THE FORTUNE NEWS A FORTUNE SOCIETY PUBLICATION • VOLUME XLIV NO.2 • APRIL 2014
“THE DEGREE OF CIVILIZATION IN A SOCIETY CAN BE JUDGED BY ENTERING ITS PRISONS” —DOSTOYEVSKY
Table of Contents Education Inside and Out: My Story................................................................................................... 1 Eye on Fortune ................................................................................................................................... 2 Letter to the Editor............................................................................................................................... 3 Faces of Fortune................................................................................................................................... 4 The Word in Reform............................................................................................................................. 5 Reading, Writing and Rehabilitation................................................................................................... 7 Education as a Path to Freedom: College Inititiave.......................................................................... 8 The University Of Sing Sing: How Education Saved My Life............................................................ 9 On the Record- Notes from Our Founder, David Rothenberg........................................................ 10 Why Equal Access to Education Still Matters ................................................................................ 11 Center Stage....................................................................................................................................... 12
Our Mission The Fortune Societyâ€™s mission is to support successful reentry from prison and promote alternatives to incarceration, thus strengthening the fabric of our communities.
We do this by: BELIEVING in the power of individuals to change; BUILDING LIVES through service programs shaped by the needs and experience of our clients; and CHANGING MINDS through education and advocacy to promote the creation of a fair, humane and truly rehabilitative correctional system.
Contact 212.691.7554 firstname.lastname@example.org The Fortune Society 29-76 Northern Boulevard Long Island City, NY 11101
The Fortune News
To learn more, please visit us at www.fortunesociety.org, contact us by phone or email, or simply stop by our Long Island City headquarters! Walk-in hours: Monday through Friday, 8:00AMâ€“4:00PM.
Education Inside and Out: My Story By Stanley Richards (As published in the New York Daily News on April 10, 2014)
Governor Cuomo’s announcement two months ago that New York State would, once again, provide public funding for prison-based college education courses filled me with a sense of pride and satisfaction. Such a program literally saved my life in the late 1980’s. But the Governor’s more recent decision to back away from the initiative is a blow to a program that saves money and, more significantly, helps break the cycle of recidivism. You see, before I became Stanley Richards, senior vice president at The Fortune Society, I was a 9th-grade dropout – hanging out on the streets and involved in crime. I ended up in Rikers Island as a teenager and later, in state prison. School was the last thing on my mind. I assumed that my life would always be about drugs, arrests and prisons. I figured out how to manage that reality. But, when I entered state prison, it was suggested that I take classes to prepare for the GED. To my surprise, I passed the GED test on my first attempt and received my High School Equivalency Diploma. After earning my GED, and understanding that life could be different because of the positive experience of education, I enrolled in a government-funded prison college program and achieved an Associate’s degree in social science. My life at that point had changed forever. I no longer believed that prison was my only reality, or that my life would forever be associated with committing a crime, getting arrested and going to jail or prison. I had a revelation that I had the power and potential to create a life free of crime and prison. As a result of my educational achievements, I saw the future and envisioned what life could be if I created a solid foundation.
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Senior VP Stanley Richards meeting with residents of Castle Gardens at an evening workshop
I was one of the last New York State prisoners to receive a government-funded college education while an inmate. Shortly after my release in 1991, the program was eliminated by Gov. George Pataki as part of a money-saving campaign. Ending this program was the worst criminal justice policy since the Rockefeller Drug Laws. New York State spends more than $150,000 to build each cell, and according to the Vera Institute, today spends over $60,000 a year to maintain a person in prison. But the few dollars invested in education – and investment that gives a prisoner the tools to break the crime-prison cycle became the target for austerity. Given my trajectory and track record in the 1980s, I was probably looking at spending the next 20 years – if not more – in state prison at a cost to tax payers of more than $1 million. But, after my release, I was able to land my first job at the Fortune Society as a counselor. That employment opportunity became a reality only because of the education I received while in prison.
The investment the State made in my education has had significant returns. I have worked steadily and paid my taxes for more than 23 years now. That wasn’t the only way I became a responsible and productive member of society. Upon my release from prison, I obtained full custody of my son from kinship foster care; I met and married a wonderful woman and raised four lovely children, all who are doing well; and I give back to those who are at risk of incarceration and those returning home by serving as a role model. I’m disappointed by Gov. Cuomo’s recent decision not to pursue public financing to bring back college education to New York State prisons. There is no denying the benefit of education in prison. We should be figuring out how to ensure every person who is ready and eligible has access higher education. Stanley Richards is senior vice president at the Fortune Society. He has worked in the criminal justice field for 23 years.
Eye on Fortune for them to have their own telescope. After weeks of waiting for clear skies, their first night on the roof was magic.
At telescope: Daivison Henrique: Behind from left: Adrius Ovalles, Rafael Rivera, Luis Polanco, and Davis Morales.
Astronomy Internship: Reaching for the Stars
They got a close look at the moon. They saw Jupiter and its four moons in a perfect straight line, and The Pleiades, a group of young blue stars, their first deep space sighting at 400 light years away. After the session ended, Luis Polanco summed up the whole experience by saying, “Damn, every night I saw the sky, but never knew there were so many stars up there.” The students are now starting the Galileo/ Messier Project. They will study the sun with a solar filter, return for a closer look at Jupiter, and have added three new deep space objects.
ers can harness the power of education to reduce recidivism, increase public safety, enable sustainable employment, and rebuild lives. The panel was hosted by the New York Reentry Education Network, the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, the Center for Institutional and Social Change, and John Jay’s Prisoner Reentry Institute. According to John Gordon, Associate Vice President of Programs at The Fortune Society, “We need to create career resource centers on Rikers, restore Pell grants for incarcerated students, and abolish the box on college admission forms that deal with criminal records.”
Four students from the Castle Gardens Community Education Pathways to Success (CEPS) Pre- GED program, Luis Polanco, Adrius Ovalles, Davis Morales, and Daivison Henrique, recently participated in a three month study of the constellations. The project began with teacher Steven Daniels just wanting to share his new hobby of amateur astronomy with the students. Each student involved received a $50 stipend for six hours of work per week. Together, they used astronomy computer programs to produce a rough draft of the constellations as seen with the naked eye from Castle Garden’s roof, and also a working star chart complete with the deep space objects. They worked as a group to assemble the information and materials, learning patience and how to pay attention to details. Once they finished their maps, the idea of using a telescope to hunt down the objects they had studied was introduced. John Kefalas, Director of Youth Education, arranged
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Glenn E. Martin, Former Vice President of Development and Public Affairs, The Fortune Society and Founder, JustleadershipUSA at the Talking Transitions series.
Talking Transitions: Educate Don’t Incarcerate Panel Discussion In November 2013, as part of newly-elected Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s Talking Transition series, a panel comprised of educators, students, and reformers was convened to explore how policy mak-
Glenn E. Martin, Charles S. Dutton, Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, JoAnne Page, Betty P. Rauch and Roodbenson Pascal
Annual Fall Benefit: The Fortune Society Presents Mayor Bloomberg with its Highest Award; Lettire Construction Also Honored Hundreds of New Yorkers including leaders of industry and business, criminal justice advocates, members of the entertainment industry and government
officials gathered on October 2, 2013, at the Tribeca Rooftop for the Fortune Society’s 2013 Annual Fall Benefit, raising more than $230,000.00 to support programs that help Fortune’s clients successfully reenter their communities and rebuild their lives after serving time in prison and jail. Among the evening’s highlights was the presentation of the David Rothenberg Achievement Award to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Named in tribute to Fortune’s founder, the award recognizes individuals for their commitment to and support of successful reentry services for formerly incarcerated men and women. Lettire Construction was honored with Fortune’s Corporate Leaders for Change Award for its commitment to building high-quality, sustainable, affordable housing units in New York’s vulnerable communities – including Castle Gardens, Fortune’s award-winning, green housing complex in West Harlem. The evening also offered a special performance by award-winning actor Charles S. Dutton, from his autobiographical show, “From Jail to Yale: Serving Time on Stage.” Dutton, a Fortune Society Advisory Board member, served five years in prison during his later teenage years and early twenties. The 2013 Annual Fall Benefit was CoChaired by Carole and Richard Eisner, Bill McCormack, Jill and Barry Lafer, Betty P. Rauch, Patti and Mark Lebow and Nancy and David Solomon. Vice-Chairs included Terry A. Hueneke, Michael J. Ross and Samuel P. Peabody.
Letters to the Editor Dear Editor,
Just as lack of education, or inadequate education, is a factor in the incarceration of many people in the first place, education is absolutely essential for successful reentry.
At my institution, during the mid1990s (1995-2000), they kept track of 100 prisoners who at least obtained a GED certificate or a culinary, horticulture, business, or information technology degree before being released. Only one person came back to prison. They’ve had most of the programs reduced or eliminated. Why? Because education minimizes recidivism and therefore you won’t be a Department of Correction “Cash Cow.”
The groups of immigrants to the United States who have made the most success of their lives are those who placed a high value on education … In some countries in Africa, for instance, getting an education is second only to food. The first money people get, once their families are fed, goes to sending their children to school. Why? Because their mothers in particular know that education is their ticket out of poverty. The United States is a complicated country. Those who learn how to make its systems work for them – through education – are the ones who will have the most successful lives and will make the best citizens. Uneducated people get taken advantage of. Education is essential. Never stop learning. Joanna James Weston, CT
It is well known that if you incarcerate the mind the body will follow. When you initiate the desire and will to change, many staff consider you a threat because you are not easily manipulated within the system and have enough intestinal fortitude to resist oppression. I’ve been in here over two decades and I have three associate degrees, a HVAC diploma, and I’m one semester short of an AA in substance abuse counseling. I can testify that I did the time and not vice versa. Reentering society requires education and a support system. I know we need more organizations such as Fortune who focus on the reality of incarcerated people. Harold Robinson Laurinburg, NC
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Faces of Fortune
Credit: Tammy Shell/The Public Theater
Chermaine Black Employee
Alfredo Ricks Former Student
Llewellyn Connolly Volunteer
I first came to The Fortune Society as an intern from The HOPE Program in Brooklyn in 2004. I interned as a receptionist on the eighth floor of our former facility on 23rd St. The internship ran from July to October that year, and in November I was hired by Yolanda Morales as a follow-up worker for the CSAT program. I would go out into the field and interview/follow up with people who needed extra support. After another six months I was hired full time and really began my career at Fortune.
I’ve been at Fortune since May 30, 2013. I was mandated through the ATI program and was immediately assigned to education so I could get my GED. I had attended Washington Irving High School in Manhattan where I had gone through 11th grade before I stopped. I regret doing that now. At Fortune I took the assessment tests, and was placed in the Justice Scholars program. My teacher, Tim Shanks, was an immediate influence both as a role model and a teacher. He made me understand the material more than any previous teacher. Fortune classes are different from my old schools because you are with people who have been through the same experience, the classes are smaller and you spend more time focusing on math, reading, and writing.
Many students’ first reaction to math is “I don’t like math” or “I am not good at math.” It is really exciting when you see their attitudes change. They come to realize that math can be understood and that math is not the master of them but they can be the master of math. Watching that sense of discovery is why I continue to volunteer at Fortune.
In 2012, I transitioned into the Education department as the Educational Counselor working with young people as part of the Justice Scholars program. My job is to support students with anything they need, including accomplishing their goals of obtaining the HSE (High School Equivalency), getting them connected with College Initiative or Employment Services, or supporting them with any personal issues they may have. My almost ten years at Fortune have always been fulfilling and now even more so. Just as I help these young students move forward with their lives and reach their goals, Fortune has helped, and continues to help me, move towards mine.
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Growing up in my neighborhood not finishing school is the norm, but here at Fortune it’s not part of the program. I look at Fortune overall as a blessing in disguise. I came in on a negative note, with no optimism. But since being here so many doors have opened up and I have matured as an individual. I took the GED test once and passed all but one section, the writing section. I had felt strong in writing and had been worried about the math. I felt discouraged but overcame that and I went back and studied more and took the test again and passed. I am now involved in an internship with the reception department here at Fortune and I plan on enrolling at LaGuardia College and studying social work.
The material covered in class ranges from arithmetic to algebra and basic geometry. While the immediate goal is for students to pass their GED exam, the more important result is for them to gain mathematical literacy. Math is woven into most aspects of life and having a basic level of fluency is essential. Even though the subject matter is basic, my students have asked some of the most profound questions I have ever had in a classroom. “Why does 5 minus 4 not equal 4 minus 5 when 5 times 4 equal 4 times 5?” That basic seemingly simply question forms the basis of group theory an important branch of mathematics. I have had a varied career in the past 47 years, but nothing has been as meaningful as working as an Education volunteer at Fortune Society. My teaching experience has spanned high school to graduate school but none of my previous students has given me more life wisdom and insight than the students at Fortune. We are on a journey to better ourselves and overcome the mistakes of the past.
The Word in Reform
The Word in Reform By Glenn E. Martin
potential. The creation of JustLeadershipUSA is my attempt to end that pattern of alienation and oppression now. For me, exiting prison in 2000 was a rebirth. I wanted to be great. I knew I was developing a distinct voice that if fully realized, would become resounding enough to make a difference. But where was my platform? And even if such a proverbial platform existed, how would it develop? So began my journey.
While Fortune has engaged in advocacy and community education since its founding in 1967, I arrived at the agency in 2007 to establish the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP). My goal was to institutionalize and advance Fortune’s initiatives in technical assistance, training, policy development, advocacy, and community education. In seven years, we’ve successfully advocated for many policies, including the elimination of most mandatory minimum drug sentences in NYS, the removal of financial penalties, the elimination of barriers to employment for qualified formerly incarcerated jobseekers, prison closures, and liability protection for employers who hire people with criminal records. I am departing with some of the work left unfinished, but with a sense of pride about what we’ve accomplished and encouraged by the opportunities that my successor, Dr. Kirk James, will bring to DRCPP. I am now venturing out to launch a new organization called JustLeadershipUSA. The mission of JustLeadershipUSA, a non-partisan membership organization, is to strengthen and elevate the voices of
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individuals and communities directly impacted both by crime and by the criminal justice system, and to support them in becoming more powerful reform partners on the local, state, and national levels. The goal of JLUSA is to reduce the number of people in prison by half by the year 2030 through a strategy of decarceration and communications campaigns. Our core areas of focus will include leadership development, reshaping public opinion, and policy. Recently, I was invited to serve as a member of the JPMorgan Chase Community Advisory Board. I was both humbled and troubled at once: I was humbled because as a man whose past includes serving six years in a New York State correctional facility, I recognize how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity lead a direct service reentry agency with a $20 million annual budget, serve on my local Community Board, wear various other leadership hats and speak as a member of several different communities. I was troubled because so many formerly incarcerated individuals—in fact the vast majority—has never had the opportunity to develop their
Much of what I’ve accomplished thus far can be attributed to the compassion and generosity of other leaders, self-education, sound mentoring and exposure to opportunity. Periods of reflection have allowed me to be both appreciative of my achievements and critical of the many barriers that have surfaced along the way. JustLeadershipUSA is the culmination of such reflection. The idea that communities and individuals impacted by crime and incarceration will now have a formal space dedicated to tapping their potential to become leaders in reform efforts brings me hope that we will finally see deep change in the 21st century. I carefully considered the principles that must guide such an organization. JustLeadershipUSA has learned a great deal from the vast criminal justice institutes, think tanks, and programs that currently exist. However, it also dares to put new and authentic drivers in the seat of the reform locomotive. It is time for those closest to the problem to rise up and lead us all down the path out of our problems. No community wants, or needs, true reform to occur more than the ones directly impacted by a failed criminal justice system. Why, then, are we not seeking their advice about what needs to change, where we can improve, and what strategies do we need to implement to actually see such change? (Continued on the next page)
Studying in an Education classroom in our Long Island City, Queens Facility
The Word in Reform (continued from page 10)
50 years after the so called “I Have a Dream” speech, America has gradually expanded the definition of justice and civil rights. Led by King’s vision, and the sweat of many other social engineers, many groups that were once disenfranchised and ignored now have a place behind the podium. One’s sexual orientation, gender identification, ethnicity, or immigration status does not automatically preclude one from playing a significant role in one’s destiny. Yet 50 years after that emblazoned speech, Americans continue to selectively downplay the fact that King—the Reverend... the Doctor...the peacemaker—was also, at various points in his life, a man behind bars. He was exposed to the brutality of prison life and relegated to a number, with no regard for his name or stature. It was behind bars that he wrote the famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” where he stated the following: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone
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who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” JustLeadershipUSA is not an expansion, but a recognition of King’s vision of a nation composed of equally empowered citizens. Our incarceration system was built on the flawed thinking that “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” would solve all of our public safety problems. But as King insightfully highlighted, we are all patches in this quilt called America, woven together by both our victories and our injustices. Repositioning the patches of the millions of Americans impacted by the criminal justice system is JustLeadershipUSA’s “call to action,” and an important step toward his dream being realized. I acknowledge that my success is also tied to my failures; that I am invited to circles largely because to many of my colleagues I represent an “exception,” rather than the rule. But my life is dedicated to changing what we have accepted as the “norm.” JustLeadershipUSA seeks to provide a space for those for whom society has no room; time for those for whom we have no time; a voice for those whose cries have been muffled and muted. JustLeadershi-
pUSA aims to be a vehicle for millions who aim for the same rights and opportunities as their fellow Americans: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We can no longer incarcerate millions of human beings without examining ourselves and the cultural, societal and public health policies that created the mass incarceration complex in the United States. Nor can we continue to claim to be the land of opportunity while implementing policies to ensure that opportunity eludes so many. It is time for all to dare to create sustainable change in how we define and administer justice in America. To that end, we look forward to working with you. If you want to support our vision, please email me at glenn@justleadershipUSA.org or write to JustLeadershipUSA, Glenn E. Martin c/o JustLeadershipUSA 112 West 34th St., Suite 2104 New York, NY 10120. Glenn Martin is the former Vice President of Development and Public Affairs and Director of the David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy at The Fortune Society. He now heads The JustLeadershipUSA organization.
Reading, Writing and Rehabilitation By Chris Belden
For the past three and a half years I have volunteered to run a weekly creative writing workshop at Garner Correctional Institution, a maximum-security men’s prison in Newtown, CT. When I tell people on the outside about the workshop, the typical response is positive: “Good for you. That’s commendable. How interesting.” Maybe that’s because I live in the Northeast, where people tend to be more educated. In other parts of the country I might get a very different response, like this one from my wife’s former co-worker: “Maybe I should go out and commit a crime, and then I’ll get a college education for free.” The fact is that education (especially post-secondary education) helps keep the formerly incarcerated out of jail. A 1997 study by the Correction Education Association tracked 3,600 released offenders in three states. “Simply attending school behind bars reduced the likelihood of re-incarceration by 29%... Every dollar spent on education returned more than two dollars to the citizens in reduced prison costs.” A 1994 Texas study showed that, two years after release, the overall recidivism rate for college degree holders was as low as 12%. A 2008 Indiana Department of Corrections study found a 21.1% recidivism rate for college degree holders vs. 37.3% overall. Though I know of no studies that specifically track inmate students of creative writing, a John Jay College of Criminal Justice study found that thirty-five inmates who participated in the Rehabilitation Through the Arts program in New York State (which includes classes in dance, theater, visual arts as well as creative writing) reported a higher level of positive coping than the control group, with decreased anger levels vs. the control group’s increase, as well as fewer infractions and “a longer period of participation [that] predicted a higher level of social responsibility.”
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I’m not a social worker or an expert in public policy. I can’t tell you how many of my students go on to lead productive lives in or out of prison, or if their levels of positive coping improve. But I can tell you that I’ve seen people change because of writing. This is one of the reasons I was interested in teaching inmates in the first place. I once led writing workshops with senior citizens in the Bronx, and I watched many of my elderly students—some of whom had written little more than the occasional letter—blossom from depressed introverts into engaged tellers of stories. Why couldn’t the same thing happen in prison? In the G.C.I. library, where we meet, inmates stand at a podium every week and read aloud the stories and poems they’ve written. This in itself is a victory. After all, these men do not live in an environment that encourages the vulnerability that comes with sharing personal material. After each reading, we open the floor for discussion, with an emphasis on positive comments: “What worked for you, and why?” Often—occasionally too often—this leads to a sort of group therapy, which I tend not to discourage because the inmates sometimes need to discuss their lives a bit before they’re able to write it down. Once in a while an inmate will comment that he can’t believe he’s writing this stuff, and that it makes him feel dif-
ferent to know he is able to communicate in this new way. I live for these moments. I’m not naïve enough to think I can personally transform a violent criminal into an upstanding citizen just by teaching him how to write better. At the same time, I’ve seen some of these guys grapple with horrible, traumatic issues through their writing, channeling their anger and pain and fear into something positive and beautiful through language, rhyme, and metaphor. I’ve listened as a convicted murderer— shaved head, tattoos, bulging biceps— read about the time his drunk father tore off the head of his beloved teddy bear. I’ve listened as a six-foot-three, 250 pound thug from the ’hood read aloud about his abusive father on the day after learning that his father had died. I’ve heard this same intimidating man read poem after poem about his “mommy.” These and other men have changed, almost right before my eyes. Yes, educating inmates leads to lower rates of recidivism and lower costs for taxpayers, but it’s also time to recognize the role that the arts—and, specifically, teaching inmates how to write—can play in that worthy process. Chris Belden is the author of two novels, Carry-on (2012) and the forthcoming Shriver (Oct. 2013).
Learning about science in a Fortune classroom
Education as a Path to Freedom
How College Initiative helps formerly incarcerated New Yorkers succeed in college and give back to their communities By Michael Carey
At College Initiative, we think of ourselves as a community rather than as a service organization – a community of successful, positive students, alumni and staff dedicated to creating pathways from prison to college and beyond. Since our founding in 2002, we have helped hundreds of New Yorkers with criminal history and a high school diploma or equivalent gain access to college. More than 1,000 CI students have enrolled in college and more than 200 have achieved their degrees, from Associate’s degrees, to Bachelor’s and Master’s. We now have two PhDs and a Juris Doctor. The vast majority of our students are successful not only in school but also in their work and family lives and in their communities. Most of our graduates actively give back to CI through our community events and our mentoring program. Many graduates work in human services and many are working at reentry organizations. All of this success started, for many students, with a whole lot of self-doubt. “College isn’t for me,” “I’ve got a defaulted student loan,” “I’ve never been good at school,” – our academic counselors have heard it all. They’ve also been in that position themselves, having been incarcerated and making college a real cornerstone of their own reentry process. They also know that no obstacle is insurmountable and that almost anyone, with determination, motivation and the right supports, can be a successful college student. The most common question we hear when we are doing a presentation at a correctional facility or a community based
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Cory Greene and his son accept a “Magnificent Achievement Award” at the 2013 CI Graduation Celebration. Cory had just earned his Bachelor’s degree from NYU. At left is CI Executive Director, Michael Carey. On the right is Cory’s CI Counselor, Khalil Cumberbatch.
organization is: “Why college?” For many people, particularly if no one in their family or any of their friends has attended college, the whole idea of a two- or four-year degree seems crazy. Our response is to ask these potential students to take a long-term view. College is an investment in your life and the rewards – financial, personal and spiritual – can be immense. In the current labor market, a person with no high school diploma or equivalent can expect to earn a little over $20,000 a year, if they are able to get a job. With an Associate’s degree, that number almost doubles. With a professional degree, it more than triples. Over a lifetime of work, this difference can add up to well over a million dollars. More importantly than just the money, an education allows people to understand themselves and their communities and to become leaders in those communities.
CI’s work begins with presentations and correspondence. We do outreach to more than 700 individuals a year and answer hundreds of letters from individuals incarcerated in the New York State system. The next step for students is to attend one of our orientations at Fortune in Long Island City (we’ve been based at Fortune for the last six years) where our counselors will explain some of the common misconceptions people have about criminal justice involvement and college: “I’m not eligible for Financial Aid because I have a felony” (not true), “there’s a college in my neighborhood where I can get my equivalency and a degree in 18 months” (too good to be true – many of these schools are unaccredited), “there’s going to be a box on the application” (true for only a small number of colleges in New York City) etc … (continued on next page) www.fortunesociety.org
The University Of Sing Sing: How Education Saved My Life By Sean Pica My name is Sean Pica. At sixteen years old, my life was anything but sweet. That’s how old I was when I entered the New York State correctional system. The son of a New York City police officer, I was not above the law. My youthful decision to commit a crime led to an 8 to 24 year prison sentence. Over the course of the next 16 years, I went from adolescence to adulthood in prison.
Fast forward to 2001 with me graduating with my Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management from the Hudson Link /Nyack College program at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Education transformed my life. Education saved my life.
Having only completed the ninth grade and facing the possibility of spending the next 24 years locked up, I thought my life was over. But what I soon came to realize was that it was really just beginning.
In 2002 when I was released from prison all I had was my college degree. But that’s all I needed. I was hired as a Case Worker in the Social Services Department at STRIVE International in Harlem. Wanting to continue my education, I decided to enroll in Hunter College and in 2005, I graduated with a Master’s degree in Social Work.
One night, while incarcerated at Elmira Correctional Facility, there was a knock on my cell door. It was one of the prison officers asking me to help some of the older inmates by reading to them. I asked, “How, at 17 years old with only a 9th grade education, can I help anyone.” The officer said…“you are one of the most educated guys around.”
Today, I am the Executive Director for a local non-profit called Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison (www. hudsonlink.org), the same nonprofit that sponsored my bachelor degree while incarcerated at Sing Sing. I am also a Senior Fellow at Mercy College’s Center for Criminal and Social Justice. My life has come full-circle.
Since becoming executive director, I have expanded Hudson Link from 66 students enrolled in a college degree granting program at Sing Sing Correctional Facility to 319 students enrolled in college preparatory, college credit-bearing and college degree granting programs at 5 New York State Correctional Facilities. Hudson Link has more than 165 alumni released from prison, serving as role models in their families and communities and working predominantly in the social services field...helping others. With a less than 2% recidivism rate, Hudson Link is proof that education transforms lives. Hudson Link is now the focus of an HBO Documentary titled “The University of Sing Sing.” The Fortune Society will be hosting a screening of the documentary in the early Fall 2014. For more information email email@example.com Sean Pica is Executive Director of Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison, an organization that provides college education, life skills and reentry support to incarcerated men and women.
(continued from previous page) After orientation, students work one-onone with an academic counselor to choose a degree and a college and to prepare for the college and financial aid applications. We assess all students for college readiness and provide readiness workshops as well as connections with programs to prepare them academically. Once enrolled, many of our students are offered a mentor – a senior CI student who guides students through their first two semesters. Our mentors have almost doubled our college retention rate. We are so proud of the community we have helped to create. These are courageous men and women who have overcome prejudices, barriers and their own fears to achieve sustainable and inspiring lives. 9 The Fortune News
Christine, who is pursuing her Associate of Applied Science degree at Hostos Community College wrote the following in her prize-winning essay on education and incarceration: “After I acquired my first twelve credits or so, I felt that my life was unchangeable. The person who I was in that cell prior had changed forever. Life is appealing and I am so grateful to College Initiative. I could not put into words how proud of myself that I am and how much appreciation I have for the people who told me that education was a possibility. College even changed the way I walk. Walking now with my head held up high and feeling more accomplished.” Anthony served 8 ½ years in New York State prisons. He had this to say at the
College Initiative Graduation Celebration after having just earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Social Work Administration from the City University of New York: “In a sense, this plaque means more to me than my degree. This plaque comes from individuals who understand my background, who know what I’ve been through, who know my aspirations and who believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself.” If you are currently or formerly incarcerated and would like to join our community, write us at P.O. Box 966 New York, NY 10116 or firstname.lastname@example.org or phone us at 347 669 2864. Michael Carey is the Executive Director of The College Initiative www.fortunesociety.org
On the Record: Notes from Our Founder
Education is the Key to Fighting Crime
By David Rothenberg
responded to the callout was a young teacher named Lynn Ornstein. She and Melanie hit it off immediately. They did much more than tutor a small army of ready students. They structured an education component for Fortune, designed as a direct response to the needs identified by their students. In addition to one-onone tutoring, they had small class groups, never to large a class (seven or eight) because the students were mostly drop-outs, the ones overlooked in their formal school days past. Melanie and Lynn recruited other tutors. They identified student needs, which ranged from total illiteracy to college-ready, with a great deal in between. David Rothenberg, a long-time theatrical agent, founded The Fortune Society in 1967 after producing the prison drama Fortune in Men’s Eyes.
It is no secret that education is a key component in any attempt at fighting crime and reducing the prison population. At The Fortune Society, education is front and center. It is taken seriously. When The Fortune Society was in its infancy -- we began in November 1967 -- education was quickly identified as a real need. Meaningful employment and education went hand in hand. Fortune, at its inception, was an advocacy organization, but our visibility and audibility on TV and radio brought hundreds of released prisoners to our small but active office in Manhattan’s Time Square. We were putting a face on the formerly incarcerated, a population that was virtually invisible at that juncture in American history. The Civil Rights movement was giving muscle to various populations to come out of the closet. Former prisoners heard the clarion call. Our work was done from a one-room office. Everyone was a volunteer. We were sending out teams of speakers to colleges, high schools, church and civic groups. Counseling began, with people talking and supporting each other; many who
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came to us were active in AA and grasped the concept of one-to-one and group dynamics. One man, Danny Keene, an effective speaker who reflected on his prison years, said to me one day that he could not continue. He told me that he felt “inadequate … I am embarrassed when I talk to students. I don’t understand their vocabulary. I know my grammar is not good, I feel stupid.” About that time, a woman named Melanie Johnston arrived at Fortune with her newborn baby son strapped to her back, to volunteer. She was serious about helping. Melanie heard Danny’s lament and offered to tutor him, one on one, guiding him with grammar and vocabulary lessons. Danny quickly found new confidence and rejoined our speaking team. A few weeks later, Melanie informed me that Danny had brought other guys to her and she was now tutoring four students. She suggested we find other tutors because it was clear that there was a hunger for learning. She said, “The need is great.” I made an announcement on WBAI radio, a station that thrives with an activist listening audience. One of the people who
Forty-seven years later, the Education Department at Fortune Society is thriving, with more than 200 students, and both staff and volunteer teachers. In addition to reading, math and other traditional classes, special groups and training have evolved: computer classes, culinary arts, “green” environmental students, how to increase employment possibilities, acting and writing workshops. The exciting aspect is that young men and women, as well as parolees who have served 15 or 20 years in prison, are discovering options they never knew existed. The important ingredient is learning in a supportive atmosphere, a first for many of the students. If the institution – be it a prison or a school in your city – is viewed as the enemy by its students, it is tough to be receptive to the joy of reading, the surprise of solving problems. An inmate who engages in real learning is much less likely to become a recidivist. Education and knowledge create a power that our jails and prisons, around the country, only grudgingly provide. Their posture suggests that recidivism is job assurance. This is a system that lacks imagination and assumes little responsibility to the society in which incarcerated persons will be returning. It must be changed.
Why Equal Access to Education Still Matters: Reinstating Pell Grants for Incarcerated Individuals By Dallas Pell Higher education has proven to be one of the most effective tools in reducing recidivism and transforming lives. The numbers alone speak for themselves: nationally, the recidivism rate is 43.3%; yet if a person has earned a Bachelor’s degree while in prison, it is reduced to 5.6%, and less than 1% with a Master’s degree. Furthermore, college increases access to employment, reduces poverty, and strengthens communities. However, higher education is one of the most underutilized resources inside of correctional facilities. This is why we must be tireless in our efforts to ensure access to higher education for those who are incarcerated.
In 1972, Congress took a substantial step toward opening up the doors of higher education for all by establishing the Basic Education Opportunity Grant, now known as Pell Grants. The late U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell, the person behind this legislation, championed the cause of educational opportunity for all, regardless of their ability to afford it. Until 1994, Pell Grants enabled incarcerated individuals to get a college education while serving their sentences, thus providing them with the tools necessary to be competitive in the job market, and to strengthen their families and communities once they returned home.
munity colleges withdrew from the correctional education market, devastating the hopes of those individuals who were working to improve their lives.
Unfortunately, as part of the “tough on crime” approach, characterized by harsh and punitive policies which resulted in the incarceration and criminalization of millions of Americans (including a disproportionate number of people of color), the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 dismantled higher education in prison by eliminating incarcerated students eligibility for Pell Grants. This caused a severe blow to postsecondary correctional education programs. Without funding, universities, colleges, and com-
At least 95 percent of incarcerated people will eventually return to the community, and a substantial number of those will never leave because they are sentenced to probation or some other alternative that keeps them in there. Ensuring that those who are incarcerated have access to higher education does not just improve the life of one individual; it has the potential to lift up entire communities. We must work together to petition our elected officials, educate policy makers, and mobilize everyone to restore educational access and
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According to a 1997 study, within three years of the ban’s enactment, the number of prison higher education programs dropped from 350 to 8 nationally. In 2004, a nationwide survey of prison systems by the Institute for Higher Education Policy found that postsecondary correctional education was available only to about five percent of the overall prison population. The dramatic impact this law had on access to higher education is clear.
opportunity to those who are incarcerated. The Education from the Inside Out (EIO) Coalition http://www.eiocoalition.org is currently working to reverse the ill-conceived policy that cut off Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals. I encourage you to lend your support and join our growing coalition of advocates, organizations, and activists to restore Pell for all today. Please contact EIO Coalition Community Organizer, Yasmin Safdie, to get involved at email@example.com. Dallas Pell is a board Member of College and Community Fellowship, a member of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition and the daughter of the late Sen. Claiborne Pell. The Education from the Inside Out Coalition is a nonpartisan collaborative of advocates, led by the College and Community Fellowship, the Fortune Society’s David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy, and the Center for Community Alternatives, working to remove barriers to higher education facing students while they are in prison and once they come home. www.eiocoalition.org
In the summer of 2012, under the guidance of photographer Kerstin Mueller, students at Castle Gardens took portraits of each other as part of a two month workshop. The portraits and other photographs were part of an exhibit at the Fortune Societyâ€™s Castle Gardens location.
Abusive Words By Anthony Chase I have a mind just like you.
My bones are covered by skin just like your skeleton,
I was born just like you.
Which means I am not the N-word
I am human just like you.
That defines being ignorant.
Just as you see, I see.
Iâ€™d rather you call me
Just as you smell, I smell.
Just as you feel and taste, I feel and taste.
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Public Theater Partnership By Benjamin Solotaire
Our partnership with the Public Theater continued to grow last year. Fortune was part of an epic three night performance of The Tempest at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. A dozen budding actors from Fortune, participants and staff, joined more than 200 members from community based organizations throughout the city. The production received glowing reviews in the New York Times Most Memorable Moments in Theater 2013. Over the last year director Lear deBessonet has led acting workshops for our participants and staff. She is the Director of Public Works, a participatory theater initiative based at the Public Theater and designed to cultivate new connections and models of engagement with artists, audiences, and the community by drawing from populations that have felt excluded from theater experiences in the past. The collaboration will continue in 2014 as Lear begins to develop a Fortune acting company by directing a one act play with Fortune actors that will perform at Fortune and other venues in the spring. This will be followed by another community production in Central Park in the late summer. Featuring both staff and participants the Public Works collaboration has become a centerpiece of a growing arts program that is making the Fortune experience livelier and more fulfilling for everyone.
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Workforce Development Building Reentry Skills
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The Fortune News
In this issue of The Fortune News, learn about the ways education is critical for successful reentry and how we help justice-involved indivi...
Published on Apr 4, 2017
In this issue of The Fortune News, learn about the ways education is critical for successful reentry and how we help justice-involved indivi...