One day, while in Fortune’s Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) program, Jean Talien arrived to his group session one minute late. The group facilitator told him he wasn’t allowed in, thus beginning a process that would transform his life. “That was very frustrating,” he notes, “…but as I [continued going to] classes and learn different things, [I learned] how our behavior stems from how we think mostly. If I had made better decisions, I wouldn’t [have had to be a Fortune participant], so I learned to accept those things…” Jean could have chosen to arrive to Fortune earlier, just as he could have avoided actions that led to justice involvement. It was up to him.
A supportive community like The Fortune Society comes with healthy doses of tough love. It isn’t to belittle or insult individuals utilizing our available resources. On the contrary—insisting on high standards helps them see that they are capable of achieving more than they may think. Their ability to thrive can be limited, in part, by the height of their mental ceilings, so we help each participant raise theirs.
Through group discussions and individual time with Fortune counselors, Jean steadily found new heights worth striving for. One counselor in particular, Carlos Flores, impacted his life greatly with one simple truth: think. “…that’s the key thing I learned—just think,” he notes, “If you think for a little second or two, you might change your mind.” It helped, too, that Carlos himself has experience with justice involvement. In fact, nearly half of Fortune’s staff shares that story. This detail is crucial—it helps individuals like Jean see heroes in people that reflect their own struggles.
“Like, you can read as much as you want, but unless you experience it, then it’s really different. So, that allowed me to really sit down and listen to him, like ‘Wow, this guy is really making sense.”
One year after he first walked into Fortune’s doors, Jean has transitioned from a participant to an employee in the organization’s Operations department. As a porter, he helps ensure the upkeep of bathrooms, offices, and communal spaces in our Long Island City headquarters. It’s an important position, and one that he doesn’t take lightly. “..[I think about Fortune] as a place where they will help you. And honestly, they will help you,” he says, “Look at that: I’m here with a job that I really like. I come here every day and I love my job.”
Once looking to staff members for guidance, Jean is now an inspiration to participants. Like Carlos was for him, they see Jean as an example of possibility. When asked about his good fortune, he echoes his former counselors’ wisdom:
“…[participants will] ask me how did I get the position, and I’ll explain it to them. And then they’ll express the frustration of coming [to Fortune every day as part of their court-appointed mandate]. I just tell them, ‘Look, you had a choice. This is the choice you made, so just stick with it.”
Indeed, persistence pays off—Jean’s current path of success is a shining testament to that. Looking forward, he hopes to stay on this course, and welcome new possibilities as they come: “I’m just going to keep my job and save some money, and let life take me where it wants to take me.”
*Written by David Leon Morgan