The Fortune News: June 2018 - Closing Rikers

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The Fortune Society


THE FORTUNE NEWS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & DESIGNER Emerson Soto DEPUTY EDITOR & WRITER David Leon Morgan ASSOCIATE EDITOR & WRITER Carmen Rojas The Fortune News is a publication from The Fortune Society, printed twice a year to inform the public of the work and impact of Fortune’s reentry services and advocacy efforts. @2018 The Fortune Society, Inc. All Rights Reserved







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Front Cover: “Hand in jail” / Sakhorn38 /





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OUR MISSION Learn about our mission, programs, and services


EYE ON FORTUNE Key events in 2018


FACES OF FORTUNE Staff and participant experiences


RIKERS ISLAND One of America’s great shames

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR Letters from individuals who are currently incarcerated or formerly incarcerated

CLOSING RIKERS: MAKING JUSTICE SYNONYMOUS WITH HOPE How we’re helping close Rikers Island jail complex


I-CAN Preparing individuals for success in the community and beyond


MICHAEL’S JOURNEY TO SUCCESS Finding strength through selfexpression


STRUCTURE AND SUPPORT THROUGH I-CAN How Fortune participant Deniz Halilov maintained sobriety and achieved success


A FATHER’S SUPPORT How Fortune participant Deeazo Jones obtained employment to provide for his daughter


FROM JAILS TO JOBS A road to reentry success


HELPING OUR YOUTH RETHINK AND RELINK A holistic approach to meeting the health needs of our participants


CONNECTING PARTICIPANTS WITH HEALTH CARE AND MORE How our Health Services program helps our most vulnerable participants


IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT RIKERS Words from New York City Council Member Daniel Dromm on rethinking our criminal justice system




KEY TO CLOSING RIKERS Alternatives To Incarceration Programs


HEALING FROM TRAUMA THROUGH ADVOCACY Advocacy work as a means of empowerment VOLUME LI • JUNE 2018




The Fortune Society’s mission is to support successful reentry from incarceration and promote alternatives to incarceration, thus strengthening the fabric of our communities.

Prepare for Release

We do this by: Believing in the power of individuals to change; Building lives through service programs shaped by the needs and experiences of our participants; and Changing minds through education and advocacy to promote the creation of a fair, humane, and truly rehabilitative correctional system.

The Individualized Corrections Achievement Network (I-CAN) program provides skill-building and discharge preparation services to eligible individuals during their incarceration at NYC Department of Corrections (DOC) jails, and offers continuing reentry support following their release.

Health Services The Health Services program connects individuals with justice involvement and chronic conditions to quality healthcare and social services. We also provide individuals living with HIV/AIDS with vital discharge planning, case management, health education, and connection to quality, community-based treatment and care.

Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) The ATI program reduces the prison and jail population, helps thousands of individuals receive holistic, supportive services, and saves taxpayers millions of dollars. 1


Benefits Application Assistance


The Benefits Application Assistance (Single Stop) program helps participants achieve economic mobility by coordinating access to public benefits available to individuals and families with low incomes, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, Supplemental Disability Insurance, and other forms of public assistance.

The Education program empowers students to achieve personal and professional goals, such as acquiring basic literacy skills, earning a High School Equivalency diploma, attending college, or preparing for employment.

Food and Nutrition We offer healthy, hot meals, and distribute fresh, locally grown produce to participants through partnerships with local farms. Through the Food and Nutrition program, we also offer cooking demonstrations and nutrition education workshops.

Housing The Housing program assists individuals with justice involvement and their families experiencing homelessness in building better futures through supportive and affordable housing. The program provides low-threshold access to emergency, transitional, and permanent housing in our congregate buildings: The Fortune Academy (“the Castle”) and Castle Gardens, along with our Scatter-Site housing program.

Employment Services The Employment Services program is designed to equip job seekers with justice involvement with the skills necessary to obtain employment and thrive in the workplace. The program offers job readiness, transitional work, and sector-based skills training in Green Construction, Culinary Arts, Job Development, and Transportation (Commercial Drivers License acquirement). We also offer job placement assistance and retention services.

Family Services The Family Services program works to unite participants with their loved ones by facilitating healthy parent-child relationships and providing legal services for custody, visitation, and child support commitments.

Mental Health Treatment Fortune participants have access to a full spectrum of services through our NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH)-licensed Better Living Center (BLC), which serves individuals with mental health needs and histories of justice involvement.

Substance Use Treatment Our New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS)-licensed outpatient substance use treatment clinic empowers people with substance use histories to heal and recover from addiction and the trauma of incarceration.

Creative Arts The Creative Arts program supports the educational, emotional, and cultural development of individuals impacted by the criminal justice system through creative writing, poetry, spoken word, video production, animation, visual arts, music, and theater.

THE DAVID ROTHENBERG CENTER FOR PUBLIC POLICY In honor of our founder’s tireless efforts to promote the rights and fair treatment of people with justice involvement, Fortune launched The David Rothenberg Center for Public Policy (DRCPP) in 2007. DRCPP resources and advances our policy development, advocacy, technical assistance, training, research, and community education efforts. Additionally, it works to build an equitable and conscionable criminal justice system, change counterproductive laws and policies, and promote effective program models for people with criminal justice histories. VOLUME LI • JUNE 2018



What comes to mind when you think of the word “island”? For many, visions of paradise appear: tropical beaches, warm weather, a temporary respite from home and work. But when it comes to the notorious jail complex Rikers Island, the reality is anything but welcoming. In fact, for individuals detained there, as well as visitors and staff, it is nightmarish. An air of punishment permeates through every corner. Isolation,


hopelessness, and violence flourish inside each of its facilities. For the over 7,500 individuals who are housed on Rikers Island on any given day—most of whom are not even convicted of a crime—it leaves a lasting impression. Rikers instills a “predator or prey” approach to life that further challenges the likelihood of successful community reentry. But in or out of jail, no one deserves to be treated inhumanely. All individuals with justice involvement deserve an opportunity to have their cases heard and judged fairly. And they deserve to learn, grow, and change in a supportive environment. Rikers WWW.FORTUNESOCIETY.ORG

Island is the antithesis of these aims, which is why The Fortune Society is a long-time advocate for its closure. Since our founding, Fortune has believed that incarceration and detention should be options of last resort. For justice to truly be served, speedy trial, rehabilitation, and if necessary, judicious use of incarceration must be part of its core. What public safety or individual accountability purpose does it serve to incarcerate people for an extensive amount of time in an environment that only increases hopelessness, anger, and despair? Why shouldn’t we break the cycle of incarceration when

we know that incarceration and the systemic failure of procedural justice breeds negative thoughts and behavior, not accountability and change? What if, instead, we approached criminal justice through a procedural justice lens that included speedy adjudication of cases, family and community engagement, lifetime support, and no wrong door for reentry?

community, family, and friends. These design principals will guide the architect and builders as they construct New York City’s next generation of detention facilities. These facilities will be designed to communicate to all who enter, work, visit, or are detained in them that they matter and are valued. The facilities will encourage support, ownership, open communication, accountability, and reflection. Additionally, each facility will have entry and reentry services at their operational core and serve as a resource for all city residents.

closure of Rikers Island and the city’s next era of justice. This issue of The Fortune News takes a close look at the many nuanced aspects of closing Rikers. It contextualizes its place in the larger, national conversation regarding justice reform, which includes bail reform, speedy trial, and alternatives to incarceration. And it sheds light on the work that The Fortune Society has done in all of these efforts.

Every day at Fortune, we see the positive impact that this type of compassionate approach has on the Since 1967, we have been a voice individuals who walk through our to the voiceless, encouraging the doors. With Mayor Bill de Blasio’s community to truly embody commitment to closing Rikers Island, we are “Since our founding, Fortune has believed core values: That people are innocent until proven equally as passionate in ensuring that the next that incarceration and detention should guilty; that we all deserve and need opportunities to evolution of criminal justice be options of last resort.” succeed; that we should in New York City is one treat others the way we want with smaller facilities in to be treated; and that we should not each borough and contains what is Similarly, two other working groups be defined for the rest of our lives by necessary to rebuild lives: family and within the committee are helping our worst mistake, decision, or action. community engagement; perpetual, us build a smaller, safer, and fairer lifetime support; and multiple points system by focusing on reducing the The Fortune Society is a place of access for reentry. size of the jail population through where healing and redemption take services and diversion; and changing place, where people learn from past I am honored to be on the the jail culture through training and experiences in order to move on and Implementation Task Force Steering system changes. Khalil Cumberbatch, build healthy lives. Now, with the Committee for this next phase. As Coour Associate Vice President of closure of Rikers Island, the New Chair of the Working Group on Design, Policy, sits on the Working Group on York City criminal justice system for instance, we are developing a set Safely Reducing the Size of the Jail is beginning to reflect our mission, of design principles that are grounded Population, further increasing the moving one step closer to a smaller, in a universal understanding of how voices of people directly impacted safer, and fairer system for all.  we value and treat members of our by the justice system in shaping the



EYE ON FORTUNE SOCIAL JUSTICE DEBATE DECEMBER 19, 2017 “Liberty or Liability?” our Social Justice Champions debate, gave participants in our debate program the opportunity to showcase their skills. For the main event, our champion debaters teamed up with social justice professionals to examine the topic of bail reform. The evening, made possible by the Rikers Debate Project, the Ford Foundation, and the Tow Foundation, also included speeches from Senator Michael Gianiaris and Senator Jesse Hamilton. Learn more at


Bring Down The Walls, a month-long art collaboration with Creative Time and artist Phil Collins, examined criminal justice reform through the lens of house music. The project included educational workshops, nightclub parties, and a music album featuring vocals from Fortune staff members Amanda Cruz and Cinthia Candelaria. Enjoy a recap at projects/bring-down-the-walls



In honor of Black History Month, our Education program created a pop-up African American museum at our Long Island City office. It featured in-depth exhibits entirely researched, curated, and installed by program participants. In a special opening event, members of the public visited the museum and spoke directly with student curators about their work.

We partnered with the Immigrant Defense Project to host our One Day Matters rally in Albany, New York. The event called upon state legislature to support the One Day to Protect New Yorkers Act, a bill that would amend state law to reduce the maximum sentence on class A misdemeanor offenses by one day. This small change would save thousands of New York immigrants from the risk of deportation, restore discretion to immigration judges, and improve efficiency in the court system. Special thanks to bill sponsors Assemblymember Marcos A. Crespo and Senator Marisol Alcantara, as well as supporters Senator Jesse Hamilton, Senator Michael Gianaris, Senator Brian Benjamin, Senator Gustavo Rivera, and Assemblymember Dan Quart, for their participation in this event.

See highlights at

Get more information at onedaymatters 5



PATRICIACANDELARIA DREWS CINTHIA Volunteer Staff & Former Participant

SEKOU SHAKUR Participant In prison, it’s difficult to maintain a healthy mindset. One is quickly taught that everything must be met with violence. While therapeutic programs can help combat these influences, they often are only available for individuals nearing release. For those with long sentences, it’s very easy to lose hope and get lost in the system. I was incarcerated in numerous maximum-security prisons throughout New York State for 34 years. While inside, The Fortune Society was a source of inspiration. I began listening to founder David Rothenberg’s weekly radio show in the early 1990s, which taught me how individuals with justice involvement could become successful in the community. Inspired by the individuals I heard, as well as others I met in prison, I developed and facilitated workshops to create a positive community within my facility. Upon my release in 2014, I immediately went to The Fortune Society. Instantly, I felt a feeling of closeness—I knew the staff could relate to my story and were there to help me. When I met with case workers and counselors at Fortune, I felt comfortable being vulnerable and sharing some of my faults, fears, and discomforts. Through Fortune’s Employment Services program, I received job training and began a career in construction. I worked my way up and, now as a supervisor, I’ve made sure to give back. In the last two and a half years, I’ve hired at least 30 participants from Fortune. My future plans, which include volunteering and starting my own nonprofit organization, aim to continue helping others the way Fortune has helped me. 

When I came to The Fortune Society for a court-mandated substance use treatment program, I didn’t think I had an issue. But thanks to the caring staff and group sessions, I learned to confront my own addiction and realized that my lifestyle needed to change. Soon, I gained the personal strength to advocate for myself and get away from negative influences. With the support of my counselors at Fortune, I found physical and mental healing, and could look ahead to the future with a clear mind. After finishing my program, I still enjoyed the ambiance at Fortune. I wanted to do my best to stay in the building. I became an active participant in the Creative Arts program, where I reconnected with my artistic side through poetry, music, and theater. I also joined the Employment Services program to continue working with Fortune staff and participants. Plus, I began an internship at the front desk, and after that, started looking into more long-term positions at the organization. Now, I’m a mentor with the Individualized Correction Achievement Network (I-CAN) program, providing guidance to individuals who are incarcerated on Rikers Island. I enjoy having the chance to change lives through advising, planning positively, and just simply connecting. This work keeps me focused and grounded. Every day, I feel blessed and thankful. At Fortune, people really care. If you take advantage of the programs, there are plenty of opportunities to improve your life. My journey–from participant to mentor–is proof that it can happen. 





Tick….. tock…. 364 days, seconds existing, Tick….. tock…. Time creating the negligence of freedom, Tick…. tock… A human labeled as an immigrant, Being held 99 percent of the year, But… these 24 hours will decide, If this human or should I say immigrant, Can live in the land of the free, Can get the chance to raise his kids, Tick… tock…. The seconds fly, too many questions No answers, No voice to speak, ICE arriving, his soul melts to evaporation, Tick…. Tock…. Pressure Building, House, minutes, seconds left, Actions that present regret But still Gets detained for unaccepting offers That outweighs the words land of the free, Tick …. Tock… No chance to live No chance to grow No chance to even take his kid to school, No chance to change his life, But ICE…. Condenses… All of one’s freedom, Through 2 overlapped wrist watches, Yelling… Tick…. tock… Michael Ruiz, a participant in our I-CAN program, wrote this poem in support of the One Day to Protect New Yorkers Act, legislation which would reduce the maximum sentence for misdemeanor charges by just one day. This change in New York law would save thousands of New Yorkers from the risk of deportation and protect immigrant communities. To learn more, visit Michael Ruiz I-CAN Participant The Fortune Society Long Island City, New York


Hope tis nothing but a little spark with a desire to grow Hope may growth to small flames Hope may growth to huge flames The Flames of hope smolders onto one’s soul Hope may vanisheth before your eyes Hope may vanisheth from within one’s self Hope may vanisheth when one dies Hope maybe knoweth from one’s companionship Hope maybe knoweth from one’s true love Hope maybe knoweth from afar Hope maybe knoweth up close Hope may cometh from a locket close to one’s heart Hope may cometh from smoke signals Hope may cometh as the sun sets Hope may cometh as the sun rises Hope may cometh as the rains fall Hope may cometh as one tis born Sparks of hope cometh as a child Flames of hope groweth in one’s life It lingers there in one’s heart waiting to Flame up It lingers deepeth in one’s mind to flare up You may lose hope when one tis grown old For in the end Hope is all we have for we are only human… James Schmidt Waupun Correctional Institution PO BOX 351 Waupun, WI 53963


© bibiphoto -


The bridge to Rikers Island was completed in November of 1966. A month later, I made my first visit to the New York City jail complex, among the first who arrived by car. I was producing an off-Broadway prison drama, Fortune and Men’s Eyes, scheduled to begin rehearsals January 1, 1967 for a late-February opening. The play was author John Herbert’s vivid story of his own experience in a Canadian prison camp for teenagers. The actors insisted that a trip to a prison would help them shape the

individuals with justice involvement they would portray on stage. With the four young men and the play’s director, I made my first trip to a correctional institution. Our request to visit the juvenile section was granted and we were to spend a day absorbing the prison experience. I was traumatized. We saw hundreds of teenage boys being herded about. We looked into dorms to observe idle and tired youngsters, and we were all locked in single cells for a half-hour to inhale the feeling of being caged. Though I considered myself politically sophisticated and an activist—a

veteran of civil rights and anti-war demonstrations—I had never given any thought to what happens to individuals who were convicted of a crime—or, as I learned, were simply locked up awaiting determination of guilt or innocence. After our day on Rikers, a theatre reporter asked for my reaction to our trip and I stated “It seems to be an exercise in institutional futility.” I told the journalist that it seemed impossible to me that anyone spending any amount of time there would be better suited to function when they returned to the community. My gut reaction was that it made no sense.

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© bibiphoto - Continued from page 8 Whatever act led to their incarceration, it seemed impossible that the individual or community as a whole would be better off.

delusional belief that if people who commit crimes were separated from the community to do penance (thus the word “penitentiary”), they would see the wrongness of their ways. What the Quakers didn’t consider was that other men would establish rules and oversee the captured and convicted.

oppressive work farm in Angola, Louisiana; or the four-man cells in Trenton, New Jersey.

Rikers Island is a nightmare, but it is just one of America’s costly, great shames. Rikers Island is closing, That visit 51 years ago was my first but the model of punishment and of dozens to Rikers Island and to jails brutality remains real. The solution— and prisons throughout the United The history of prison brutality is or partial solution—is alternatives States—from Montana to Florida, well-documented in books and films. to incarceration, to maintain a goal New Jersey to New Mexico, and What is rarely recorded is the painful of fewer people placed in jails and institutions in Colorado, prisons. Whenever I visit Texas, Illinois, others in “Whenever I visit Rikers, it is my contention Rikers, it is my contention New York, Louisiana, that our need to punish is greater than our that our need to punish is Pennsylvania, Delaware, greater than the need to California, as well abroad, need to solve our problems.” solve our problems. including England, Italy, The announced closing of Rikers and Nicaragua. transition individuals struggle through Island is a start, but that alone will not as they return to the community. After all of these visits, my initial humanize an antiquated, irrelevant, reaction from the first Rikers Island Rikers Island is situated in New York and life-destroying system. tour is sustained. We are doing it City, the media capital of the country, If you or anyone you know would wrong and that error is expensive in and its scandalous history of brutality like to be added to The Fortune terms of human lives and taxpayers’ and corruption receives massive News subscription list, please money. press attention. In fact, it is probably write to The Fortune Society at no worse than the dismal county jail The Quakers, well-intentioned in 29-76 Northern Boulevard, Long I visited in Great Falls, Montana; the early 19th century, set out to Island City, NY 11101 or email us at or the depressing solitary unit I saw humanize punishment, eliminating  in Delaware or New Mexico; or the stocks and beatings. It was their 9


I-CAN: PREPARING INDIVIDUALS FOR SUCCESS IN THE COMMUNITY & BEYOND There has been a vigorous push in the advocacy community to close Rikers Island jail complex. Indeed, thousands of individuals who were impacted by the criminal legal system, many of whom spent time at Rikers, led the charge to close the aging and infamous facility. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York City Mayor de Blasio, and the distinguished Lippman Commission (assembled to explore ways to reduce the New York City jail population) all agree that Rikers is a relic of the past. Like other facilities

isolated from the community (e.g. Robben Island and Alcatraz), it’s now only a matter of time before Rikers meets a similar fate: closure. Now that it’s a foregone conclusion that Rikers will be shuttered, quality pre-release services for the individuals serving time at the facility are more vital than ever. To successfully close the jail and maintain adequate capacity in other city facilities, it is essential to significantly reduce the number of individuals who are incarcerated and

provide robust reentry services in the community to reduce recidivism rates. Years ago, through the Rikers Island Discharge Enhancement Program (RIDE) and now through Individualized Correction Achievement Network (I-CAN) and Specialized Model for Adult Reentry and Training (SMART), the city reaffirmed its commitment to expand quality programming for people detained in NYC jails. As a result, the city partners with organizations

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Continued from page 10 like Fortune to provide soft and hardskills training, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other critical services for individuals as they transition from jail to the community. Fortune began providing services inside Rikers in 2006 as part of the RIDE program. The documented success of our efforts led to additional funding and expansion. Now, Fortune’s I-CAN program serves sentenced and detained individuals in six NYC facilities. The services have been shown to reduce idleness and violence, as well as foster longterm positive change and promote desistance from crime. New York City understands the importance of the program and is committed to its continuation and expansion through the closure of Rikers and beyond. When the Mayor held a press conference at Fortune’s


Long Island City headquarters in March 2017, he made a commitment to expand services for individuals who are incarcerated, as well as fund a new transitional work program, “Jails to Jobs,” to provide job training, internships, and transitional work to individuals being released. Here is an overview of I-CAN’s current program offerings and benefits:


Through weekday group sessions led by an experienced I-CAN Group Facilitator inside participants’ housing units, individuals learn life skills, get assistance with release planning, and discuss relevant personal issues. The curriculum, which is geared toward each group of participants and their interests, is designed to promote personal development and covers topics such as anger management,


communication methods, parenting, psychological health, financial literacy, and creative writing. EMPLOYMENT TRAINING

Finding gainful employment is one of the toughest hurdles in the community reentry process. I-CAN addresses this issue by providing pre-release employment instruction. Job Readiness Training Workshops teach resume writing, interview preparation, and other important soft skills. Additionally, participants have the option to pursue hard skills training, which allows them to earn industry-recognized certifications in construction, food service, and other industries. CONNECTION TO THE COMMUNITY

A positive support network can greatly increase the chances of individuals thriving after incarceration. I-CAN

works to build a bridge between participants, The Fortune Society, and supportive individuals on the outside. Our mentorship program allows participants to communicate one-on-one with a Fortune mentor dedicated to offering guidance. I-CAN also holds periodic celebrations and events that include participants’ family and loved ones, which further cement these community connections.


I-CAN provides outreach to recently released participants, with the aim of welcoming them to The Fortune Society and providing connections to our holistic programs. Eligible participants can receive direct transportation upon release to Fortune’s main office in Long Island City, where intake staff will complete the admissions process and direct them to relevant services. For those who

do not immediately come to Fortune, our dedicated staff maintains contact with participants and their families via phone, email, and social media, and provide services once they arrive at the office. CONTINUED OPPORTUNITIES AT FORTUNE

Once enrolled, I-CAN participants can take advantage of the full range of Fortune’s services. Individuals who started in I-CAN often move on to our Employment Services program to obtain job training and placement; our Education program to earn a High School Equivalency diploma; our Housing program to find a safe home; our Family Services program to reunite with family members and improve relationships; our Substance Use and Mental Health programs to maintain sobriety and address emotional needs; and more. At Fortune, we stress the importance VOLUME LI • JUNE 2018

of rebuilding lives and not being defined by one’s worst mistakes. I-CAN exemplifies these goals. By coupling individuals incarcerated in NYC jails with Fortune’s holistic reentry services, the I-CAN program is uniquely positioned to lead participants directly from incarceration to personal and professional success. As Rikers closes and the city’s criminal justice landscape changes, we are confident that the I-CAN program will continue to make a difference in the lives of the participants it serves.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT I-CAN, please email Ronald Day at or call 718.906.9478. 



When I was first on Rikers, I wasn’t engaged with the world. I avoided introspection, never examining who I truly was, or what I could become. With my true self hidden behind a façade, I kept to myself. That all changed once I started Fortune’s I-CAN program. During my period of incarceration on Rikers, I participated in a number of High School Equivalency diploma. I bus may be delayed or caught in I-CAN workshops and classes, but was also able to engage my creative traffic, but you can still make it to the group sessions were the most side through Fortune’s music, acting, your destination somehow. Through memorable and transformative. In and creative writing resources. Fortune Fortune’s I-CAN program and more, these sessions, we openly discussed gives you different ways to express I’ve found a number of confidenceour circumstances and needs in a and connect with yourself, which is building tools and opportunities to aid comfortable setting. Having this space vital to me staying focused and not in my travels. Now, I feel in tune and for self-expression was pure freedom. giving up when faced with challenges. in sync with the world. Everything is My group facilitator, April Hinkle, falling together perfectly—it’s like a really pushed me to open up and share domino effect. my feelings. Despite resisting at first, I soon came to see why “My experiences at Fortune have My experiences at Fortune this was important. It was a have shaped my life and led relief to be in touch with my shaped my life and led me to the path me to the path I’m following emotions and thoughts, and it I’m following today. I’m happy about today. I’m happy about this gave me a new perspective on this new direction.” new direction. I’ve completed life. my high school education and After returning to the community, I took advantage of other programs The Fortune Society has to offer. Through the Education program, I received my


I tell myself that life is a journey and obstacles can always be overcome. I compare it to a morning commute: You may miss the train, or your


recently started a new job. I’m creating art and music, pursuing acting, and have my own clothing line. I truly feel connected with life. 


BY DENIZ HALILOV I-CAN Participant The Fortune Society

community-minded citizen. I wanted Growing up, my family provided to be a role model for my daughter, to material support but there was no become the prime example of what a substance. My parents were in their dedicated person can accomplish. The own world—the love wasn’t there. Fortune Society soon became integral They didn’t make an effort to provide to achieving this goal. guidance to me or my brother. It was my responsibility to teach myself how to make my way through life. This lack of guidance was a “At Fortune, there are good huge burden to bear, and I turned vibes and positivity as soon as to drugs as an escape from reality. you walk through the door.” As a result, I became caught in the grips of addiction and, in time, my I joined their I-CAN program while substance use led to incarceration on inside Rikers, which taught important Rikers Island. skills like money management and communication. My group facilitator, Jail forced me to slow down and Norma Usher, offered a wealth of evaluate my life. Did I want to advice that helped improve my continue my previous lifestyle, relationship with myself and others. or make a change for myself and young daughter? I made my choice After three months spent incarcerated to become a sober, employed, and VOLUME LI • JUNE 2018

at Rikers, returning to the community was overwhelming—I struggled without support and resources. Luckily, the services at Fortune provided much-needed structure in my life. With so many opportunities available, it was easy to keep busy and maintain sobriety. Fortune’s staff is driven and willing to help you succeed. My counselors, Simone Schultz and Jose Rodriguez, were great at providing guidance and finding solutions. At Fortune, there are good vibes and positivity as soon as you walk through the door. Thanks to this support, I’ve stayed optimistic and driven. I currently work two jobs, volunteer in the community, and am a doting father to my 2-yearold daughter. Now, I enjoy life and all the opportunities it has to offer.  14


BY DEEAZO JONES I-CAN Participant The Fortune Society

I grew up in public housing in Brooklyn, surrounded by poverty, drugs, and violence. In this environment, I became involved in the criminal justice system. When my daughter was born, however, I knew my lifestyle would have to change. At the time, I was incarcerated, but knew that I wanted to be present in my child’s life. I made a promise to myself and my family to never return to Rikers. With the help of Ivette Pagan and other Individualized Corrections Achievement Network (I-CAN) staff members within The Fortune Society, I’ve kept that promise and found success. I met Ivette while inside; she encouraged me to pursue I-CAN’s


employment training at Rikers. I completed my 10-Hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training and flaggers’ licensing, and as a result of these certifications, I quickly found

“Being a father is surreal; having the opportunity to see my daughter grow has been my biggest blessing. Her future is promising, and thanks to I-CAN, so is mine.” employment once I was released. I now work as a flagger at an airport and see a number of possibilities to move forward in my career. Having a secure job has allowed me to provide WWW.FORTUNESOCIETY.ORG

for my family, improve my lifestyle, and create stability. I-CAN’s hands-on approach really works, as long as you take advantage of the opportunities provided and apply them to your life. The staff makes sure you focus and are ready for your next accomplishment. They have pride in their work, and genuinely want to see you succeed. In addition to Ivette, staff members Hans Asia and Erica Brittle helped me through personal and professional issues, putting me in the right direction. Being a father is surreal; having the opportunity to see my daughter grow is my greatest blessing. Her future is promising and, thanks to I-CAN, so is mine. 

FROM JAILS TO JOBS: A ROAD TO REENTRY SUCCESS is eligible for J2J. Each prospective participant will undergo a two-part needs assessment that includes a one-on-one meeting with a Fortune Employment Specialist, basic financial coaching, and the creation of an action plan uniquely tailored to their employment goals. J2J plans can include paid transitional work opportunities or, based on one’s work history, immediate job placement. Additionally, participants are connected to licensed behavioral therapists, educational resources, family services, mentoring, telephone support, and more. Each plan is framed within one of eight tracks to success, dependent upon each participant’s needs, work experience, and skill levels. When someone is released from to everyone released from New York We are invested in the success of all prison, they quickly meet challenges City jails. Fortune participants for life. Like while reintegrating back into the all of our holistic programs, their The Fortune Society is honored to be community. Along with housing, a completion of the J2J program is just a part of this goal. As Tichelle Porter, need that soon becomes pressing is the beginning. employment. Unfortunately, gaps in employment history, “I believe that all of the participants “I believe that all of the lack of marketable skills, who go through our program are going participants who go through and stigma make accessing our program are going to secure careers difficult— to leave…having a better sense of leave…having a better even though stable how to discuss their criminal justice sense of how to discuss their employment reduces the risk involvement [and communicate] their criminal justice involvement of recidivism considerably. [and communicate] their desires, their goals, their ambition.” desires, their goals, their For individuals recently ambition,” Tichelle notes, released from Rikers Island, our Program Coordinator within our “We’d like for all of these participants new Jails to Jobs (J2J) workforce Employment Services program, notes: to know that this is not the end—that development program is a beacon of “Jails to Jobs came about because the the sky is the limit...” support. J2J is a part of New York mayor wants to give individuals who City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year had a touch point in [prison] better For information on how to initiative to close Rikers Island. In a chances to not find themselves in get involved in Jails to Jobs concerted effort to reduce recidivism another prison.” (J2J), email Tichelle Porter at on the troubled facility and beyond, or call Anyone who has been housed or the Mayor is implementing a promise 347.510.3676.  sentenced in Rikers Island within to offer paid, short-term employment the past year—from 2017 to now— VOLUME LI • JUNE 2018


HELPING OUR YOUTH RETHINK AND RELINK BY ANN TRAVERS Senior Director of Care Management The Fortune Society

Hundreds of young individuals walk through the halls of Fortune each day. Many are between ages 18 through 26 and are involved with the justice system. Nearly all of them have taken a plea deal and chose to engage in programming at Fortune as an alternative to jail and incarceration. These are our Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) program participants. It seems like a “no brainer,” right? You do something wrong, then face a judge. They agree to let you take a 17

behavioral or substance use program in the community, rather than going to prison for a year or much more. Simple. Except, for many young individuals, nothing is that simple. To listen to these young folks for just a few minutes is a lesson in humility. Many times, they are the children of parents who were incarcerated; the offspring of people with substance use needs; or have survived living in under-resourced neighborhoods. Others are experiencing homelessness or are couch surfers who have worn out their welcome at home after


years of “last chances.” Many have mental health needs that often go undiagnosed—though it often doesn’t take a diagnosis to see the depression in their young eyes. At first glance, you’d never know they had a care in the world. As they head to their groups or education classes, most are laughing in the hallways and chatting up with their peers like any other normal adolescent. But once you get them alone, you hear of their very real struggles. And, if you’re lucky— and I mean really lucky—you hear them ask for help. Enter ReLINK, a federally funded

program from the Office of Minority never created realistic goals for their measured in small steps. Still, when Health, which gives organizations futures. Most will tell you they have you see a young person step in front like Fortune the financial resources to struggled all their lives to “fit in” to of a judge and say “I completed my assist young people with their health the traditional classroom settings, to mandate and now I’m participating in needs—from connecting them to no avail. Others admit that substance Fortune’s transitional work program,” basic healthcare and tools it reminds you that you’re in to successfully reenter the “Through ReLINK, Fortune is able to the right field. community, to enveloping them in mentorship and ask participants “What do you want out In the words of one of supportive services—all in of life?” We work outside of the court our youngest participants, “People, places, and things an effort to prevent them mandates to help young people truly got me here. It got me a from returning to prison or jail, and increasing their determine what matters most to them, charge, and it put me in personal well-being. and then walk them through the steps of a program. Now, I gotta rethink everything. And I Through ReLINK, Fortune building a plan of action.” gotta try something new.” is able to ask participants To which we say: When “What do you want out of life?” We it’s time to RETHINK, it’s time to use makes it challenging to engage in work outside of the court mandates ReLINK. ATI programming. But with Fortune’s to help young people truly determine holistic services and staff support, For information on the Fortune what matters most to them, and they are beginning to envision a better, ReLINK program, please contact ATI then walk them through the steps healthier future for themselves. Program Supervisor Michael Perez at of building a plan of action. It’s or not easy, particularly when many Fear of success is real in many of 347.510.3441.  of our ReLINK participants have our ReLINK participants; progress is This publication was supported by Award No. CPIMP161133-01-00 from the Office of Minority Health (OMH). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of OMH. VOLUME LI • JUNE 2018



About five years ago, on a cold winter morning, I received a panicked phone call from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene at Rikers Island. The night before, at 2 a.m., Rikers had released a man who had an AIDS diagnosis and was in the end stages of liver cancer. He had no warm clothing and no place to go. At that late hour, he found the strength to travel to one of the few places he knew: Lutheran Hospital in Brooklyn. With limited English proficiency, he struggled to tell his story to hospital staff.


As soon as I heard this news, my staff and I at Fortune sprang into action. We went to the hospital and searched for this man. We spoke with him, contacted his family members, and found a bed for him at a nursing home. There, he was able to settle in and comfortably live out the rest of his days. Thanks to our intervention, he was surrounded by loved ones at the time of his death. This is why I do what I do. Many individuals are released from jail or prison without a support network or access to quality medical care. For those living with HIV/ AIDS, this can be devastating. As


the Director of The Fortune Society’s Drop-In-Center, I work to connect individuals with chronic health needs and substance use with healthcare during their transition back into the community. Our model differs from traditional case management programs in a number of ways. There is a strong focus on building individual relationships––each participant is assigned a transitional specialist while still incarcerated, and that same staff member continues to assist post-release. This is important: By building a rapport with participants while they are inside, we increase the ability to provide support during

their community reentry process. Additionally, our program takes a holistic look at the issues faced by participants and aims to remove any barriers that are preventing healthcare access. Our dedicated team of caring transitional specialists and peer health navigators work to place our participants in housing, help them apply for benefits, provide transportation, accompany them to medical appointments as advocates, and provide hands-on guidance to ensure that they continue their medical treatments. Since I started at the Drop-InCenter in 2007, we’ve come a long way. Previously, The Fortune Society’s role in the health services field was quite limited. As part of a health conditions and substance use consortium of agencies, our role was needs. The new project, Connections simply to transport recently released to Care, will provide adults with individuals to other care management opioid use histories with the primary organizations. Now, we’re in charge care and support services necessary to of health care referrals from Rikers increase primary care visits, initiation, Island, Vernon C. Bain Center (VCBC), and engagement in alcohol and drug Manhattan treatment, Detention thereby Center (MDC), “While the criminal justice reducing and Brooklyn landscape will shift and preventable Detention change, there will continue emergency Center. room visits.

our best work at all times, and give individuals as many chances as they need to manage their condition and begin living healthy lives. While the criminal justice landscape will shift and change, there will continue to be individuals who need assistance navigating the healthcare system. And as long as that’s happening, we’ll be here.

to be individuals who need

As participant assistance navigating the We are excited to begin needs have connecting healthcare system. And as shifted in recent years, long as that’s happening, we’ll this group with the healthcare we are also be here.” they need and broadening deserve. the Drop-InCenter’s focus to better serve the I love what I do and am inspired every community. Since its inception, the day by this work. Sometimes, it’s the Drop-In-Center has served individuals small things, like helping a participant living with HIV/AIDS, but as medical make their first doctor’s appointment advances have reduced HIV infections in three years. Other times, it’s larger and AIDS diagnoses, we are now milestones, like seeing them healthy, evolving to offer services to other thriving, and starting families. Though underserved groups, as well. For there are participants who reengage instance, we recently received funding with the program multiple times, we from the OneCity Health Innovation don’t give up on them. The Drop-InFund to serve individuals with chronic Center doesn’t judge. We strive to do VOLUME LI • JUNE 2018

For information on about our DropIn-Center, please email Nilda Ricard at or call 212.691.7554. 



The Fortune Society has helped opinion, we must never let our eyes rehabilitation of the convicted, and us not only to imagine but to move stray from the ultimate prize, which is healing of those harmed. There is no toward realizing the lofty goal not just to close Rikers and replicate way around the hard work needed to of reshaping the criminal justice its rotten foundation elsewhere, reorient us toward a system governed system. The movement has been but to totally rethink a system that by restorative principles. This requires propelled by Fortune’s Executive Vice now places power in the hands of a all individuals involved in some way in President Stanley Richards, Associate cruel bureaucracy and its entrenched the system—which means everyone in Vice President of Policy Khalil functionaries. The sordid history society—to step up. Cash bail must be Cumberbatch, Glenn Martin, founder of incarceration in New York City abolished and least restrictive means of JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), is replete with instances of denied must first be considered. Human and of course Fortune founder David justice, compounded suffering, and rights violations in detention facilities Rothenberg, all of whom have used unlearned lessons. The #CLOSErikers must be thoroughly investigated and intelligence, sensitivity, addressed. Communities and experience to “The current situation makes virtually no must welcome facilities chisel away at the soul- effective provision for the reintegration of the and programs geared crushing weight of the towards reintegrating accused, rehabilitation of the convicted, and “New Jim Crow” and their own members. end New York City’s healing of those harmed. ” Policymakers must not complicity in mass be beholden to interests incarceration. campaign has brought us to a historic that profit off misery. crossroads where we can choose the The walls at Rikers are thick but not And, finally, none of us must ever sanity of evidence-based solutions so thick that cries for real and lasting view any individual as expendable. I over the insanity of repeating the justice cannot be heard. This injustice believe that is at the core of our work abysmal failures of the past. has created a climate where speaking and what enables us to relentlessly out became not a brave act but a After all, any social institution bend the arc of the moral universe necessary and obvious one. Early on, tasked with administering life, death, toward justice. when I voiced my concurrence with and liberty cannot be governed by To contact Council Member The Fortune Society’s goal of closing retributive impulses even though it Daniel Dromm’s district office, Rikers, I was simply making it okay may seem to be the most expedient call 718.803.6373 or email for my colleagues in government to way. The current situation makes  follow. virtually no effective provision for the reintegration of the accused, Even with the groundswell in public 21



We can shrink the number of people incarcerated on Rikers by focusing on diverting low-level and non-violent crime away from the incarceration system. But we cannot reduce the number of people incarcerated there to a degree necessary to close the jail complex unless we take on the question of violence. In the coming months and years, we will face great temptation to narrow the range of people for whom we fight. We will be offered good deals for some at the expense of others. We will be encouraged to announce our contempt of people who commit violence in exchange for incremental reforms related to non-violent crime. We will be told we can win by distinguishing the “worthy” from the “dangerous,” and by giving up on change for the latter.

have to match the age-old myths that have supported the expansion of mass incarceration with an equally powerful

has recidivism rates lower than 7%— and, just as crucially, is transformative for the people harmed by crime.

But what we know at “New York City, with our vast network of And we are not alone. New York City, with Common Justice is that organizations and community members, is our vast network of we will not win if we do not all win together. Our more capable than any other city in this nation organizations and way forward cannot be of safely holding our fellow New Yorkers in our community members, is more capable than any one that compromises communities and outside of jail.” other city in the nation our most deeply held of safely holding our values in order to win fellow neighbors in our communities vision of our own. At Common small gains. It has to be one that and out of jail. When we draw fully on Justice, we know this includes people builds those values so powerfully and that collective power and capacity, the who have committed violence. visibly that they become irresistible. end of Rikers will truly be in reach. And our way forward cannot leave Fortunately, there are approaches anyone behind—not only because For information on Common to violence that do not require what awaits those for whom we do not Justice, email Danielle Sered at incarceration. Common Justice is one fight is so intolerable, but also because  of them. Our restorative, justice-based we will not win without everyone. We alternative to incarceration program



KEY TO CLOSING RIKERS: ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION PROGRAMS jail sentences with reentry services, and implement other reforms aimed at reducing the number of people who enter the jail system in New York City. To shutter Rikers Island jail for good, the City’s jail population must fall to 5,000 or fewer individuals while reducing violent crime and recidivism.

BY ROB DE LEON Associate Vice President of Programs The Fortune Society

Alternatives to Incarceration Programs will be key in helping Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City of New York close the infamous Rikers Island jail complex once and for all. Last year, the Mayor launched “Smaller, Safer, Fairer: A Roadmap to Closing Rikers Island,” which included concrete steps the City is undertaking to close Rikers Island and replace it with a smaller network of modern facilities. In order to reach this target, the City aims to reduce the jail population by 25% from 9,400 in 2017 to 7,000 in the next five years while maintaining its historically low crime rate. To accomplish this goal, the City will work with every part of the criminal justice system, including organizations like The Fortune Society, who advocate for the successful reentry of individuals with justice involvement and promote alternatives to incarceration. The City will invest in expanding diversion programs that reduce recidivism, address the mental health and substance use needs of individuals, replace short


Since 1991, our Alternatives to Incarceration (ATI) programs have reduced the prison and jail population, helped thousands of individuals receive holistic and supportive services, improved public safety, and saved taxpayers millions of dollars. Stationed in courthouses across the City’s boroughs including Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, our court advocates forge relationships with assistant district attorneys, defense attorneys, and judges to recruit eligible participants into our ATI programs. Once enrolled, participants are still under justice supervision in the community while their case is pending, and receive critical reentry services that help them thrive after their justice involvement. Our ATI programs were designed to address the multifaceted needs of our participants. Our model of care, informed and implemented by professionals with similar cultural backgrounds and life experiences, helps participants meet their physical, emotional, and psychological needs. From tackling substance dependency and mental health disorders to addressing self-destructive behaviors, our programs were formulated to holistically address the root causes preventing individuals from thriving and contributing to their communities. WWW.FORTUNESOCIETY.ORG

In addition to our ATI programming, participants have the opportunity to engage in our other in-house reentry services. Our 65,000-square-foot main service center in Long Island City, Queens includes Employment, Education, Creative Arts, Food and Nutrition, Family Services, Benefits Application, and other reentry services. In West Harlem, we have two housing developments and offer Scatter-Site housing across the five boroughs. Participants can pursue high-demand careers in green construction; attain a High School Equivalency Diploma; cultivate public speaking skills; eat healthy, nutritious meals throughout the day; address homelessness; reunite and heal familial bonds; and achieve economic mobility by applying for qualifying public assistance. As a result of our ATI programs, we have saved taxpayers an estimated $11.5 million in incarceration costs in fiscal year 2017, but, most importantly, diverted hundreds of individuals from involvement in our broken criminal justice system. Since the ATI programs’ founding, thousands of individuals have had the opportunity to contribute to their communities while addressing underlying needs that would otherwise inhibit future success. As the Mayor’s Implementation Task Force Steering Committee implements the roadmap to close Rikers, ATI programs will play a pivotal role in reducing the jail population, improving public safety, and empowering individuals to thrive in the community through vital reentry services. 


Evidence shows trauma history has strong influence over a person’s health—physically, mentally, and emotionally. The primary consequences of trauma are disempowerment and social disconnection from others.

communities. Advocacy is also the space to address the collateral consequences encountered upon reentry that further traumatize people subjected to systemic oppression and granted minimal opportunities to succeed.

Engaging in advocacy is one available tool to help people connect and positively contribute to their community, develop a social support network, and ultimately heal from the effects of trauma. Advocacy also built the bridge that allows New York City to envision closing Rikers Island, the source of trauma for so many people.

At The Fortune Society, we believe that courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to walk through the fear. And we see the results in powerful leaders leveraging their lived experience to change minds, hearts, and systems.

Engaging in advocacy provides opportunities for people to reclaim their challenging experiences, reshape their narratives, and redefine how they engage in their

To learn more and become involved in Fortune’s advocacy work, visit and subscribe to our e-newsletter, The Fortune Weekly, or call 212.691.7554.



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