Antonio Birch is a Case Manager and Coordinator for Relapse Prevention and Commitment to Change at The Doe Fund’s Brooklyn facility.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Antonio was 17 years old when he lost his father to a heroin overdose. Hurt and lost, Antonio turned to the streets for security. At 18, he was sentenced to six years in prison for dealing drugs.
While incarcerated, Antonio earned his GED and made plans for a better future. But he soon learned that the journey to success can be difficult.
What happened when you left prison?
I couldn’t wait to start my life over. After my release, I was accepted to community college and threw myself into my studies. I became president of the Black Student Union and, once I finished my Associate’s Degree in Business, I was hired by my school to be the Assistant Director of Student Life.
It sounds like things were going great. What went wrong?
My school found out about my felony record and pulled me from the job. Everything went downhill from there. Since I could no longer afford rent, I ended up homeless. I was devastated, but determined to get back on track.
How did you come to The Doe Fund?
When I went into the shelter system, I immediately started to search for part-time work and ways to help formerly incarcerated people in the city. During that time, a friend introduced me to William Glenn, the Facility Director at the Harlem Center for Opportunity.
What went through your mind?
I wished I had found Ready, Willing & Able as soon as I was laid off. If I had, I wouldn’t have feared that I might never find a job again — that I might have to live in shelters and on friends’ couches for the rest of my life.
Now that I was there, I was eager to seize opportunity to get back on my feet. I came to Mr. Glenn’s office with my college degree and resume and asked if there was a place to put my experience to good use. Soon after, I was hired as a case manager.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
I love taking the difficult parts of my past and using them to connect with trainees. My experiences really help overcome any mistrust that stands in the way of their progress.
What’s the key advice you give trainees?
Every day you wake up alive and well, don’t take it for granted. Your life is an asset—use it.