Life brought participant Michael Carryl to The Fortune Society. The pressure of family responsibilities led to unfortunate decisions. Before long, he found himself facing incarceration. Still, he’s quick to not call his actions mistakes— they were choices. That distinction is important: It allows him to see the full scope of his complicity in what shaped his past, and the ways in which he can alter his course going forward. “Even if your family is starving, and you choose to go take somebody’s money or break [in] somewhere and do something to get money for your family, that’s not a mistake. That’s your choice,” he notes.
This life-changing realization came from his experience at Fortune. Through regular group meetings and check-ins with our Family Services counselors, Michael learned that circumstances, however challenging they may be, didn’t need to define him. Instead, he has the ability to define and give new meaning to those circumstances. “It’s kind of complicated sometimes,” he mentions, “to figure out if it’s a mistake or choice. But at the end of it, everything we do in life– it’s all about choices.”
As a father of two daughters, Michael is choosing to work hard at strengthening bonds with both of them, and maintaining successful reentry. For one daughter, that means rebuilding broken lines of communication with her mother. Tips learned at Fortune have been key to this process. For instance, Michael learned the difference between insisting that one is right and purposefully moving forward in a conversation. Sometimes, focusing on the former can hinder the latter: “Even though [I] might know that [I’m] right, and I might be upset with her for whatever reason, I still have to reach out to her,” he says. Though difficult at times, this is necessary work for Michael. He’s a family man, and is raising his other daughter, a three year old, as a single parent.
Outside family, like his mom, provides welcome support, and insight gleaned from The Fortune Society helps him raise her thoughtfully. Though not an ideal route, Michael credits his journey, including his criminal justice experience, for shaping his perspective and cultivating maturity as a father. “When I first started the program, I was like, ‘This is something that maybe can help me get back on my feet and I’ll still be able to see my kids.’ It was tough for me– it broke me, and it made me, because being here I learned so much…” he notes.
Forgiveness was another major lesson learned, starting with himself. Questions of “Why did I do this?” persisted Michael in his justice journey. “This wasn’t me,” he says, “I never forgave myself because I was raised in a bad neighborhood, and my mom [always said], ‘I’m proud of you guys. None of my kids got involved in certain things.’ I was never arrested before…”
With Fortune’s help, shame gives way to self-reflection, and a renewed commitment to be the person Michael knows he truly is. “There’s a saying: ‘Circumstances make me who I am.’ It’s something similar to that, where we might think we know who [we] are until we’re in that position.” Now situated with resources to help him forward, Michael position consists of father and mentor, one with an imperfect past but a promising future: “Trouble is something you can get into easy, and it’s hard to come out of. And sometimes we don’t know what tomorrow holds for us, but again, we still make that decision for what tomorrow is gonna be. We make our own tomorrow.”