The formerly incarcerated harmonize through music at The Fortune Society

The formerly incarcerated harmonize through music at The Fortune Society

April 9, 2018

Three years ago, Carl Dukes was humming a tune in the halls of The Fortune Society’s office when he noticed a colleague liked what he was hearing.

John Runowicz grabbed Dukes and told him about the “music cafe.” Dukes should come to this nascent event where clients, staff and guests of the Queens-based nonprofit let loose during lunchtime with guitar melodies, acapella harmonies and rock and roll ballads. Dukes could sing, Runowicz reportedly said.

“I told him, ‘Get out of here,’” Dukes told New York Nonprofit Media in an interview last month. He had just finished singing “Fly Me to the Moon.” A guest appearance from a Tufts University acapella group was next to take the stage. Now, Dukes is 74 years old and several years into his job as a liaison between The Fortune Society and the incarcerated people who contacted it for help. He had also acquired a bit of attention as a lunchtime crooner.



The Fortune Society’s monthly jam sessions leverage music to further the re-entry process of formerly incarcerated people like Runowicz and Dukes. This forum for fellowship and expression adds a new facet to the holistic approach The Fortune Society has taken to help this population re-integrate into society which also includes job training, housing, medical and advocacy programs.

A recent creative arts festival that showcased the music, paintings, and theater of formerly incarcerated people highlights how far arts programming has gone at The Fortune Society ever since CEO JoAnne Page first met with Runowicz about six years ago.

That’s when she asked whether or not he could set up a music program akin to the one he organized among fellow inmates at an upstate prison, Runowicz said in an interview. Now he is manager of the creative arts program and the music cafe has become a regular event to help the formerly incarcerated people who make up a significant portion of the organization’s staff.

"It’s an opportunity for some people to do what they’ve never done before in their lives,” Runowicz said. “And it just makes the environment here a little more lively, a little more fun.”

Zach Williams
Zach Williams
is a staff reporter at New York Nonprofit Media and sister publication City & State.