Key Lessons Learned from Three Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) Stories

Key Lessons Learned from Three Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) Stories


The success of our Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) program underscores the importance of treating incarceration as a last resort, not a first response. Through our human-centered, restorative approach, participants confront the physical, emotional, psychological, and psychosocial barriers to productivity and community success. They don’t do this work alone: Our caring ATI counselors, many of whom have personal experience with justice involvement, are there for the journey, giving them priceless words of wisdom and tailored support.

Since formalized in 1991, our ATI program has accumulated hundreds of success stories. These victories reduce the community’s prison and jail population and save taxpayers millions of dollars. Last year, we highlighted a few of these stories on our blog. Though each one was unique, they all exemplified what happens when personal resolve meets community support.

Enjoy lessons gleaned from them below:

1. To truly be free, you have to free yourself from the mindset of incarceration.

Donnell Bruns, participant at The Fortune Society

Incarceration is more than a physical state-its effects are felt emotional and mentally, too. For some, a fear of the unknown impacts their ability to change. Fortune participant Donnell Bruns learned this, and the lesson kick started a new trajectory:

“I used to always go to jail, and my friend told me when I got out, ‘Maybe you go to jail so much because it’s easy for you-you’re not scared,” he says. For many like Donnell, the lines between safety and familiarity can blur: “It’s safer outside [of jail,] but you’re so used to going to jail that you [tell yourself,] ‘I know this person, I know [what happens] over there. So, you step inside the room.”

In our ATI program, he found new comfort, one predicated upon his capacity to be the best version of himself. With support from staff members like Court Advocate Jose Vazquez, Case Manager Amanda Torres, and Better Living Center (BLC) Social Worker Diane Racz, he now has a new normal that replaced any desire to return to negative behavior:

“If I went to jail right now, I’d probably cry,” he says, “I’d lose my [apartment], I wouldn’t be able to go to school, I won’t get a job, and won’t see my daughter. Everything I worked for [would be] out the window.”

2. Positive contributions can foster change that lasts a lifetime.

Michael Perez, ATI Supervisor at The Fortune Society

With experience as both a Fortune counselor and supervisor, Michael Perez has impacted countless participants within the ATI program. He treats each role with seriousness and care, knowing that the wisdom he shares can alter the course of someone’s life:

“[The other night], I had one of my [participants] from two years ago come back, and we were able to sit and chat about life. This happens often- [what I do] is a lifetime service,” he said last year.

Michael is in it for the long haul and encourages participants that he interacts with to view their journeys with a similar mindset. Success tools for goal setting, like SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) frame core parts of his approach. They’re not just nice catchphrases-they’re a way of life.

“Some guys will buy in but some guys have an ego,” he says, “but it’s good for them when they can see other guys say, ‘I don’t wanna be that dude. I want to be that guy who wants to do the right thing.’ That’s powerful when you have 16, 17 year olds acknowledge that.”

3. Creativity is an essential part of the restoration process.

Oliver Terrero, Participant at The Fortune Society

In 1967, Fortune was launched by an Off-Broadway play, John Herbert’s Fortune and Men’s Eyes. For over 50 years, we’ve continued using creativity as a path to healing. ATI participant Oliver Terrero experienced this firsthand. Working with John Runowicz, our Creative Arts program manager, he found a community who spoke his musical language and challenged him to stretch beyond his comfort zone:

“Since joining Fortune, I’ve gotten more comfortable with opening up and sharing, and I’ve appreciated being a part of something bigger than myself. Before we had our big show, the musicians we worked with encouraged us to just put our best foot forward, and let go of fear and shyness. Support like that showed me that it’s a team effort here, and that means a lot to me.”

No longer engaging in negative behavior, he now approaches his gift for piano playing with fresh determination. And should he feel unsure while on his new journey, he knows that he has a team of people in corner to support him. “With the connections I’ve gained here, my future is filled with possibility,” he says.

Discover more about each aspect of our ATI program, plus learn about other holistic resources at Fortune, here.

*Article by David Leon Morgan

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