With a Place to Call Home, David Starts Anew After 40 Years in Prison

With a Place to Call Home, David Starts Anew After 40 Years in Prison

11/21/2019

After nearly 40 years in prison, when David Coleman first returned to the community, everything was different. Technology had advanced, cell phones now existed, and the subway system was more complex. David, who isn’t originally from New York City, had to navigate a “foreign” society.

Asking for help proved difficult—it was nearly impossible for David to do so without revealing his status as a formerly incarcerated person. He recalls one instance in which he asked for help using a gas pump while driving down South to visit family. When the individual who assisted him asked why he didn’t know how to use one, David had to explain that it was because he spent time in prison.

“People assume that you know things,” he says. “So that's the biggest thing [during reentry], is being able to get what you need without necessarily revealing your past.”

To start a new life, David knew he needed help adjusting. So, almost immediately after David was released, his friend drove him to The Castle, The Fortune Society’s housing unit in Harlem, for an intake interview.

“Everybody [at the Castle] welcomed me,” David recalls. “People seemed to be genuinely happy to see me and willing to help me readjust.”

In March 2018, Fortune offered David an apartment at The Castle. Since then, David has participated in different programs at Fortune, including Employment Services, which prepared him for job interviews. He is currently employed as a doorman on the Upper West Side.

“I probably wouldn't have gotten the job if it hadn't been for [Fortune’s help] fine-tuning my interview skills and updating my resume,” he says.

Because David used his time productively inside, he left prison with extensive education and employment experience. Early on during his incarceration, he pursued a college education, received a paralegal degree, earned a license in Landscape Nursery Management, and a Master’s Degree in Professional Studies. He was also an ardent reader, held various industrial and kitchen jobs, and volunteered as a college instructor, teaching courses on topics ranging from ethics to the Civil War.

However, it was the time he spent creating art and music that especially helped David persevere during his prison sentence. Since he was a teenager, artistic creation always made David feel at home. In prison, it gave him a temporary escape from his situation.

“When I play music, I'm not in prison anymore…” says David. “Music got me through a lot of my incarceration because I was able to go deep inside whatever was bothering me, and I could create music…It's therapeutic.”

Today, David shares his artistic talent with others. His colorful, exquisite paintings are displayed at The Castle, and he recently helped produce and performed in “Three Chords and the Truth,” a show that conveys his life story through music and narrative. Going forward, David is working on performing the show in more venues, as well as finding an apartment and applying to teach in college.

Less than two years after moving into The Castle, David reflects on the role that Fortune has played in his life. A lot of the progress he’s made, David says, stems from the housing he received at The Castle. Once he found a place to call home, he was able to save money, find employment, and focus on succeeding in other aspects of life.

“Fortune was the net that I needed to catch me, so I could get on my feet,” says David.

Decades ago, when David first saw Fortune mentioned in a pamphlet while incarcerated, he had no intentions of going there. Today, however, he is grateful for the second chance that Fortune gave him—and wants others to know that formerly incarcerated people deserve to lead meaningful lives, having learned from past mistakes.

“You're not the worst thing you've ever done,” says David. “People can and do change.”

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