Serving a Slice of Social Justice to the Criminal Justice System

by Nicole Rodriguez, Asst. Production Editor

As part of Campus Ministry and Social Action’s Slice of Social Justice Series, Fortune Society employees Jamie Maleszka and Victor Polanco joined students and faculty in Cornerstone for a discussion that shed light on the injustices of the criminal justice system.

The Slice of Social Justice events serve pizza to those in attendance and aim to provide students and faculty with informative speakers that will address various social justice topics.

The discussion held Friday, March 8 gave perspective to those in attendance highlighting the struggles that individuals with a criminal justice background who are just coming out go through while in the process of reintegrating themselves into society.

“Think if you went to sleep and now all of a sudden you wake up 56 years later. On average, if you’re released from state prison this afternoon, what would you walk out with? Forty bucks, a bus ticket and whatever clothes they give you. Basically, you’re looking homeless. They aren’t giving you anything that you can use for a long period of time. That’s where somewhere like Fortune Society acts as one of the major entities that is at the forefront of bridging that gap and providing full, wrap-around, holistic services for folks that are coming out,” said Fortune’s creative writing teacher Jamie Maleszka.

Fortune Society is a nonprofit organization founded in 1967 whose mission is to support successful reentry from prison and promote alternatives to incarceration. The nonprofit offers an array of services to the community ranging from alternative incarceration, family, therapy, housing, arts as well as advocacy services. Unlike similar agencies, they do not exclude anyone from their services based on their charge.

Maleszka spoke on the note of how students at Manhattan College can get involved in dismantling the system through advocacy, internships, volunteering and beyond.

“None of us are free until we’re all free. Your freedom depends on my freedom. My freedom depends on yours. It’s all interconnected. It’s absolutely imperative that we fight for each other, love each other and support each other. How do you do that? By showing up, by showing up in these spaces, by figuring out what’s your way to contribute to this conversation. Voting is a form of harm reduction. This whole idea of getting informed, doing the reading, using humanizing language when we’re in conversations and spheres that do not, and volunteering at Fortune and other similar organizations. The way we can disrupt this is just by showing up,” said Maleszka.

After attending this event and hearing the ways to get involved, political science major Tabitha Yuqui was inspired and encouraged to dig deeper into the injustices of the criminal justice system.

“I knew that the prison industrial complex had much to do with systemic racism and oppression, but I wasn’t made aware of how this was done until now. Having listened to the people from Fortune, I feel like I can empathize more for individuals coming out of prison,” said Yuqui.

Fortune Society case manager Nelson Rivera explained his personal relationship to the organization as he himself underwent the path of reentry after 10 years of prison and why he dedicated his life to helping others who are in the position he was in.

“I’m involved with this program and it’s been impactful because to have the influence of people who are giving up all these millions of dollars to see people released from probation, parole, and prison. You’re talking about a billion people in the next five years. I’m proud to say that I’m involved with something that’s big,” said Rivera.