“Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a crime?”
This is a question that many formerly incarcerated individuals such as Richard Louis encounter throughout their lives. Twenty years after his conviction, Richard still anticipates answering this question whenever he fills out job applications or looks for housing. Although unavoidable, Richard responds to it with confidence, thanks to his experiences as a client and staff member at The Fortune Society. Here, he not only learned to address the question openly, but also discovered the inner resilience needed to live on his own terms.
Richard’s journey with Fortune began in 2004 as a client, when he participated in the Career Development program. He recalls how staff would video record clients to capture body language and facial expressions when being asked the conviction question. By re-watching the videos, Richard not only learned techniques for how to answer the question, but ways to highlight his accomplishments and convey that his prison sentence does not define him.
After his time as a client, Richard worked in Fortune’s Family Services Unit for two years, striving to emulate the demeanor he’d seen from staff in the past. He did everything from providing referrals to family attorneys to coordinating cooking classes for single fathers.
Despite continuing to use the skills and mindset he acquired at Fortune, Richard still encountered housing and employment discrimination when he moved to Florida in 2006. However, those barriers never deterred him from living on his own terms, and in doing so, finding success.
And he did write his own narrative. Richard earned a Doctor of Education degree in Organizational Leadership, wrote his dissertation exploring the relationship between recidivism and employment, and now works at Broward College. He often attributes these milestones to the skillsets he gained while at Fortune.
Richard also finds ways to give back to his community. As Associate Dean of Student Affairs at Broward, one initiative that he holds dear to his heart is the Nnamdi Richard Louis Memorial Scholarship, which he founded in honor of his son who passed away three years ago. This scholarship program provides financial assistance to college students who have at least one incarcerated parent—and he has already seen it change lives.
Taking the initiative to establish the scholarship is one of the many ways that Richard uses the resilience and confidence he found at Fortune to continue writing his own narrative.
Now, Richard hopes others will see past the histories of the formerly incarcerated and support organizations like Fortune whose mission is to empower justice involved people to unleash their potential.