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Experience Beyond the Classroom

Experience Beyond the Classroom


Particular life events inspire many people in justice work to pursue a career in the field. For Fortune interns Joseph Tacker-Wyss and Tiffani Teng, this moment came through reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow during their senior years of high school. Coupled with the mobilization of the Black Lives Matter movement and the acquittal of George Zimmerman, Tiffani and Joseph were inspired to work with organizations like The Fortune Society in helping foster change within the criminal justice system

While attending NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study, Joseph learned more about the effects of the criminal justice system, and discovered ways to address its issues. Through The Petey Greene Program, a New Jersey-based organization that provides tutoring to individuals in correctional facilities, he prepared young adults at Rikers Island for their High School Equivalency (HSE) exam. This experience opened his eyes to the realities facing justice-involved youth:

“I had no idea what to expect when I entered [Rikers Island]. The space was jarring. While the students were only one or two years younger than me, the differences felt insurmountable between me— a [college-educated] white man…— and the students, who were almost exclusively young people of color, with educations and lives disrupted by [incarceration]. The students I worked with tried their best to survive in an institution which, regardless of its intentions, deprived them of their freedom and livelihoods.”

Inspired by our mission to support successful reentry and promote alternatives to incarceration, Joseph furthered his justice work by pursuing an internship with our David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP).

Nearing the end of her undergraduate studies, Tiffani was eager to find spaces of societal impact, especially one that worked for change “through grounded research and policy.” Fortune was a perfect fit:

“Having never heard of Fortune beforehand, I was excited to work at the organization, and learn about the services offered and the kind of work being done at their facilities.”

While interning with us, Joseph and Tiffani brought a desire to learn and a determination for criminal justice reform. Their many responsibilities included organizing our 2016 Veteran’s Day roundtable discussion. This discussion highlighted the interconnectedness between the criminal justice system and military, and gave space for Fortune staff and clients with military experience to engage in dialogue regarding better ways of supporting our formerly incarcerated veterans. Joseph and Tiffani’s hard work in organizing this discussion impacted all involved, plus their own lives.

On her experience at Fortune, Tiffani shares:

“Working here has given me the means to go beyond literature and the strictly intellectual. It has allowed for one-on-one interactions with justice-involved people, [making the issues they face] three-dimensional and concrete. By interacting with clients, staff, and other [justice organizations], working at Fortune has provided a whole new perspective that I couldn’t otherwise gain in a classroom setting.”

Likewise, Joseph speaks more on the impact Fortune had on him:

“The Fortune Society has made me even more passionate about reform than I initially was. It also revised what I consider my role in reforming it. Now, I realize I can oftentimes best use my skills to proudly stand behind people who are most affected by mass incarceration and empower them to speak out. [With this support, they can] become advocates for their own liberation.”

We are grateful to interns like Tiffani and Joseph for the contributions they make in furthering our mission. Interested in working with us? See available job and internship opportunities here.

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