While in prison, inmates are recognized by their number or their last name. The harsh lighting and white walls of the institution can make people feel like they don’t matter.
Fortune Society — a nonprofit social service and advocacy organization for the formerly incarcerated — aims to combat that.
“The first thing we tell our new employees is to treat each and every person who walks through our doors as if it were their mom or sister or grandma,” Senior Vice President of programs and former inmate Stanley Richards said. “It’s a simple concept: ‘Treat others the way you would like to be treated’ but it makes a difference.”
On Tuesday, the Fortune Society unveiled its revamped facility on Northern Boulevard in Long Island City for their education, work and housing programs.
The makeover was funded by a $275,000 donation from the antipoverty Robin Hood Foundation.
“You make a very powerful statement to people by the quality of the space you offer them,” President JoAnne Page said. “This is the greatest job in the world. I get to see the changes that these men and women go through during the roughest time in their lives. You get hooked on helping people.”
Fortune Society was founded in 1967 to help former convicts re-enter society. The facility now provides vocational training, counseling, and other programs to 4,000 people every year.
Keith Resspass, who was released 64 days ago after serving 20 years, said though Fortune Society asks a lot of the clients, it has changed his life for the better in just the short amount of time he’s been here.
“The change began in there when I was locked up and I wanted to keep that change up so I came here,” Resspass said, sitting proud in a cream-colored suit wearing a square button that reads “Ask Me.”
Resspass is living in a shelter but said he has made it through all these years of hardship because of God.
“When I first went in, I made a deal with God,” Resspass said. “I told him that I will not get into any fights or arguments but he has to make sure I get out of here alive.”
His parole mandates he attends therapy each week but Resspass said he doesn’t mind and would have sought out the help anyway.
“The thing you learn in doing this work is you’re dealing with human beings,” Page said. “If you give them hope and make them feel cared about, you’ll start to see a change. It’s that simple.”
While a few clients slip up from time to time — something Page admits breaks her heart — Fortune Society is all about offering second, third and even fourth chances to people who may not have had the best lives.
“This new center tells everyone that we care,” Page said. “We have young men who will come in on their first day trying to be tough and then they see all that we offer and that we’re here to help and you’d be amazed how quickly that attitude fades. Seeing the fresh paint, the evened-out flooring, the nice lighting tells them that not only are we here to support them, but that we care about them and we want them to do well.”