From an early age, we are taught that incarceration is intended to right the wrongs of society. In cartoons and superhero movies, justice is restored once the “villains are locked away.” Shifting from fiction to reality, this idea is still popularly believed.
But what happens to the individuals labelled as “bad” or “villainous”? Can we truly break the cycle of negative behavior and incarceration without prioritizing their rehabilitative care?
Since 1967, The Fortune Society has made it its mission to address these questions. We understand that justice and compassion go hand-in-hand. People can’t be thrown away or abandoned—this solution only exacerbates the problem it is supposed to remedy. Instead, we believe that individuals with justice involvement, who may have engaged in counterproductive behavior, need holistic opportunities to become contributing members of the community.
This is a key part of what restorative justice looks like.
Our Better Living Center (BLC) is but one of the resources we offer to participants looking to transform their lives. It centers around mental health—in fact, it is the only New York State Office of Mental Health-licensed center designed specifically for individuals with justice involvement. Daily, through support, treatment, and therapy, participants work to unpack complex emotions and difficult memories, in order to accomplish life goals and maintain self-care.
Similarly, our NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services-licensed outpatient substance use treatment program helps participants address substance dependencies that inhibit success. Its intake and intensive treatment phases, and subsequent relapse prevention methods, care for each participant’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. In this supportive environment, participants discover how to move forward unrestrained.
Staff members like Intake Coordinator Iraida Solano and Substance Use Counselor John Cleaver help them along their journeys. Iraida, for instance, is often one of the first people BLC participants interact with. As an individual with justice involvement experience herself, she understands the transformative potential of support rooted in love.
Before working at Fortune, Iraida was a participant. Take it from her: The services we provide work. From despair to stability, we were there for her—just like she is there for others today.
Every day, Iraida embodies real-life change for BLC participants. Similarly, John Cleaver reminds each Substance Use Treatment participant he works with that their transformation is not only possible but has potential to exceed expectations.
Through one-on-one counseling sessions, he helps them see the ways substance use hinders their ability to live the purposeful life they are capable of. Once they accept the need for change, their capacity for positive expression widens—beginning at Fortune first.
Thinking ahead, John also sees opportunity for Fortune to exceed its own expectations (“It could be art, it could be internships—there should be more variety in the day.”) Though we have made great progress in our work, and in the fight to advance justice reform, there is still much more to do. Acknowledging this while remaining consistent in our current efforts not only helps individuals in programs like our Better Living Center and Substance Use Treatment program, but everyone in the community truly thrive together.
*Article by Root Stitches LLC