What is living in prison like?
“Go home, throw your mattress in your bathtub, close your bathroom door, have your parent bring you a few meals, and you have an inkling of an idea,” Eric Baez often tells people.
Incarcerated for nearly 30 years, with almost half of that time spent in solitary confinement, Eric has firsthand experience on the subject. “I’m in my fifties; I went in when I was 24. I thought I was gonna die in prison,” he says. Now, things have changed. Currently a resident at The Fortune Academy (“the Castle”), our emergency and transitional supportive housing development within our Housing program, Eric loves his new home.
When Eric was released last summer, the chances of finding such a space seemed slim. His housing plans had fallen through at the last minute, and his support system couldn’t help. “[I had] no address, no place to sleep. The shelter was not an option for me. I didn’t feel safe [there], I didn’t feel secure,” he explains. Determined to avoid entering into a “survival mode” that could result in further justice involvement, he came to The Fortune Society for help.
Two days after his first visit, he was accepted as a resident of the Castle.
After spending so much time away from the community, Eric has had much to learn–essential skills like modern technology, time management, and proper workplace behavior aren’t taught in prison. The staff at the Castle, however, understand these struggles. “Most of them have histories like we have. And they know that there are different periods of adjustment for different people,” Eric explains.
In this supportive environment, Eric can focus on working toward his goals, enjoying freedom, and sharing his experience and wisdom with others in the community. He hopes to study social work in the future, and ultimately have a career in the reentry field. “I know what it is to be disenfranchised. I know what it is to be made to feel insignificant. There’s no one who’s gonna fight more passionately for that demographic [than me],” he says.
In the meantime, Eric is currently interning at Fortune as a Family Services Outreach Coordinator. And he is giving back by spreading positivity throughout the Fortune community. He intently focused on self-reflection and introspection while in prison, and this work has given him a sense of resilience and wisdom. “I’m a healer, due to the fact that I’ve healed myself,” Eric explains. “I refuse to let suffering make me bitter and angry. I want to help.”
*Written by Carmen Rojas