I did well on exams and received my GED— I even began tutoring other clients.
While tutoring, I realized that education was crucial in shaping the futures of individuals with justice involvement, and that lack of education severely limited our opportunities.
I finished the ATI program around 2005, and left feeling that I made significant progress while at Fortune. Years later, I became involved with the justice system again and served 27 months at a federal prison. My time incarcerated allowed me to reflect on and change unproductive habits. I learned ways to manage my anger, which often clouded my decision-making skills.
I remember Fortune saying they make commitments to people for life, so when I was released, I returned to Fortune. True to their word, they accepted me back without hesitation or judgement. This time around, I truly wanted to redirect my time and energy to positive activity. I started volunteering with our Education Services program, and was soon hired as an Education Counselor.
Today, I guide clients along the path to becoming successful students, and help them overcome barriers to education. I encourage my clients to develop good habits, like responsible time management, and teach them the importance of concentrating in the classroom and communicating respectfully.
I use my own story to persuade clients to prioritize education, telling them what prison is like to discourage them from actions that will lead them to further justice involvement. I am always honest with them— I understand what they’re going through. And they know this: because of my firsthand experience, my clients look up to me and trust my advice. They see that, despite my justice involvement, I do not let my past define me. They’re often inspired to do the same.
Clients find success in our programs. They often become passionate about a certain field and are inspired to pursue college or advanced occupational training. I tell them that they can achieve these long term goals through the small decisions they make today. Their success in Education Services, whether it’s doing well on a test or moving up a reading level, shows them the extraordinary potential they have within them.
Fortune’s teachers and counselors know that our clients face unique circumstances. Patience and empathy enables them to thrive. Providing each client with a path to receiving an education expands their horizons, and offers them a chance to invest in their future— results that transforms their lives, just like it transformed mine.