What attracted Andrew Cooper to Exodus was the fact that majority of the staff members were formerly incarcerated as well. Another thing that also caught his attention and got him on board with Exodus was when he saw The State of the Union address where the Executive Director, Julio Medina, was recognized for his work with Exodus; “he must be doing something right to get recognized by the president” he says. Prior to coming to Exodus Mr. Cooper’s family said to him “we want to hear you tell us that you are going to do the right thing.” Upon hearing their request he pledged to them “no matter what, if I am faced with any challenges that I feel like I can’t address, I am going to go to them and discuss it with them” he says.
When Mr. Cooper got assigned to his contract coach he stated that his main goals were to build a better relationship with his wife, and son in particular, and to secure permanent employment. Mr. Cooper graduated from our program in March 2014, and has made a remarkable transformation since his first day at orientation. He is currently employed full time at a company called Maggie Paratransit Corporation where he was granted a supervisor position after only two months of being on the job. He has also made tremendous progress in his relationships with his family, specifically his wife and son. Since Exodus, Mr. Cooper has also obtained his OSHA certificate and his CDL permit, and will start training at the end of June 2014 in order to obtain his CDL full license.
Andrew understands that his transition is an ongoing process and he has learned to take things one day at a time. He stated that a low self-esteem was what got him involved in the criminal justice system, but today he lives his life not allowing anyone’s opinion of him, or his past, define his success or the man he has become today. There are times where he does get overwhelmed, but he always remembers that he has a support team (his contract coach, family, and parole officer) who is always there to hear him out and reassure him that he does not have to go through his transition alone. Andrew looks forward to continue building a stronger relationship with his wife and renewing their vows in the near future, and continues to build his relationship with his son who he always reassures that he is here to stay this time. Andrew hopes to finish his upcoming book, Chasing Love in All the Wrong Places, and is considering pursuing higher education. He would also like to become a mentor for youth and possibly start a blog which will give them the opportunity to seek guidance from his experiences.
James Lloyd, the first face you see when you walk in the door of Exodus's East Harlem location, is just one of those individuals that you are grateful to have in your presence. He is full of life and gives off nothing but positive vibes. He used his period of incarceration to give his mind and body a break because all he ever knew prior to this was the streets. When James returned home he decided that he wanted to spend every minute of his day with his family, whether that meant picking his daughter up from school every day, participating in her school activities, or whipping up a home cooked meal.
After three years of being home and strengthening his relationship with his family, James came to Exodus as moral support for a friend, not knowing that this decision would lead him down the path to employment. Completing the Walking through the Wilderness program helped James uncover the short-term and long-term goals that he set for himself while in prison - goals that he had forgotten about upon his release. James completed the Wilderness program, and after two weeks he was called in for an interview for the front desk position. He knew that he wanted nothing more than to be a part of something that was filled with positivity, passion, and the willingness to help others. Being hired for the job was a big deal to James, who had never had a real job before. He has been with us for five months now, and he has become a valuable piece to the Exodus family puzzle. “I just want to be happy” James says, and being a part of both the Exodus family and his family at home is what makes him happy, and keeps him happy.
“I just want to live” says twenty one year old Cesar. Cesar was introduced to Exodus by our staff member Juan, through one of his reentry presentations at Edgecombe Correctional Facility. Cesar stated that he was amazed by the connections Exodus had to offer in regards to housing, parole, and employment, all of which he could take advantage of. “What really caught my attention was the welcome I received from the staff when I arrived at Exodus,” says Cesar. Since he joined Exodus he has been clean for three months, obtained full-time employment, and is also saving his earnings - something he never did before. He has started the enrollment process for City Tech to take classes in the fall semester and is interested in pursuing a career in architecture.
After almost five years of involvement with the Criminal Justice System, he is now getting the opportunity to build a foundation with his family. “It’s a big hole, and you can’t repair something in months that was created from five years of my absent presence,” says Cesar referring to his relationship with his family. But his mother is proud of the progress he has made, and he stated that he will be taking his transformation process one day at a time so that he does not get overwhelmed and risk relapsing.
“As a young man I want to do things such as traveling, but right now my freedom is limited, but I can’t blame anyone… I take full responsibility for my past actions” says Cesar. His main goal is to gain back his freedom and to take responsibility of maintaining that freedom when it is granted to him. He came to the realization that once you lose time you will never get it back. “I’m just one in a million… the world is not going to stop just for me, but there is room for improvement. Quiero superar (I just want to be better).”
After serving ten years in prison, Barbara knew that she wanted a role where she could give a helping hand to others. After seven months as a reentry coach at Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH), Barbara applied and was eventually hired for the front desk position at Exodus. While sitting in on the Wilderness Workshop as an introduction to the organization, she very much valued the program’s cognitive approach, which she believes is crucial for those in transition because it helped a lot in her own transformation. “One of the things I liked about Exodus was their Wilderness program and all that it encompasses because it allows those who are returning home to hear that they can change, and to hear that there is assistance out there that will help them change,” she says. As she settled into her job at Exodus, she noticed how participants were transforming before her eyes, whether that was a year after graduating from the program, or from the moment they signed up to the end of orientation of that first week. “Exodus lived up to their mission statement,” she says.
While maintaining her position at the front desk Barbara was very active in participating in other events at Exodus. She spoke at Chelsea Community Church on behalf of Exodus, and was a representative for the Reform Church in Bronxsville. In addition to doing presentations, she helped developed a clothing closet drive, acted as a chaperone for the Exodus mentoring program at Abyssinian Baptist Church, and co-facilitated the Harlem Community Justice Center Anger Management program after becoming a certified anger management counselor. Barbara’s hard work paid off when she was promoted to her current position of Contract Coach, where she works with a full caseload of participants and teaches the career assessments workshop of the Wilderness program. In December of 2013 Barbara received the Frank and Lisina Hoch Award for her consistent patience, support, concern, love, and advocacy in her work at Exodus. Barbara continues to push the envelope of excellence and is currently on the path to completing her CASAC certification.
Barbara believes that there is always room for growth, but you have to be willing to seek help. She also believes that it is important to have someone that you can share your goals with; someone who will guide you in the right direction in order to attain those goals. “There is hope. I can see that God is concerned about people; I can see him helping the participants that walk through this door, and he gives me the knowledge to guide those people in the right direction,” she says.