The Path to Redemption: Robert’s Story After 33 Years in Prison

The Path to Redemption: Robert’s Story After 33 Years in Prison


Tales of redemption are central to our understanding of the human experience. Classic works like Les Misérables, A Christmas Carol, and Crime and Punishment all tell stories of individuals who confront past wrongs and seek atonement. Still, though the experience is universal, an individual’s path to redemption after justice involvement in the United States, specifically, is rampant with stigma, discrimination, and unnecessary barriers.

Compassion and support are critical to helping individuals move forward from past mistakes and overcome the hurdles they face because of them.

While in prison for 33 years, Robert heard “a friendly voice with a compassionate heart” on the radio discussing criminal justice reform. That voice belonged to David Rothenberg, the founder of The Fortune Society. David’s kindness inspired Robert to write him a letter. He then included Fortune within his plan as he prepared for release—he even wrote an essay for the Summer 2003 issue of The Fortune News titled “Redeeming the Time.” In April 2019, the day of release finally came. Though it’s been just a few weeks since then, our caring teams immediately began addressing Robert’s needs. Staff in our Single Stop program guided him through the complexities associated with obtaining a new ID and receiving benefits through the Social Security Administration. In addition, he attends meetings each Thursday that inspire and motivate him at The Fortune Academy (“the Castle”), our Emergency and Transitional Supportive Housing Program in West Harlem.

Each experience with Fortune affirms Robert’s gratitude for a community that cares.

“I can't overstate how reassuring and stabilizing it is to know that there are people to guide me.”

It also advances him further along his path to redemption, which he says is not one that he can create, but rather one he can continue connecting with. “Being resolved to follow the path that brings good to others, as well as yourself” he notes, “has been the most meaningful thing.”

With his experience in community reentry so new, Robert is still grappling with a different New York than the one he remembers three decades ago. “…everyone seems to be locked in to their own little pod,” he says. Technology presents a learning curve—he admits that he knows little about it—but reassurance from David Rothenberg helps him focus on one step at a time. “I know nothing about [Microsoft] Excel, I know…a little about Word. So, I brought it up to David Rothenberg. He said, ‘Take it easy. You don’t have to move so fast.’”

With an intentional, measured pace, Robert is finding his footing. Programs at The Fortune Society like Single Stop and Housing are there at each stride, giving him the support to walk with renewed purpose.

“Who I was is not who I am.”

Article by Root Stitches LLC

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