(Fortune Society Staff)
My name is Chermaine Black and I am a formally incarcerated mother of three. I was born and raised in Brooklyn NY. I lived in Flatbush with my mother and two younger sisters, however I grew up all over Brooklyn. What I mean by that is I spent most of my childhood traveling from different family member’s homes within Brooklyn. From the age of five I use to leave home and go to Crown Heights, Bedstuy, Park Slope, East NY, and even Coney Island. When I first started “wandering” I would be brought home by the police because I was so young with no one with me. I remember arriving at my Aunts house in Crown Heights and being told my aunt went to Coney Island beach. I wanted to go too so I got on the D train to go to the beach and searched until I found them; I was about six or seven.
At about the age of 19 I my mother passed away. I was then incarcerated for making a poor decision. Upon my release in 1995 I decided to go back to school. I started going to the college in New Rochelle. However, I did not stay on track and ended up getting arrested once again in 1999 and being sentence to five to ten years. I was offered work release in 2003, which I took. At this point in my life I was tired of being tired. So while on work release I stayed with my aunt five days and had to go back to the prison two days a week. After twelve months I was released from work release. At this point I had about six years left on parole.
After being discharged from work release I worked in a family restaurant but decided after six months it was not for me. I learned about a program called the Hope program located in downtown Brooklyn. After about two months I was offered an internship with The Fortune Society, an agency focused on supporting formally incarcerated people. I completed the internship in 2004 and was offered a part-time position as a follow up worker. Six months later I was hired full time and a year later I got promoted to counselor of one of our programs called Street Smart. This program is about teaching young adults about HIV, STD/I, Hepatitis and how to make healthy decisions. With the support of the Fortune Family, the Street Smart program was very successful and I was able to reach many young people – which is my passion. So when the program was at its end I was very sad. However, the contract was renewed and I was offered a position as program coordinator. I did that for a few months then moved to group facilitator / case manager for the program. After about a year and a half I took another position working in the Education department as a counselor for a program called Justice Scholars (http://www.nyc.gov/html/prob/html/young_men/yajs.shtml). It’s basically a GED program for youth between the ages of 17 and 24 with attached opportunities. The program has been very successful. Since we started we have supported approximately 10 -12 participants in obtaining a GED and other participants have obtained employment or gone on to college.
Because I love working with the young people I try to get involved in a lot of projects at the agency. That is how I became a part of the TEMPEST! Lear came to Fortune Society and introduced the idea of putting on play. We formed a committee, came up with different ideas, and introduced them to other staff and participants. One of the things we thought about doing was acting workshops. So far there have been 3 series and I participated in the first series. As I said, I try to be involved with everything – primarily because I want the young people at fortune to get involved. I have a good rapport with a lot of the young people, so it’s good if they see me doing it, as I believe this will make them want to do it too. I try to make every rehearsal but it becomes difficult sometimes because I live in PA. When I did the first rehearsal I was so excited I put on FACEBOOK: “I’m in a play! I’m in a play! We have 20 rehearsals and this is the first one!” I actually have a lot of friends and family members that want to come.
Throughout my nine years with The Fortune Society, I have gone from Follow up worker to counselor with some other experiences in between. I am now certified to train other staff on Youth Development and Street Smart. I have a Bachelors degree in Liberal Arts – with my area of interest psychology, and I have plans to continue on to my masters and hopefully run my own program for youth. I live in PA where I own a home and all of my children are either in school, working or doing both. I now get the chance to be in a play in Central Park – it doesn’t get any better than that!