The Power of Possible: Locked Up, Fitting In, and Finally Free

In a little less than a month, we will be gathering supporters of our family of agencies in a celebration of the Power of Possible. There, we will be hearing from individuals whose lives have changed because of the dedication, the passion, and the commitment of those who spend their days serving in one of our agencies—and from some who have been inspired to give back.  One of the populations that Fedcap serves is the previously incarcerated.  We are convinced that we can impact the high recidivism rates by working behind the walls to address mental health and substance use disorders that impact successful reentry, ensuring inmates have access to top notch training in high growth sectors and placing those leaving prison, and working with our 500+ business partners to create meaningful, living wage employment opportunities.  We do not have to accept the poor outcomes for individuals leaving prison.

Steve Hickman was born in Harlem to a large family with four brothers and sisters. His father worked hard, but on Friday nights he drank away his paycheck, which led to terrible fights with Steve’s mother. Eventually, his father left, and his mother raised the five children on her own.

Steve was savvy, “entrepreneurial” and tired of being poor. He dropped out of high school in the 12th grade and started selling drugs, following in the footsteps of his two older brothers. He never took drugs and never even drank alcohol…but sadly he sold many drugs to people who were addicted. Steve said, “I just wanted to fit in….then I got locked in….and then I got locked up.”

Steve’s first arrest came in 1991. He was sentenced to a 90-day boot camp. When he got out, he went  back to selling drugs. Steve recalls it being hard for him to walk away from all of that money. In 1993, he was arrested along with his two brothers and charged with conspiracy to sell drugs, which carried a 25-year prison sentence. While incarcerated, Steve missed his children growing up, the world changing, and the experience of living his 20’s and 30s as a free man. During this time, his mother died, and neither he nor his brothers were able to attend her funeral. To this day, he has not been able to shake the pain and feeling that his incarceration had contributed to her death. “The heartache was so bad I ran out of tears,” he said.

Prison life was difficult. However, at least the three brothers were together. They leaned on one another and kept each other on the straight and narrow. Even though they were doing time, they were also committed to becoming better human beings. Because they had each other, they did not get into drugs or gambling and, for the most part, no one caused them any problems. By the time Steve was released in 2012 (14 years later), at the age of 45, the world had changed completely for him. Despair set in and he didn’t know how he would be able to live or support himself in a world that seemed unrecognizable. Fortunately, Steve’s sister took him in and helped him get back on his feet. He had been working at a minimum wage job for about four months when his brother introduced Steve to his mentor at Fedcap, Mike Dunne. Fedcap saw great potential in Steve and hired him in 2013 to supervise Wildcat cleanup crews in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Within a few years he was promoted to area manager, supervising over 150 workers at 11 sites Recently, he began a new job with NYC Department of Homeless Services. Now he also serves as a mentor to the justice involved. He understands that they need what he needed – guidance, the courage to persevere, and a second chance. “Fedcap believed in me and gave me a second chance,” he said. “I have seen first-hand the difference I can make in helping to turn a young person’s life around, and it is the best feeling in the world.

Our Gala will be a remarkable celebration on Monday evening, November 27, in Manhattan’s Gotham Hall. It will be an opportunity to see and feel what it is like to participate in changing the lives of people like Steve Hickman and many others who have been inspired and helped by our family of agencies. With enthusiasm, we welcome your attendance at our Gala.