A Manhattan outreach group is helping former inmates gain their footing in a post-prison environment. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.
A polite round of applause could be heard recently at a community meeting in Hamilton Heights. Well, they really call it a house meeting. Many in the room have come a long way from being behind bars.
"If it wasn't for this place, to be honest, I think I would be dead somewhere. 'Cause I already did institutions and jail. Only thing I haven't experienced is death," said Natalie Joyce, a former inmate.
She's happy to be here at the Fortune Society. The organization helps people avoid jail or gets them back on their feet after they've served time. And that includes providing temporary housing at The Castle facility in West Harlem and then on to possible permanent housing at Carol Gardens next door.
Gregorio Cruz arrived after doing 27 years behind bars.
"The best way to do this is to slowly assimilate and slowly get back. And this gives me the opportunity. Anywhere else it would be totally chaotic," Cruz said.
And sometimes it is chaotic there, but that's a part of the process of trying to turn lives around through counseling and services.
"And almost everyone who is locked up comes home. And how do they come home?
They either come home as a builder of their community, or they come home as someone who does damage," said Fortune Society President JoAnne Page.
Ervin Hunt says it's been over 10 years since he's been locked up, but being addicted to drugs has led him back to Fortune's doors three times. Now he has become an inspiration to others to change their lives.
"Your desire to change has to be stronger than your desire to stay the same. And that is what it was for me," Hunt said.
William Olivio agrees. While serving two years in prison he says he envisioned a better life once he was out. And his apartment at Carol Gardens is clearly an image he's proud of.
"Be humble, number one. Second is change your attitude, most important," Olivio said.
The Fortune Society says it's working to change attitudes people have about former inmates who've done their time and deserve another chance at a productive life.