Strength After Justice Involvement: Cinthia’s Story

Strength After Justice Involvement: Cinthia’s Story


It took just one week for Cinthia Candelaria to see the transformative impact of The Fortune Society. Withdrawn at first (“I was a little to myself, just kind of wanted to get it over with”), by the end of the first week she opened up: “I was looking forward to the next Monday.”

What did she see? A supportive community, with staff members who deeply cared for her wellbeing: “…it was my counselor specifically, Simone Shultz—and then Angel Gonzales. He was one of the first instructors to make me feel welcome,” she says, “It just made me embrace the fact that I actually did have an addiction.”

Addiction: a word that was new for Cinthia to own. With few interactions with the criminal justice system prior to a court-ordered mandate to come to Fortune, she didn’t see her substance use as something she couldn’t handle.

“…I didn’t think that I had an issue. That’s why [, through the circumstances that led to my justice involvement,] I ended up in the wrong space, because of drug use. Smoking weed, drinking alcohol, partying, just being involved with all the wrong people. I wasn’t thinking with a clear head and wasn’t admitting to myself that I had an issue.”


But a group in our Substance Use program called Seeking Strength, facilitated by Angel Gonzales, helped her see that substance use was indeed hindering her ability to gain control of a thriving future. True to its name, she uncovered personal strength in this group, and began insisting to her loved ones that they play a role in its continued development.

“[If I hadn’t come to Fortune,] I wouldn’t have the courage to not only ask but demand that support from my family and anyone else that I’m around once I leave this building. I wouldn’t be able to tell people ‘Keep that away. I don’t want to be involved.’”


Cinthia Candelaria, I-CAN Mentor at The Fortune Society

Today, a courageous Cinthia, with a tighter network of support (“I cut a lot of people off,” she notes), focuses on developing her creative and professional talents with a clear mind. Through our Creative Arts program, she is reconnecting with a long, lost love: the theater. Her acting resume now includes a production of As You Like It with Fortune partner The Public Theater in their initiative Public Works. And she now has experience in music with Creative Time and artist Phil Collins, through an art project called Bring Down The Walls. She was also involved in Road Recovery’s Road Trax Program. Plus, her writing skills are being sharpened in a writing class led by Fortune teacher Jamie Maleszka.

“I’m just trying to be a part of anything creative: writing my own poetry, recording myself rhyme, just drawing. Whatever is art.”



A musical session with The Fortune Society's Creative Arts program and Road Recovery

Fueled by creativity, she now has power to help others let go of weaknesses and embody strength. After completing an internship in our Employment Services program, her journey has led her from Fortune participant to mentor, an outcome that would not have been possible without her determination to fundamentally change.

“As a mentor on Rikers Island, I enjoy having the chance to change some of their lives by way of thinking, planning positively, and just simply connecting. It keeps me focused and grounded, blessed and thankful.”


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*Article by David Leon Morgan

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