Here to Help

Here to Help

Posted by Leanna Varga, With 0 Comments, Category: Stories, Tags: ,

In a prison in upstate New York, 350 miles from his home in East Harlem, 45-year old Jose was nearing the end of a seven-year sentence. He opened a letter and suddenly felt the need to sit down. It read, “You don’t know me, but I’m here to help you.”

Jose recalls the day he received that letter, “I knew big things were about to happen for me. I already had a vision my life was going to be better than before.” He had served his time, more than seven years at Rikers, Sing Sing, and Wyoming, a correctional facility in upstate New York. The letter came from Circles of Support, a prison re-entry program supported by Episcopal Charities.  It was written by Linda Steele, who said she would be serving as his counselor. “She took her time with the letter,” said Jose. “She spoke from the heart.”

After his release, Jose returned to East Harlem and made his way to the Circles of Support office. The relationship with Linda was a turning point in his life. Before that, “I didn’t trust,” Jose said. Linda connected him with a job placement program, helped him readjust to life with his family, and listened to his story. She encouraged, never judged. “My biggest fear was to fail,” Jose said. “Growing up in the environment I grew up in, it was possible.”

“Jose has worked really hard to make changes in his life,” Linda said, “he took advantage of everything the program offered,” even attending classes on how to deal with difficult emotions, like anger. He reached out to Linda when he needed support. “He was really honest about the challenges he was facing,” she continued. “I received many calls over the weekend asking how he should handle different situations.”

“I know how I used to handle it,” she recalls him saying, “but how do I do it now?”

Five years after his release, Jose is still home in East Harlem. He works for an electrical contractor, wiring, re-wiring, and installing electrical systems in upscale Manhattan apartments. It’s the career he began before going to prison, but it’s not where he wants to stay. “I’d like to go back to school,” he said, “become a counselor. I want to help those less fortunate than myself.”

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